There’s No Rescue at the End of Jesse’s Story

By Kris Cervantes

Human beings are storytellers – we look for meaning through narrative, craft pattern and purpose from the sometimes random-seeming events of our lives. Ideally, stories create meaning and – even more ideally – they have a happy ending.

The story of Jesse Washington doesn’t have a happy ending. Jesse died on the threshold of adulthood, violently and in agony, as those in power literally stood by and observed; as 15,000 white residents of Waco and McLennan County not only watched but cheered, struggling through the crowd to get closer, to abuse and mutilate Jesse, to inhale the scent of his burnt flesh as he was roasted alive over an impromptu bonfire, to throw broken-up furniture onto that fire, to kindle the flames higher.

There’s no rescue at the end of Jesse’s story. No one prevents Jesse’s pain, or even puts him out of his misery. There’s no mercy killing; he lives for hours and is slowly burnt and hacked to pieces, until at last death brings peace to his soul – if not to his body. No one who attended seemed to feel bad for their participation in this atrocity; families watched the lynching with their children. Some of those children paid 25 cents for a link of the chain upon which Jesse’s body had been hoisted; later – when Jesse’s body had been abused to the point of disintegration – they sold Jesse’s teeth for $5 each.

Jesse’s death didn’t happen in the dark of night. It wasn’t hidden away in the woods. It happened just outside the courthouse, on a Monday, at lunchtime.

The story of Jesse Washington, which began in 1899 when he was welcomed as an infant into a loving home, in or near Robinson, Texas, doesn’t have a happy ending.

For a few decades, the story of Jesse Washington’s death was told as a warning about Waco; W.E.B. Dubois published an 8-page expose featuring graphic photographs of Jesse’s murder, and later penned the short story “Jesus Christ in Texas,” inspired by Jesse’s story. The NAACP was galvanized by the Waco Horror, as the story of Jesse’s lynching came to be called. And in Waco, Jesse’s family, like other African American families affected by lynching – which is to say, like all African American families – passed the story of Jesse’s death down the generations, a cautionary tale. Step out of line? Those in power in McLennan County – and all over the south – have proven what happens to black folks who do that. We have the stories to prove it.

Lynching is the act of putting someone to death, especially by hanging, by mob violence and without legal authority. Another word for “lynching” is “murder.” Lynching is mob justice; lynching is murder; lynching is social control.

One hundred years have passed since the sunny day when Jesse Washington, a 17-year-old field laborer, was accused of murder, tried, convicted, and dragged from the courtroom by some of the 2,500 white Wacoans who had crowded in to see the trial. That story is written; justice was not done.

We can’t rewrite history – although we sometimes try. We can’t deny what happened a century ago, in the time of our grandparents and great-grandparents. We can pretend to forget. We can say, “That story doesn’t belong to me. It doesn’t belong to my people, my tribe” – but we do so at our peril.

The story of Jesse Washington – painful, shameful, terrible, true – is our story. Waco’s story, Robinson’s story, McLennan County’s story. It’s a story told not only here but all over Texas, all over the south, all over the U.S.

And.

(There’s always an “and.”)

And that story is written.

And – it is not the only story, or the last story, that will be written about Waco, about us.

We – today, now – cannot rewrite the story of Jesse Washington, but we can decide how Jesse Washington’s story shapes narratives as yet unwritten. We can decide to mourn for Jesse, to hold his family in our hearts, to surround all the families stained by our lynching past with love and care, to rededicate ourselves to the creation of a community which promises and delivers justice and compassion to all: the greatest and the least, the most powerful and the most vulnerable.

Jesse-Washington-Memorial-Service-Flier-768x994We are invited to remember Jesse’s story, and to consider our own stories for the future, with a memorial service in Jesse Washington’s memory. Please join us this Sunday at 2 p.m. at Bledsoe Miller Recreation Center (300 N. MLK Jr. Blvd.) as we begin to create a new meaning, a new journey, a new story for our community: together.


kris cervantesKristen Cervantes is the pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waco, and a Waco native. She is on the board of the Greater Waco Interfaith Conference, and has been an active part of planning Waco’s commemoration of the life and death of Jesse Washington. She is also a member of the Community Race Relations Coalition and KWBU’s Community Advisory Council. In her spare time she reads, writes, makes music, and watches superhero movies – sometimes at the same time.

