Epiphanies: New Works Festival is a Great Example of the Mission of Wild Imaginings Performing Arts Group

By Trent Sutton

The Epiphanies New Works Festival arose in much the same way that many of the projects at Wild Imaginings do. It started with a discovered desire in the Waco community, a conversation over coffee, and two people dreaming together. I can still remember the Friday morning that I sat in Fabled across the table from Rosalind Jackson-Roe, the Festival’s co-founder. It started as, “Well, what if we…” and by the end of an hour, had turned into “Ok, so here’s what we have to do.”

Since that conversation, a truly remarkable journey has been embarked upon. A process has been created unlike any that I have seen, and the feedback from those involved has been incredible.

We had the privilege of granting 8 of playwrights the opportunity to hear their work read aloud at a table reading, after which they were able to interact with the actors and receive invaluable feedback. They were then given time to revise their work and resubmit it, after which we chose 4 of those 8 to be performed at the festival. Far from solely a performative opportunity, we have designed Epiphanies to be a form of professional development that is often difficult to come by.

Watching these plays come to life before my eyes, seeing playwrights see their dreams dance before their very eyes, and witnessing the progress of ideas as they chase the proverbial sunset—these are the reasons that I do what I do. Epiphanies has encompassed the heart of Wild Imaginings in ways that I could never have foreseen, and that it was formed in the very type of collaborative ‘bring dreams to life’ kind of way that our very organization was built upon makes it that much sweeter.

From the beginning, our mission at Wild Imaginings has been to be a community where creativity reigns. And our mission is shaped accordingly, that we may remain fully committed to 5 key things, that we lovingly refer to as the rules of the reign:

  • Creating an affirming community in which local artists are empowered to pursue the development of new and relevant work.
  • Valuing the identity and dignity of all persons by creating a safe space for difficult conversations through the art of storytelling. 
  • Cultivating a willingness to explore, experiment, and otherwise push the boundaries of what performing arts can be and the impact they can have in the community. 
  • Striving to elevate the role of performing arts in Waco by maintaining their standards of originality, relevance, and artistic excellence. 
  • Preserving the joy of performance by refusing to let go of childish dreams, fantastic fantasies, and wild imaginings.

Epiphanies, simply put, checks each of these boxes in a remarkable way. You can be certain that it is going to be a part of the lifeblood of Wild Imaginings, an event to which we may look forward to seeing year after year. Because for Wild Imaginings, and certainly for Epiphanies, this is only the beginning.

And who knows what other coffeeshop dreams will happen next?

Trent Sutton is the Founder and Artistic Director of Wild Imaginings, a newly formed performing arts nonprofit here in Waco, TX. He has recently graduated from Truett Seminary with his Master of Divinity, and has already made Waco his home. He is passionate about the arts and believes them to be the best way in which he can contribute to the city which he has grown to love so much. He believes Wild Imaginings is uniquely positioned to truly bring a different flavor of art to Waco, and he is excited for what this new adventure will bring. His desire is that this community be limited only by the scope of their imaginations. His favorite thing is sharing dreams and ideas and working together to bring them to life. So don’t hesitate to reach out!

“Scared Sober” Haunted House Raises Funds for Recovery

By Jennifer Tobin, Sunshine Recovery House Board of Directors, Secretary

When my best friend asked me to be on the board of a sober house, I thought, “I don’t know how to be a board member, but I believe in her and that women need a second chance (sometimes 7×70 chances) to get on their feet to learn to maintain a life of sobriety.” So, I jumped in and became one of the founding board members of Sunshine Recovery House. I have been involved with each aspect of gaining our non-profit status, setting up & enforcing house rules, fundraising, and day-to-day operations of our social enterprise UnSHAKEable Milkshakes.  Sunshine Recovery House, a 501(c3) nonprofit, is currently one of very few places in Waco that offers safe, affordable, accountable housing for women in the early stages of recovery from drugs and alcohol. Women who move to a sober living home are more likely to remain sober than if they were to return to the environment they left when they went to treatment. These women are someone’s daughter, sister, mother, aunt, niece, and friend who are recovering from the disease of addiction. Sober living homes provide a community foundation to learn how to live life free of addiction.

In August 2019, Sunshine Recovery House purchased an amazing house located in Uptown Waco. The first time I walked through I thought it would be fun to set up a haunted house there. Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. For me, Halloween isn’t about witchcraft, honoring evil spirits, or even overindulging in candy. It’s about using one’s imagination while facing and overcoming fear. I prayed about it, then persuaded the other board members to allow a small budget, and with the help of some outstanding volunteers donating materials, decorations, and time we spent September and October planning and setting up the first Scared Sober Haunted House. We had a lot of fun with the brave souls who came.

