“Be friends with your words” – Poet Laureate Speaks to Tennyson Students on the Importance of Writing Honestly

By Amber Harris

Poet Laureate 3On April 7, 2016, the Poet Laureate of Texas, Dr. Carmen Tafolla, challenged students at Tennyson Middle School to share their experiences and stories. The assembly introduced students to Planting Poet Trees, a project Dr. Tafolla created that provides students the opportunity to have their works published in an anthology, as well as receive literary critique and support from Dr. Tafolla.  Tennyson was honored to host this seminar, having been only one of 20 campuses in the entire state selected to participate in the Planting Poet Trees project.

During the assembly, Dr. Tafolla painted a visual picture of her experience visiting a tortilleria to demonstrate how important your surroundings are in inspiring your writing. Students laughed as she blended together English, Spanish, sensory language, and body language to bring this poem to life. Dr. Tafolla explained before sharing this poem that you don’t have to live in a big city to have something meaningful and important to write about. She connected her personal experiences growing up in a San Antonio barrio and how she learned through writing that her neighborhood had many interesting and important stories to share with the world. “You have something unique to contribute,” Dr. Tafolla emphasized throughout the assembly. “Let those words out…Be friends with your words…Catch the words in the air and put them on paper.”

Poet Laureate 2After the assembly, Dr. Tafolla was able to work with a small group of students representing each grade level in a writing seminar. Students engaged in creative writing exercises to begin their own poems for submission in the anthology. I asked some of my students who attended the seminar for their thoughts and they all agreed that the experience was valuable. One student commented that the feedback she received was useful and led to more ideas for her poem. Another student shared that poetry is his favorite writing style and how much he appreciated the opportunity to engage with this seminar and assembly.

This opportunity was thanks to two of Tennyson’s staff members: English Teacher Kaleigh Gibbons and School Librarian Mary McCaghren. Through a network of connections, they completed the grant that led to Tennyson being selected. Mary McCaghren was excited at the opportunity to expose students to spoken word poetry. For her, this was a way to help students heal from experiences they have faced, to have an outlet to be heard. The grant also paved the way for a poetry collection to be added to Tennyson’s library, increasing the amount of poetry selections students can choose from.

The assembly and seminar reminded students that they “have the finest computers in the world, your mind.” The impact has been great among students since the assembly. Many students have checked out the new poetry books added to our library, including The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, a book of poems focusing on basketball that Dr. Tafolla read excerpts from during the assembly. Our students love to be creative and have stories to share. When we give them platforms to express themselves, the impact can be life changing.


Amber Harris is currently an English Teacher for Waco ISD. She is passionate about education reform and mental health reform. She is also very passionate about why In-N-Out burger is the best fast food burger. Originally from Los Angeles, she spends her weekends exploring new parts of Central Texas with her fiancé (and sometimes with their dog, too!). She is looking forward to becoming even more involved in her church and the Waco community after their wedding this summer.

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.



Summer Meals in Waco, And How You Can Help

by Craig Nash

Because the Texas Hunger Initiative cooperates in some way with just about every group, individual and agency devoted to ending food insecurity in Waco, people often identify us as one of those entities. In the short amount of time I have been with THI, I’ve been asked when the next Farm Day will be, how an elderly parent can sign up for Meals & Wheels service, how our food pantry determines who gets food, and what the estimated opening date will be of our new non-profit grocery store. It’s an honor to be associated with such great organizations as Mission Waco, M&W and World Hunger Relief! But what is more in line with our day-to-day work is when we are called the “Summer Meals People.”

Although the Summer Food Service Program, administered by the USDA, has been around since 1968, it has in recent years received more exposure in Texas because of the promotional work of the Child Hunger Outreach Team in our regional offices around the state. I first heard about it several years ago as a minister in town, and now am working to inform everyone in our community about this important tool to help address nutrition gaps among our area children.

When summer hits it brings with it a host of challenges for families. Schedules have to be coordinated differently. Childcare has to be arranged. Camps, sports, and other activities begin to take up time. These new realities can bring with them added financial burdens that don’t always exist when school is in session. The Summer Food Service Program is intended to help families overcome the financial challenge associated with nutrition, especially in communities where the majority of children qualify for free and reduced meals.

To do this, the USDA contracts with sponsors who operate summer feeding sites around the country. The largest and most prominent of these sponsors are local school districts. Both Waco and La Vega ISDs work tirelessly during the summer on campus and with mobile meal routes that serve libraries, parks and community centers. In addition to school districts, faith based non-profit groups like Road to Damascus and City Square operate summer feeding sites in apartment complexes and churches. In the Waco and La Vega School Districts, (including those sites operated by non-profits) lunch is served free to any child aged 18 and under;  no identification is required to participate.