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.

 

 

Kiera Collins ART program

By Jenuine Poetess

This month I had a conversation with Keira Collins, behavior specialist for the Klaras Center for Families YES program and founder of ART (A Reason To…).  She has organized the growth of the YES program to include visual and written arts programming, is a volunteer with Waco Poets Society, and I am excited to share a glimpse of her work and vision with you.

Jenuine Poetess: Please share a bit about yourself generally—as an artist, as a community organizer/youth worker, as a person with various roles/identities.

Kiera Collins: I work as a behavior specialist for Heart of Texas MHMR region Klaras Center for Families, more specifically, as a part of the YES program. My job entails mentoring and tutoring, but I also organize activities, create programs, perform community outreach and coordinate services for the clients that we serve. I am able to be creative in my job role and being a creative, visual person has helped me create a name for myself.

JP: How did you first connect with art?

KC: I wrote my first poem when I was in the 3rd grade, without knowing what a poem was. I have been writing ever since. Before that my dad exposed me to different musical genres, reggae, rock, and jazz. I remember what it was like growing up listening to Led Zeppelin and The Beatles and falling in love with the lyrics and how well the music complemented the words being sung. 

JP: What about art as an expression drew you in?

KC: Growing up I felt unheard and lost my voice, but writing was a way for me to regain my power. I could say what I was feeling and express it in a way that I was heard.

JP: How did you come to integrate creative process with your work with youth?

KC: Working with the kids in the YES program has been exciting and trying at times. I have been able to use my creativity and the connections that I have made in the art community to create an art program that meets bi-weekly for an hour, to help create a writing group that meets weekly for an hour and a half, I ran a successful online campaign that provided us with books for a library; and have made numerous connections across Waco in an effort to provide our kids with positive outlets and give them a chance to discover their passions.

JP: What do you see as the value of incorporating art into youth development?

KC: The value lies in self-expression and self-acceptance.

JP: What are your favorite mediums to play with?

KC: Poetry, painting, and drawing.

JP: Would you share about a project you are working on or plan to work on in the future?

KC: Friday, May 6th was the 1st children’s mental health awareness event at Klaras Center for Families. I organized the event along with my supervisor. That was exciting and I look forward to next year. I am always working on something new and exciting, but now I am starting to plan our summer activities.

JP: What are some of your needs/how can Wacoans get involved?

KC: MALE mentors! One area that we are in need of is positive male role models for our youth. I know a lot of emphasis is put on boys not having positive male figures in their lives, but that is just as important for our young females. Anyone willing to volunteer their services is welcome to contact me and discuss how they would like to help. Business owners looking to make a difference is also welcome. We work with Jessica G., the owner of Hair and Beauty Art Studio, our kids volunteer at her hair salon and learn basic communication and customer service skills. They are also able to express themselves creatively by decorating the store front window and painting/ drawing signage for the shop. She and the ladies that work there have been instrumental in helping the families we work with by providing a different type of “learning” environment along with haircuts and providing services for our parents that promote self-care.

JP: What do you love about Waco?

KC: I like how small Waco is and how there’s a sense of community.

JP: What would you like to see more of in/around Waco?

KC: I would like to see more community collaborations and involvement, more festivals, and more youth-centered opportunities.

JP: Anything else on your heart to share?

KC: I am grateful to have the opportunity to work for KCF as a part of the YES program and I look forward to seeing how the program will grow.


 

Keira CollinsKiera Collins, born and raised in New Orleans, is a writer/poet and currently resides in Waco, Texas. Being from New Orleans is a different experience and is something she draws on for inspiration. She has an 8-year old white Schnauzer, Jack-Jack, and three nephews. She is a children’s mental health professional and she enjoys what she does.  To connect with Kiera, email: kiera.collins@hotrmhmr.org .

Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW)an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles, CA; Waco, TX; and Lebanon.  Jenuine is the founder of Waco Poets Society and co-founder of the Central Texas Artist Collective.    She writes, organizes, and creates rooted in the fierce conviction that holding intentional space, access, and opportunity for all people to foster their creative health is a matter of justice and is a vital asset to the sustainable thriving of communities.  She currently lives and poems in Central Texas where she enjoys finding new ways to disrupt the homeostasis of her city.  You can contact her at: jenuinepoetess@gmail.com.

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.

 

Breathing Culturally: Identifying as Latino, a “Baylor Bear”, and a Wacoan (Part I)

by Jorge Burmicky

I moved to Waco in 2012. Like many of the stories you’ve heard before, I moved here because Baylor offered me a job. My first time in Texas was the day of my on campus interview. The first restaurant I went to was “Bangkok Royal” for my initial interview – which also happened to be the first place where I met my now wife, Monica, but that’s a separate story. I knew Waco would become home the moment I discovered that HEB sold Harina PAN, a special type of maize flour used to make the traditional Venezuelan arepa in the “international foods” section. I took a picture of it and texted my parents saying: “I think I’ll be alright here!” (If you’re interested in trying arepa, I recommend going to the Colombian food truck at University Parks or at the farmer’s market, “Mi Cali Bella.”)

At first, moving to Waco was a bit of a confusing experience, to say the least. Not being from Texas, I experienced culture shock immediately after my first trip to the grocery store, or in simpler terms, HEB. I picked up a couple of groceries and after going through the checkout line, I greeted the cashier with a friendly “how are you?” to which she responded, “I’m BLESSED!” I immediately told myself, “wow, what a positive outlook on life!” Little did I know that “blessed” can have multiple meanings or no meaning at all, depending on the context.

Now that I’ve lived here for a couple of years, people often ask me all kinds of questions about Waco. Once I get past the usual “Fixer Upper” questions, they tend to ask me about my work at Baylor and what I do for fun. It’s a tricky question because as a residence hall director, I don’t have much of a regular routine since working with college students can be rather unpredictable. However, I generally answer that question with something along the lines of “you know what, I don’t quite know, but I feel very at home in Waco.”

But what do I really mean with that, you may ask? I grew up in Venezuela to a Venezuelan mother and a Slovenian father. In the United States, I identify as Latino, and being Latino in America is a rather complex identity (I will talk more about this next Sunday, Part II). Being of Venezuelan origin makes me a rare breed in Waco, mainly because this is a heavy Mexican descent region. I never thought I’d learn so much about places like Zacatecas (the Mexican state, not the taquería, although, I do like their tacos!) and my Mexican colleagues often make fun of my Spanish accent because to them, I sound like a telenovela (hint: generally speaking, Venezuela is known for having oil, winning the most Miss Universe pageants, and their soap operas or telenovelas). While most of us identify as Latino or Hispanic, I have learned a great deal about what it means to be of Mexican descent in the context of Central Texas, which is fascinating!

Additionally, I am also very invested in the work I do and my students at Baylor. For the most part, my schedule is heavily influenced by Baylor’s calendar, and to be perfectly honest, I love my job. I have also learned a lot about our “town and gown” relationship and the way in which institutions such as Baylor, MCC, and TSTC interact with the city and vice versa.

With that being said, how does one embrace the Wacoan in you while claiming various, often times, opposing identities so strongly? In my opinion, you appreciate the small and big things your city has to offer. Sure Waco has Baylor, Magnolia, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and the Mammoth site, just to name a few. But it also has a unique blend of people and a welcoming culture/environment that allows you to fit in and most importantly, belong– and yes, having HEB with a heavy section of Goya products does help!

In part 2 next Sunday, I will go more into detail about the meaning of these various social identities and the way in which they’ve impacted my work, my relationships, and the way I engage with the city.


Jorge Burmicky - 2Jorge Burmicky currently works at Baylor University in the department of Campus Living & Learning. He’s passionate about college student development and contemporary issues in higher education, particularly access and retention of underrepresented students. He is married to Monica who works at McLennan Community College as the director of TRIO Student Support Services. They are expecting their first born (baby girl!) in June and couldn’t be more excited about it!