With expectations that the house would be either under renovation or occupied by this year the scare crew made a tentative plan to find a store front for Halloween 2020. Then Covid-19 shut down the world, along with our major fundraiser in March, and renovation plans were put on hold, until recently. Because we saved a majority of the materials we used last year and the house remains empty we decided to rally the Scare Crew to hold the event again this year on Halloween weekend: Oct. 29, 30, & 31: 7pm-10pm, and have a cleanup/prayer day on Nov. 1.

I realize that some may see “haunting a house” as inviting darkness; however, our intention is to shed Light on the dark aspects of addiction. The name Scared Sober ties into the theme of each room; for instance, addiction spins a web of lies, walking through a maze of darkness, gloomy funerals, pathways of destruction, and alternate realities. We are optimistic that this year’s Scared Sober Haunted House will be a safe way for community members to support us with their donations while having some Halloween fun.

This is a family event. The Scare Crew has a plan to “turn up the heat” to provide a bit more fright or to tone down the scare factor for younger visitors. We will not let children go through the house alone. Due to the nature of some of our rooms we don’t recommend anyone under 10; however, it’s ultimately parents’ discretion to take their child through. There are also strobe lights used within the house so those who may have seizures are advised to stay away.

Due to Covid-19, the Scare Team will be checking temperatures before entry, only allowing small groups that arrive together to walk through together, maintaining 6ft physical distancing, and requiring everyone to wear a mask (which shouldn’t be hard because it’s Halloween).

Come let us scare you sober Thursday Oct. 29, Friday Oct. 30, or Saturday Oct. 31 7pm-10pm! 

We are asking for a minimum $5 donation but if you can contribute as little as a $1 or as much as $10000+ that would be amazing. All the proceeds are going to refurbish and remodel this house. The renovation of this home will provide 9 additional beds for women in recovery and an apartment for our onsite house manager and her family. The SRH Board has a working plan to move residents in soon and we can only do that with your support!

For other opportunities to support Sunshine Recovery House please visit our website at sunshinerecoveryhouse.com, adopt-a-room, sign up for our newsletter, follow us on social media, go buy a milkshake at Unshakeable Milkshakes located in Union Hall, and stop by to pray with us on Sun. Nov. 1, 3pm-5pm.

Jennifer Tobin transplanted to Waco with her daughter for a fresh start in 2005. She has served on the Board of Directors for Sunshine Recovery House as Secretary since its formation in 2018.  Serving others is her joy; helping women while they learn to live free of addiction is her calling. Jennifer earned her Master’s in Educational Leadership & Advising from Angelo State and works full time in Academic Support & Tutoring at McLennan Community College.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

Five Things to Know Right Now About Caritas

By Ann Owen

We are here to help.

I hope you read Alicia Jallah’s blog last week regarding the numerous services Caritas offers to the community. During this time of much need, Caritas continues to see increasing numbers of individuals and families who are experiencing hardships as never before. Whether it be food, assistance with utilities, case management services and/or assistance with enrollment in state and federal programs such as SNAP (formerly food stamps), Caritas staff are ready to help. If you have a need for which we are unable to provide assistance, we have a long list of community partners to whom we can refer clients.

Things look a little different.

As much in our community has changed due to the pandemic, so has Caritas. In March, we closed our pantry to visitors and implemented a drive-through method of food distribution. Monday through Friday, you will see long lines of cars surrounding the building as staff and volunteers load vehicles with baskets full of groceries. Our Hidden Treasures thrift stores require masks be worn by staff and customers and at times, need to ask customers to wait outside of our buildings as a precaution. If you drop off a donation of food at our downtown warehouse or clothing and merchandise at our thrift stores, you will be met by a staff member wearing a smile under that mask! Although physically things may look differently, our commitment to serving the community has not changed.

Our staff has a heart for service.

We are very proud to have staff members who are truly dedicated to serving others, with compassion and empathy for those who are in difficult situations. All departments within Caritas have an important role in ensuring our clients are treated with the utmost dignity and respect, from choosing healthy foods for our pantry, to a cheerful “Have a blessed day” to clients as vehicles are loaded, to providing a compassionate ear for those who have nowhere else to turn – our job is to assist in any way possible. Sometimes our clients simply need to know that someone cares – and at Caritas, we do.

