EKPHRASIS 2017: An Exploration of Mind, Body, Soul

(Last year the Central Texas Artist Collective (CTAC) organized an exhibit downtown called EKPHRASIS. It was an exhibit of art and words.  Local poets and artists were paired up to create art and poetry together that was then placed on exhibit in downtown Waco. 

This year the EKPHRASIS theme is An Exploration of Mind, Body, Soul.  It takes a deeper look at mental health and illness, grief and loss, trauma, recovery, and healing. The hope for this mental health exhibition is to encourage dialogue stimulated by the 19 Artists and Writer’s ekphrastic displays, to destigmatize misconceptions, and to cultivate an empathic understanding of one another. 

In today’s blog post, our blogger, Gracie Arias shares her thoughts as a writer participating in EKPHRASIS.  “Steve and Angie” she mentions are Steve and Angie Veracruz, two of the organizers of EKPHRASIS.  – ALW)

By Gracie Arias

I met Steve and Angie through my husband, about 3 years ago. When they first approached us with the idea for Ekphrasis in 2016, my husband asked me to pair up with him and be the writer for his piece.

I used to write poetry in high school and even competed a couple of times, I reluctantly said “yes.” This has been so wonderful for us as a husband and wife. We were able to team up in a way we never have before and now we are doing our second Ekphrasis.

I’m so excited to see the community gather once again, especially with a topic such as this one. Mental illness runs rampant. It has no specifics of gender, race, age or religion and belief.

Since I was a small child I’ve dealt with these issues first hand. It was somewhat nerve racking to submit this poem. I write about my hurts and experiences first hand. No denying, no third person. ME! Many people close to me don’t even know some of those things about me. But I felt I had to be raw and honest, vulnerable. This was my chance to use my hurts and my depression, my being suicidal and feeling alone, as my platform.

If my message can help at least one person know they aren’t alone and that there is hope, then it’s worth it. I do put my beliefs into the mix because it’s who I am. I know not all share those beliefs and I’m respectful towards that, but I have to share it because it’s a part of my story. It has been the only thing that’s helped me make it through.

I am grateful for this opportunity and I believe people should make the effort to come support all the artist and writers. It’s hard putting yourself out there, but when there is a community willing to open their hearts and minds to these issues, it makes it so much better. What better experience than using your talent, your ability to bring a light to such a dark topic.

EKPHRASIS is a FREE walkable art exhibition.  The works are on display in 14 storefront windows of Downtown Waco’s newly established Cultural Arts District, between 6th and 8th streets on Austin and Washington Avenues.  The art and words will be on display starting First Friday, November 3. Saturday, November 4 from 5pm – 8:00pm, at the Austin’s on the Avenue Patio (719 Austin Ave.) there will be an Opening Event with poetry readings, performances, and mental health talks from organizations in our community.

Gracie Arias is 27 years old. She is a stay at home mom and wife, who is still chasing dreams and supporting her husband through his dream chasing.  She has been married for 9 years to her wonderful, supportive husband, Carlos Arias. They have three beautiful children, Serena(8), Anabella (5), and Jose (1). She says of her writing, “After writing poetry to help with some of the painful things I experienced as a child, I realized how much it truly helped me in my healing process.”

he 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.

Parent engagement – everybody knows we need it, but how do we do it?

By Sheila Whitehead

Try something for me – Google the phrase “parent engagement in school.”  What did you find?  When I run that search, I find 3.8 million returns addressing or at least mentioning the importance of parent engagement in our schools.  3.8 million returns are ranging from scholarly articles about why it’s important to how schools can encourage parent engagement.  Everybody seems to be talking about it – everyone can see the importance of parent engagement.  Research over the past 50 years has shown that when parents are involved in their child’s education, school attendance increases; students have higher grades and score higher on tests; and they are more likely to graduate and go on to postsecondary education.  Students experience success – something all parents want for their children. But what does meaningful parent engagement really look like?

That’s something that Waco ISD as a district is working toward defining through intentional discussions, surveys and activities all aimed at bringing the community and families into the conversation.  New district leadership has sharpened the focus of that intentionality.  Community meetings aimed at supporting WISD campuses and students who need it the most are being held.  District-wide events are being planned to support literacy, college for all, the involvement of strong male role models, and summer learning.  Surveys are being circulated giving families, community members, staff, and students an avenue to express concerns and point out successes.