As we approach the summer, the Heart of Texas Sponsor Council, which includes the aforementioned school districts and non-profits, has set a goal this summer to increase awareness of the summer meals program in and around Waco. There are ways you can help us make that happen.

First, be aware of the nearest summer lunch sites in your area, and spread the word to your neighbors. In the next few weeks you will begin to see posters, signs and door hangers pop up all over the city with this information, but word of mouth is still the most powerful method of communication. You can locate your nearest site here– http://www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks. (This website will be continually updated as sites are added before the summer begins.) You can also find sites by dialing 211. Most all sites in Waco will begin summer food service on Monday, June 6.

Second, the H.O.T. Sponsor Council is hosting community wide kick off events at four sites around the city on Tuesday, June 14th. We need help from individuals, church groups and other organizations to help pull these events off. The events themselves will be no longer than 2 hours, with some promotion during the week leading up to it. If you or your organization can help in any way, please email Craig_Nash@baylor.edu.

Lastly, a more long-term way you can help alleviate summer food insecurity is speaking with your churches, community organizations and groups to consider being a future site where one of our sponsors can serve summer meals. If this is something your group is interested in for future summers, I can organize a visit to a current site this summer for you to see how the program is operated.

By working together we can be known as the town where no kid goes hungry during the summer!

craig Nash.pngCraig Nash has lived in Waco since 2000. Since then he has worked at Baylor, been a seminary student, managed a hotel restaurant, been the “Barnes and Noble guy,” pastored a church and once again works for Baylor through the Texas Hunger Initiative. He lives with his dog Jane, religiously re-watches the same 4 series on Netflix over and over again, and considers himself an amateur country music historian.

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.

The Magnificent Colors of Waco

By Diamante Maya

“We are a box of crayons, each one of us unique. But when we get together the picture is complete.”

box of colorsThe other day I was getting my nails done at a shop in Waco.  The shop is run by an opposite-sex, middle-aged, Asian couple.  There was a Black mother with her three daughters getting their eye brows waxed.  Then an older, White woman walked in.  I was at the counter paying as she pulled up a picture on her phone.  It was a picture of nails decorated with the confederate flag.  She was asking if they could decorate her nails the same way.  As I was walking out of the store, I saw a Black, female, same-gender couple holding hands as they entered.  In a short window of time I got a snap shot of Waco that has not been my typical experience.

In my very being I embody diversity. Of my four grandparents, three were born in countries outside of the United States.  One grandpa was born in Turkey, one grandma in England, and my other grandma in Cuba. My mother was born in England and my father in Cuba.  My dad grew up going to the synagogue with his dad and Catholic Church with his mom. I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s at the height of racial integration of the public schools.  In recent years, schools appear to be reverting back to pre-80’s segregation, but the school I grew up in was very diverse.  In my high school classes in Northwest Houston, I had friends from many different racial and cultural backgrounds. I had Black, Nigerian, Indian, Asian, Mexican, Salvadorian, White, and mixed race classmates.  There were students that were Muslim and wore hijab’s over their heads. There were Catholic students, Evangelical Christian students, and students with no religious affiliation. There were recent immigrants and students from families of many generations in the United States.

Diversity, simply put, is all that makes us different. Just like in creation we find a vast array of differences among flowers and trees, we as humans can be so immeasurably different from one another. Our differences can be as mundane as curly hair vs. straight hair, or as controversial as gay or straight, democrat or republican. Walter Lippmann said “Where we all think alike, no one thinks very much.”  Engaging with those that are different than us, when done in a respectful and humble manner, can provide a healthy challenge to our thinking and acting.

Our differences also have the potential to divide and harm us. As humans, our craving to be right can cause us to fail at compassion.  We can fail at experiencing the splendor of our differences because, at times, we cannot agree to disagree.  In our failings, we can intentionally or unintentionally harm others. We can let fear and judgment drive us and miss opportunities to radically love and experience the infinite display of beauty amongst us. We can get stuck in the purely green grasslands in parts of central Texas and miss out on the fields and fields of brilliant blue bonnets in Ennis, Texas. Remarkably, we have the power to make choices. We have the power to choose to profoundly engage with those different from us. We have the potential to expand all that we can experience in this life and get closer to reaching our full potential as humanity.

I recently got to participate in yet another picture in Waco of unity across differences as I attended the 100-year anniversary memorial service for Jesse Washington, a Black teenager who was brutally tortured and lynched in Waco in 1916.  The room was full with an estimated 250 people from different races, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities, ages, national origins, and genders to name a few.  In the midst of our differences, in that moment, in that space, we were unified in the remembering of a horror from the past and looking towards hope for the future.