We understand that it’s hard to ask for assistance.

Often, clients apologize or are embarrassed to ask for help. We see clients from many different seasons in life. Some come from multiple generations of poverty and yearn to become more self-sufficient. Some find themselves experiencing difficulties due to unexpected medical bills or loss of employment. Some are retired and find that their retirement income doesn’t cover the increasing costs of living longer. And this year, many are experiencing difficulties related to the pandemic – such as loss of employment, layoffs or furloughs. Whatever your situation, just know that you will be treated with the dignity and respect that every person deserves.

We could not exist without amazing community partners.

Before the pandemic, we were very fortunate to have a dedicated base of donors and volunteers who support the important services Caritas provides to the community. But oh my, have we been blessed with an amazing outpouring of love and support during this very difficult year! As with many nonprofits, when the pandemic began affecting communities in the spring, we were worried about being able to provide for our clients. It quickly became evident that those worries were unfounded. Individuals, businesses, foundations, civic organizations, churches and other faith-based organizations showered our organization with support to ensure we would be able to continue providing services to what would become an ever-increasing number of individuals and families in our community. We send a virtual hug to each and every one of you.

The struggles are far from over and the future remains uncertain, so we need your continued support – by volunteering your time to assist in the distribution line for our pantry, by donating food or hosting a food drive, or by supporting us with a monetary donation.

The word “Caritas” means “love” in Latin, and we continue to witness love and humanity as our community comes together to support those who are affected by these trying times.

Thank you all as we continue our quest to move our clients beyond hunger to hope.

Ann Owen entered the nonprofit world as a professional fundraiser in 1997 after serving numerous organizations as a volunteer. She joined the staff of Caritas in 2014 as their first Director of Development, with hopes of making an impact on those in our community who struggle in the grasps of poverty. She currently has the honor of serving as Co-Executive Director at Caritas of Waco. Ann and her husband are lifelong residents of Waco and have two adult children.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

Mural Monday: Shay Scranton

By Debbie Wright

Shay Scranton is a Waco local who has recently contributed to the growing list of murals in the Waco Community. His mural can be found at One Day Bar , one of the new coffee-and-cocktails establishments downtown on Columbus Ave. As a local creative, Scranton runs his own graphic design company and has worked with multiple companies around town. His lifelong interests in drawing and illustration, combined with his passion for metal music and the alternative scene, have led to a collection of works with a special focus on death and dark themes. 

Scranton describes his most recent mural as “Deisel Punk “ with ties back to stylings of Mad Max, early comic book skylines, and inspirations from artists and creatives like Frank Miller and Kris Straub. “I really dig making these two-dimensional, cut-out looking silhouetted skylines. So, when the idea to do a skyline for this (the mural) it was perfect and really fun,” Scranton said. Though he is not normally a muralist, this passion project was kicked off by his friend Kyler Griffith, who is the owner of the new bar.  With previous works with Native Sons, Pinewood Roasters, The Glass Phoenix, and Common Grounds (where he got his start as a band poster artist), his reputation with well-known local brands has grown his company and has made him somewhat of a veteran in the Waco art community. “I’ve seen a lot of things come and go. I’ve been here long enough and been working with local companies in some graphic capacity for 15 years,” Scranton said.

Scranton started his career as an artist right here in the heart of Texas, though he spent his early life as a musician and has traveled far and wide. Since Scranton started in the music industry at the young age of fourteen, with the Waco punk band Well Inside Out,  music production and the alternative lifestyle has influenced his artistic style and personal aesthetic. “I am constantly experimenting with new ideas and styles and things, just to see what works…but when I started doing artwork related to music, band T-shirts were my favorite things to do. The style kind of developed around that. It was very detailed oriented and I want to create images so detailed they tell their own story,” Scranton said.

Scranton specializes in shirt designs, band posters and logo designing. With subjects ranging from monsters, Dungeons & Dragons designs. Many of his works are playful yet dark expressions with high contrast colors; complex, hyper-stylized characters; and heavy metal lettering. This has evolved from some of his past projects like Funeral Confetti (his art novelty company), where he designed custom enamel pins, patches and did home screen printing. Along with that, he has worked with other media and even produced a full-length Dungeons & Dragons show called Darkest Dove that can be found on Youtube. He hinted there were some new things in the process of being completed, however, he prefers to keep some things secret until they are complete. For more recent work, you can find him on social media @shayscranton and through his website at http://www.shayscranton.com/. You can also contact him at shaycscranton@gmail.com.

Debbie Wright runs the local Know Waco Podcast, which features upcoming events and activities happening in and around the Waco area. She is a recent Texas Tech graduate, with a major in communications and minor in public relations. She has lived in the Waco area for ten years and loves to work with local creatives and artists. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.

Candidate for City Council, District 4: Kelly Palmer

By Kelly Palmer

Affordable housing, economic development, and COVID-19 are three of the most pressing issues our District IV City Councilmember must prioritize. More than ever, we need trustworthy leaders who listen to their constituents’ needs and are well equipped to address the complex issues our city faces. 

Issue 1: Affordable Housing

The rising cost of housing in our community is one of the concerns I have heard repeatedly voiced by District IV residents. Since 2015, the cost of property taxes and housing in Waco has skyrocketed while wages have mostly stayed stagnate. Nearly half of our city’s residents are “housing burdened” and spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing. As housing costs continue to surge, folks have to move further and further from the city’s core, where many of Waco’s highest paying jobs are located. Housing is an issue where we see poverty and race significantly intersect, in everything from disproportionate homeownership rates to redlining in communities of color. 

While there are several ways to address housing-related issues, I believe we will not see meaningful change enacted until housing is a priority in our city’s budget — which ultimately reflects the city’s values. In reviewing the city of Waco’s budget from the past three fiscal years, I was surprised to learn that housing and community development are consistently the least funded budget category. Year after year, housing has made up only 1% of the city’s annual budget. By allocating greater resources to housing, we can invest in solutions that will help alleviate this significant area of need in our community. If elected to the council, I would advocate for both for the development of mixed-income housing, which the data suggests can significantly benefit both communities and residents, in addition to pursuing policies that prevent gentrification and displacement of families from generational homes. 

Issue 2: Equitable Development

Waco has experienced a significant economic boom over the past several years, and yet, 44% of District IV residents make under $25,000 a year. While Waco’s growth has undoubtedly benefited some segments of our community, many of our neighbors have not shared in the prosperity or growth. As the city continues to expand in the coming years, the development we pursue must be sustainable and rooted in equity. 

Equitable Development is a framework that encompasses economic and community development goals, in which community members are actively engaged in the decision-making process. If elected, I would pursue economic development initiatives that seek to improve the quality of life for all Wacoans, focusing particularly on our residents experiencing financial insecurity. One way I will do this is by championing jobs that provide our residents with a living wage and supporting our local workforce development programs. Through my work with Communities In Schools, I have seen firsthand the impact that workforce development programming can have on someone’s life by equipping them with an employable skill set that opens the door to financial security.    

I look forward to reinforcing partnerships like this within our city, bringing together schools, non-profit organizations, and businesses to train our residents with the specialized skill sets needed to access high paying jobs available within the Greater Waco area.

Issue 3: COVID-19 Management & Recovery

COVID-19 continues to pose a real threat to the security and wellbeing of our community. While the virus has had broad sweeping adverse effects on all of our residents, it has significantly hit our communities of color. Our Black and Latinx populations have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, as evidenced by the positivity and morbidity rates among these demographic groups. Addressing racial disparity as it relates to the novel-coronavirus is an issue of critical importance. 

While there are no quick fixes or easy answers, our city council members must continue to provide thoughtful leadership throughout the duration of this crisis. Getting up-to-date, accurate information to our residents will continue to be an important area of focus. Finding ways to access hard-to-reach populations and populations at heightened risk of contracting the virus is also vital. We need city leaders who can strategically mitigate and respond to the wide range of effects COVID-19 has on our community. Even after a vaccine has been created and widely distributed, we will likely face the virus’s ramifications for months, if not years to come. As a city, we must be thoughtful as we develop plans for the long-term multi-tiered recovery we will need.

I commend Mayor Deaver, Judge Felton, and our extensive network of local healthcare providers for the decisive actions taken since March to flatten the curve and minimize the transmission of COVID-19 in our community. The road ahead of us is long, but we can weather the storms of this virus together. My experience working on the frontlines of a humanitarian aid crisis in 2015 and 2016 has equipped me with the skills needed to effectively prioritize competing values and lead during times of collective crisis.

2020 has been a challenging year, but there is hope for a brighter tomorrow. Our community is resilient and resourceful; we will get through this together. Collectively we can build a healthy future for all Wacoans – one where our neighbors have access to needed resources, our local economy is strong, and our community thrives. As a social worker and educator, I have the tools and expertise necessary to get us there. I have been on the frontlines, showing up for our community for years, and I’m ready to serve District IV residents as their next city councilwoman.