As Waco continues to develop its identity and culture as a city, I hope we can become more and more a city that welcomes and embraces diversity. Not diversity that inflicts harm on others, but diversity that causes us to be challenged in our assumptions and see the exquisiteness in every human being. As I always tell the students I work with, if we were all the same, this world would be so boring. It can be easy to use what is familiar to us as a measuring stick for right and wrong, moral and immoral. But if we can take the time to really get to know people that are different from us, we can begin to see and revel in the immense beauty in our diversity. Our eyes can be further opened to the reality that although we may be different, we have the common human experiences of love, joy, pain, suffering, anger, and compassion. May we be a city that takes up the challenge of engaging in and celebrating diversity while preserving human dignity and worth! And as Shane DeRolf talks about in his poem, may our differences add magnificent color to all that we call Waco!

The Crayon Box That Talked

by Shane DeRolf

While walking in a toy store the day before today
I overheard a crayon box with many things to say.
“I don’t like Red!” said Yellow, and Green said, “Nor do I!
And no one here likes Orange, but no one knows just why.”
“We are a bunch of crayons that doesn’t get along,”
said Blue to all the others, “Something here is wrong!”
Well, I bought that box of crayons and took it home with me,
and laid out all the colors so the crayons could all see.
They watched me as I colored with Red and Blue and Green,
And Black and White and Orange and every color in between.
They watched as Green became the grass and Blue became the sky.
The Yellow sun was shining bright on White clouds drifting by.
Colors were changing as they touched, becoming something new.
They watched me as I colored, they watched ’til I was through.
And when I’d finally finished, I began to walk away.
And as I did, the crayon box had something more to say.
“I do like Red!” said Yellow, and Green said, “So do I!
And, Blue, you were terrific so high up in the sky!”
“We are a box of crayons, each one of us unique.
But when we get together the picture is complete.”

diamante mayaDiamante Maya is a part of an intentional Christian community in the beautifully diverse Brook Oaks neighborhood in North Waco.  She gets the privilege of exercising her passion for cultural sensitivity and valuing the dignity and worth of every human being through her career as a Social Worker and through simply trying to be a good neighbor.

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: Exploring Social Identities (Part II)

(Click here for Part 1)

by Jorge Burmicky

Last week, I wrote about social identities and how they interact with each other in the context of Waco. I talked about owning these identities and allowing them to inform our engagement with our surroundings. Today, I will spend more time exploring my perceptions of living in a city that attracts people from diverse backgrounds and various walks of life while acknowledging my own personal biases and limited experiences.

First off, as I previously mentioned in Part I, I moved to Waco because of a job at Baylor. What I did not know is that Waco/Central Texas would offer me an education of a lifetime. I certainly wasn’t aware of the true extent of the so called “Southern Hospitality” and the genuine desire many people have to be helpful and charitable towards residents of their own community. At the same time, I have also learned (generally speaking) a lot about the intersections of religion, race, and politics in the South (or more specifically, Texas). For some, this is perceived as a touchy subject not welcomed for conversation. For others, this subject affects their daily lives (positively and negatively) and they don’t necessarily get to “choose” whether to engage with it or not. It is simply a part of their day-to-day.

Personally, I experience certain privileges and disadvantages because of my various, interwoven social identities. More specifically, because I am a male, I hardly ever worry about my personal safety or fear of being harassed at night, which is quite different for my female counterparts. Additionally, because of my religious affiliation (Christian), I had a very easy time looking for a church when I moved to Waco; there are literally dozens of options to meet my needs as a member of the majority religion group. As a Baylor staff member, I also have access to Baylor athletic events for free (except for football) and the many perks that come with working for one of the largest employers in the city. These are just a few examples of how my social identities affect my daily life.

Conversely, I also experience certain disadvantages. As a non US citizen, I often hear people’s disdain towards immigrant communities (particularly, the Latino community) and hundreds of myths about life as an immigrant in this country. As an educator, I often hear students (and adults) argue strongly about their political views on immigration not knowing a single fact about the complexity of the system. For example, people assume that I can easily obtain US citizenship simply because I have a job and have lived here for many years, but in reality, whether I choose to pursue it or not, I am still years away from even being eligible for citizenship, which shocks people. As a result, I have made it a priority to share the real complexities of our immigration system, especially living in a city with a fairly diverse population and a visible Latino presence.

However, how does this apply to living in Waco? First off, I would say it is incredibly important to be aware of your very own identities (i.e. religion, race/ethnicity, gender, etc.) that inform your perceptions of the community around you, particularly a diverse and complex one like Waco. Lastly, I have truly enjoyed not only learning about myself in the context of Waco/Baylor but about other people’s stories and what makes them a citizen of this community. Yes, it is complex, but it is also rich and life-giving, which makes our journey in Waco all the worthwhile!

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!

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.