Biographical information for Kelly Palmer

Kelly Palmer is a licensed social worker and educator running for Waco City Council, District IV. She has called Waco home since 2013, when she moved to here to pursue her Masters in Social Work for Baylor University. Kelly is running for public office to further serve the community she loves by promoting greater equity and justice through public policy and city funding. Kelly’s campaign priorities are housing, COVID-19 leadership, and economic development with a focus on impacting our most financially insecure neighbors. When she’s not working, you can usually find Kelly volunteering with a local non-profit, on a walk with her husband, or nose deep in a book from the library.

Library and Parks & Rec re-opening

By Brayley Payne

After a long season of quarantine through the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Waco is finally re-opening its doors. This includes restaurants, coffee shops, and other Waco favorites — the Waco-McLennan County Library and various Parks and Recreation services in the Waco area.

The library, at all four locations, is set to open Monday, June 15. The hours will be limited, Monday through Friday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.. Visitors will be able to browse like usual and check out items. While there will be browsing, there will be no public seating in the library at this point.

“We are taking this phased approach because the situation is fluid and plans need to be flexible so we can make changes as information becomes available,” said Library Director Essy Day.

Social distancing will be encouraged throughout the libraries. The computers will also be six feet apart, and time will be limited to one hour per day for each user. After a user leaves, the staff will clean the computer area. The library recommends using the outdoor drop when returning items in order to effectively quarantine the previously checked-out items. Visitors are encouraged to wear face masks.

Waco Parks and Recreation has created modified programs for the summer, but they will still be fun! The RECess! summer program has already begun, and it aims to provide a fun alternative to the camps that have been canceled due to COVID-19. This program will be virtual for daily, at-home activities. Check the department’s Facebook page each day for updates.

The department’s outdoor pavilions, indoor facilities, and park areas are now available for rental! On June 15, Bledsoe-Miller, Dewey, and South Waco community centers will reopen. The new hours will be: Monday-Thursday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.; and Saturday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m..

June 15 is also the start date for organized sports and competitions on city property and in city facilities. Riverbend Park will reopen for games and use on June 15, as well. Waco Mammoth National Monument has opened its trail and picnic area for use. The dig shelter tours, however, are still on hold to reopen, and park buildings will remain closed for the time being.

Brayley Payne is an Act Locally Waco intern from Denver. She’s studying professional writing and religion at Baylor University and entering her senior year. She has worked in the Baylor University Writing Center the last two years.

(Ahmaud Arbery) I Don’t Want to Know Your Name

By Dr. Peaches Henry

Ahmaud Arbery, I don’t want to know your name,
Because knowing your name means your mother is grieving your unjustifiable death.
Knowing your name means you are an unarmed Black man who died at the hands of a white man—
A white man who thinks that he has the right to police your body
Whether or not he is a cop,
Whether or not, if he is a cop, you have committed a crime,
Whether you were simply living your best life,
Snacking on Skittles and iced tea,
Playing your music loudly while pumping gas,
Sitting on your couch eating ice cream,
Sleeping in your own bed,
Settling into a daily run,
Living while Black.

Ahmaud Arbery, I don’t want to know your name.
Because knowing your name means I must add you to that heartbreaking, breath-stopping, stomach-wrenching, always growing, never-ending catalog of murdered Black men, women, and children.
That did not begin with Emmitt Till nor end with Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner or Michael Brown or Tamir Rice or Freddie Gray or Sandra Bland or Philando Castillo or Alton Sterling or Bootham Jean or Breonna Taylor or George Floyd or countless more.
Yet knowing your name means to honor your life.
To say your name is the first step in the journey toward justice for you.
Knowing your name means to protest anti-Black violence,
To scream “Black Lives Matter” in the futile hope that the loss of your life matters.

Ahmaud Arbery, I don’t want to know your name.
Because knowing your name turns my mind to my own twenty-five-year-old son.
Like you, each day he goes for a jog in a predominately white neighborhood.
His neighborhood.
So Ahmaud Arbery, to know your name terrifies me
And causes me to double over in a silent wail of agony every morning,
And to breathe again only when the door opens to reveal my Black Eagle Scout, dean’s list, not-safe-at-home law student.

Ahmaud Arbery, I don’t want to know your name.
But I will learn your name.
I will memorialize you by ritually reciting your name in perpetuity.
I will remember it, because like Emmitt, Trayvon, Eric, Michael, Tamir, Freddie, Sandra, Philando, Alton, Bootham, Breonna, and George you deserved to live in obscurity unknown to me
Not killed by a white man’s bullet or knee on your neck.
I will stand with your mother, uphold your memory, and fight for justice,
Because my son jogs too.

Peaches Henry is an English professor at McLennan Community College. She is currently teaching online and sheltering in place with her eight-month old black Labrador puppy and her son who has returned home from law school.

Equity in action

By Rachel E. Pate

“In a racially equitable society, the distribution of society’s benefits and burdens would not be skewed by race.”The Aspen Institute

Brief Rewind

Around this time last year, the City of Waco, our mayor and city council held a retreat addressing racial inequity within our community. J.B. Smith, Waco Tribune-Herald reporter, covered the story in “Waco council takes aim at racial disparities, gentrification” (May 23, 2019).  Some of the staggering statistics gathered and presented by the city were highlighted in J.B.’s article, revealing that:

  • Whites account for 43% of Waco’s population but hold 80% of the jobs paying more than $40,000 as of 2015.
  • Among white households, 13.5% make less than $25,000 a year, compared with 25.3% among Hispanics and 51.1% among blacks.
  • Nearly 29% of white households make more than $100,000 a year, compared with 3.3% for blacks and 8.7% for Hispanics.
  • African Americans in 2017 had a 31% mortgage denial rate, compared with 20.9% for Hispanics and 11.7% for whites.

In the news article Councilman Dillion Meek stated: “I’ve always put a high value on grit and self-determination, but if the goal is to improve the economy, we have to look at systems from 100 or 150 years ago to now,” Meek said. “The outcomes from the data speak for themselves and are a direct result of the history of this community.”

Assistant City Manager Deidra Emerson was also quoted saying: “The end goal is to ensure that everyone in Waco thrives, including people of color. … The starting point for the next generation is the ending point of the last generation. If we don’t start to change those outcomes now, we’ll keep repeating the same things.“

Pandemic Proportions

Positioned against the backdrop of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, we all witnessed our nation’s institutions, systems, businesses and, most importantly, people brace for a great unknown together. As the virus spread, we were forced to mourn more and differently than before, all while swallowing disproportionate effects happening in communities of color. The Pandemic drastically changed so much of what we thought we once knew and added to the boiling pot of health disparities, income disparities, racial disparities and inequity in the fabric of America.  

As the wave of concern swept through our nation, our local leaders were called to immediate attention and action; elected officials, health officials, business experts and volunteer task forces were all on one accord. 

The Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce (CTAACC), along with others, was right in the thick of early and ongoing discussions about community health and our local economy. Our staff immediately pivoted from pre-set work to intentionally and strategically supporting the needs of our community’s small and minority-owned businesses. 

We partnered with the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to support immediate small business initiatives like our StarBridge Bingo and Buy Local Waco online marketing campaigns. We worked together to collect grassroots data from businesses, employees and people of color. 

CTAACC was firmly seated at the table with the city and other community partners breaking down information, providing frequent updates and contributing solutions. 

Collective Voices

While weeks of the shelter-in-place orders and social distancing continued, CTAACC assembled an informal advisory group to work alongside our staff and help create solutions for business equity. Community business members and leaders included Wannika Muhammad, Rev. Marlon Jones and Cuevas Peacock, who each added diversity, passion and perspective to the dialogue. Our group later became known as the CommUnity Voices team. United in tackling the tasks before us, we put our heads together and strategically planned our moves ahead.  

Within our virtual, weekly think-tank sessions, each member shared our concerns about equity, community and business. Each contributed wisdom and insight from our collective backgrounds in business and community development, religion and higher education and lived experiences. We examined and digested everything around us and studied the historical pre-sets of inequity. 

As we saw increased unemployment rates for workers, struggling small businesses and government relief that could only do so much, the group determined that solid, perpetual initiatives were mandatory to rightfully shore up vulnerable, small, minority-owned businesses. In those conversations, our vision for equity was honed.

Forward March

The Chamber’s Center for Business Excellence (CBE) has long been an engine for small business development, offering free business tools, technology resources and meeting space. Utilizing this existing program, CTAACC established the Cen-Tex Minority Business (CTMB) Equity Fund in May 2020 to provide business relief to businesses of color through grant funding and micro-loans.  (Donate Here.)

The CTMB Equity Fund is the first local fund in our community that will assist small minority-owned businesses facing income loss or rising expenses due to circumstances caused by natural disasters, illness, global pandemics, or any situation that disrupts their economic and social well-being. 

The fund will also provide increased access to social capital and business training/education for entrepreneurs. Our kick-start campaign goal of $100,000 provides individuals, organizations and businesses with the opportunity to not only talk about equity but invest in it also.  I could say more, but for now I’ll digress and take a breath. There’s still more action to be done tomorrow.

The Center of Business Excellence (CBE) is a private sector 501(c)(3) charity affiliated with the Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce. The CBE actively helps McLennan County small businesses thrive by providing operational, social, and financial resources needed to sustain business development. The CBE manages the Cen-Tex Minority Business Equity Funda program created by the Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce and a Business Advisory Committee comprised of community business members and leaders.  

The purpose of the fund program is to provide short-term, immediate aid/relief to small, local minority-owned businesses facing income loss or rising expenses due to circumstances caused by natural disasters, illness, global pandemics, or any situation that disrupts their economic and social well-being. 

Any McLennan County-based, minority-owned, small business with 10 employees or less is eligible to apply for assistance. Grants/loans may be awarded up to $2,500 dependent on resources. I could go on, but for now I guess I’ll digress and take a breather. There’s action to be done tomorrow.

Editor’s Note: Investments in the CTMB Equity Fund are currently being accepted online at www.centexchamber.com. The online application portal for business funding is expected to open later this month. CTAACC can be reached at (254) 235-3204.

Rachel E. Pate is vice president of economic development at Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce (CTAACC) in Waco. Rachel is a native Wacoan and graduate of University High School. Since 2016, Rachel has served in various roles at the chamber and championed the causes of small entrepreneurs, women, and minorities. She is also a LeadershipPlenty Institute graduate, Rapoport Academy Public School Board member and Start-Up Waco Board member.

With her mother being a Sunday School teacher and evangelist, Rachel began serving the community at a very early age. She was active on her church’s usher board and youth ministry. Some of her fondest memories of growing up in Waco are being surrounded by her large, extended family for reunions and Juneteenth gatherings; her mother is one of 11 siblings who all hail from Waco. Her father, R.E. Pate Jr. (deceased), and mother met at Paul Quinn College in the early 1970s — the same campus where CTAACC resides today.

Rachel is also a proud mom of one, a lifelong member of Toliver Chapel Church, a lover of the great outdoors, an avid basketball fan, and a dedicated wearer of Converse’s Chuck Taylor shoes. Rachel’s favorite scripture is Romans 8:31- “…If God be for us, then who can stand against us?”

A message from Mayor Kyle Deaver regarding the death of George Floyd

By Mayor Kyle Deaver

The brutal killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day at the hands of Minneapolis police was tragic, despicable, and completely unacceptable to our society. Unfortunately, it is part of a long history of the lack of equity in our nation. Waco has its own sad history of racism, including the lynching of Jesse Washington on May 15, 1916.

We have begun to face this reality in our community, and we must continue to move toward a more racially equitable society. The peaceful protestors and demonstrators who spoke and marched together this past Saturday in Waco were right in their calls for action. We must continue to work toward this future together.

Across the country, peaceful protestors and demonstrators have voiced this same desire. Unfortunately, in many cities, protests have involved looting and vandalism. That’s a terrible situation for many reasons. It is obviously unfair to those whose businesses and property are affected. It puts fellow protesters and police in danger, and it warps the message of the need to end racism in our nation. This jeopardizes that very message that so desperately needs to be heard, and it causes many of the people who need to hear and engage on this important message to, instead, become fearful and angry.

I want to thank the organizers and all who participated in last Saturday’s protests and demonstrations for their thoughtful, genuine approach to the problem of racial inequity and violence by some police officers. It is certainly not all, but it’s also not just “a few bad apples.” I also want to thank the leaders in our communities of color for their wise approach to these difficult times. And I want to thank them for relationships they have built with our police force.

I respect and admire every member of Waco’s Police Department that I have had the opportunity to get to know. I believe that each of them are every bit as sickened by what transpired in Minneapolis as I am. Police brutality anywhere in our nation strains the relationship between our citizens and the police who are doing their important and often dangerous work as they try to protect all of us.

Let’s continue to work together toward healing and racial equity. That will require difficult conversations about next steps. Those conversations have to occur.

Kyle Deaver was elected mayor in 2016 and was unopposed in 2018. He previously served four years on the Waco City Council as the representative for District V. Kyle is an attorney and businessman who is active in the Waco community. Deaver is currently on the board of the Waco Foundation. He has served on the boards of the Cameron Park Zoological Society, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, Vanguard College Preparatory School, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Day School. He served six years on the Waco Plan Commission.

Calling all Millennials to help Curb the National Debt!

by Saul Cornejo Bravo

Throughout history there have been many times when the youth, frustrated by issues affecting society, have rallied together to invoke change in our nation. In previous decades, those issues included civil rights, education, the Vietnam War, and free speech. What made the movements of these past generations successful was hope that change could be enacted and a willingness to use the collective power people hold in our democracy to achieve it. In contrast, our generation, the millennials, are currently described as too lazy, sensitive, safe-space-confined, selfie-obsessed, and self-absorbed to care about anything going on in the world. If judged by voting percentages of 18 to 29 year olds, that assertion might be correct. Millennials’ voting participation rate peaked in 2008, when 51% of the eligible voters from the youngest voting block participated that presidential election year. In contrast, during the last midterm election only about 21% voted. Because of this, politicians have had little incentive to act in our generation’s best interest. In particular, there is an urgent issue that I, along with the other members of the MCC Up to Us team, believe must be addressed because of its impact on our generation: the national debt. This debt issue threatens the future prosperity of our country and the future livelihood of young Americans through its effect on taxes, and federal spending.

The Up to Us team at McLennan College is running a national debt awareness campaign, as part of a national competition, in the hope that we can inform our peers about the issue and inspire them to take action by participating in the political process. Our campaign is non-partisan; we aren’t endorsing any political ideology, party, candidate, or even legislation. Instead, we believe this issue should transcend party lines and ideologies because Democrats and Republicans alike have gotten us to this point, and everyone will be affected by it, whether they consider themselves liberals or conservatives. Additionally, we do not want to promote intergenerational conflict, but we believe that our current political leaders, in regard to the national debt, are making decisions hurting our generations’ best interest, because the debt accumulated today will affect society tomorrow. Our main goal is to make our peers aware of the national debt and the importance of government fiscal responsibility, because our federal budget, apart from showing how we allocate our resources, demonstrates where our values and priorities lie.

After years of continued borrowing from the prosperity of future generations by running high federal budget deficits, the national debt is close to 19 trillion dollars. This debt accumulation trend, if left unaltered, could have negative consequences for our country. For example, in 2015 we spent approximately $224 billion in interest, more than we spend on education, research and development, and infrastructure– which are investments for our future– combined. Additionally, our annual interest payment is expected to more than double to $772 billion by 2025. Therefore, we must consider our priorities when thinking about increasing the national debt because we can’t fund the government through deficits indefinitely.

Currently, major drivers of the national debt are the national healthcare programs, but sadly there has been little done to make them sustainable. Over 40%, or about 1.8 trillion dollars, of our federal budget goes towards social health programs like Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid, with costs growing every year. For example, due to the baby boomer generation retiring, Social Security and Medicare, in particular, have become extremely costly and are unsustainable under current law. In 1960, the worker to beneficiary ratio was 5 to 1. In 2009 it reached 3 to 1, and by 2035 it’s projected to reach 2 to 1, which will make Social Security an even bigger burden on our budget. Granted, these programs are important for our society, but if we want to continue having them, we need to make them sustainable in a way that won’t sacrifice the future of our country.

Our current political leaders are heavily divided among political parties and ideologies, and are unwilling to solve the issue. This led to a government shutdown in 2013 and inaction to reduce our budget deficits. Additionally, politicians from both sides of the aisle continue to irresponsibly propose plans that could have a significant negative effect on our deficit, such as heavily increasing spending or cutting taxes, the government’s revenue, by trillions. Proposals like this borrow from the prosperity of future generations for immediate political benefits. Therefore, it is up to millennials, the generation that in the future will suffer the consequences of the decisions made today, to demand action and hold our politicians accountable by participating in the voting process. By joining together now, we can cement our legacy as the generation that ensured America’s prosperity by demanding fiscal responsibility and ensuring our resources are spent investing in our future.

Follow the McLennan College Up to US campaign on Instagram @MCCUotoUs to learn more about the national debt and follow their campaign.

Saul CornejoSaul Cornejo Bravo is a student at McLennan Community College and currently interns at First Friday Waco. He is passionate about community development and plans to transfer to UT Austin and major in Economics.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these Aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.