Campuses are also working to create opportunities to involve parents.  In the three years I’ve been at Waco ISD, I’ve had the opportunity to see a huge number of activities across the district designed to encourage parents to become involved – events ranging from Dia de Los Muertos activities and Nachos and Numbers Night to parent/teacher conferences centered around student’s academic needs.  All these events are intended to attract parents to campuses, to become involved with the family of educators that work with our children eight hours a day, five days a week and to have a voice in the academic success of those children.

Our schools and our district are charged with the mission, however, to go beyond Nachos and Numbers and to find ways to support our parents as they seek to become part of their child’s education.  With barriers ranging from limited resources to time constraints, that can be a daunting challenge! It’s one that Waco ISD is up to tackling though.  Be looking for surveys and invitations to parent activities at your school and in the district.  Be part of the conversation around parent engagement at Waco ISD.

But – you might ask – what difference can one parent make in reaching out to become actively engaged at your child’s school and in the district?  One study found that when parents are involved at school, the performance of all the children in the school tends to improve – not just the children of those who are actively involved (Henderson & Berla, 1994).  That is a profound difference.

The district is opening the door to feedback from you – your child’s first teacher.  Are you taking the opportunity to help shape what parent engagement looks like at Waco ISD?  It’s your right to be informed; it’s your right to be involved; it’s your choice to be engaged.

Sheila Whitehead works with Parent Involvement Coordinators across Waco ISD in her role as coordinator of federal programs for WISD.  She has been an educator for 32 years and enjoys spending time with her family including her 11-year-old daughter Meghan.

What do water, public health, a police station and your medicine chest have in common?

By Melissa Mullins

So what do water, public health, a police station and your medicine chest have in common?  They are all  a part of National Prescription Drug Take-back Day.

There’s an epidemic in this country, and it’s killing people and ruining lives.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) drug overdose deaths in the U.S. have never been higher, and the majority of those involve opioids, including prescription opioids. It’s estimated that nearly half the people who misuse prescription opioid medications obtain them from friends and family members, and that there is a nationwide reservoir of such drugs in our medicine cabinets There are many facets to tackling this complex and critical issue, but you can play a part by ensuring proper disposal of all unused and expired medications in your medicine chest.

Additionally, about 60,000 young kids end up in emergency rooms in the US each year because they got into medicines when no one was looking.  Common over the counter medicines like aspirin, multi-vitamins or other pain relievers and even personal care products like diaper ointment are often culprits.  Keeping medicines up and away from kids is important but so is proper disposal of unused or unwanted medications, including over the counter (OTC) products.

And last but certainly not least, so called down the drain chemicals are part of what scientists, like Dr. Bryan Brooks at Baylor University, call “contaminants of emerging concern” (CEC’s).  When we take medicines, or use products on our bodies, some of it ends up washing down the drain or being flushed down the toilet.  Modern wastewater treatment plants, while true marvels that clean up a lot of nastiness from our water, are not designed to remove these CEC’s and may or may not (depending on the compound) do a good job of it.  What happens when these compounds make their way back to the river?  Researchers have shown that many common compounds can be detected in water and in fish tissue and can have a negative effects on organisms and ecosystems.

You may think you probably don’t have much- that’s what I thought too!  A few years ago, I went through my cabinet and removed all expired medications (OTC and prescription) for drug takeback day.  Here’s what I took to the police station:







OK OK you say- I am convinced to clean out the medicines in my cabinet!  Can I just throw them in the trash or flush them down the toilet?  Hopefully you now understand why flushing is a bad idea, but the landfill doesn’t want them either, which is why the City of Waco Solid Waste Services works to help divert them from the waste stream.

Anna Dunbar with the City of Waco shares this information from Spring 2017 regarding the amount of medications diverted from the waste stream during two events:  “the DEA reported that Waco PD had about 1,000 pounds (April 29 Drug Take-back event) and the City of Waco collected about 200 pounds during Household Hazardous Waste Day. Baylor PD had about 80 pounds (a good haul for their first time).  So, that is a lot of materials put into the right hands (the DEA) for safe disposal.”

The next National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day (includes over the counter medications) is coming this Saturday to a police station near you- see locations and times below:

Melissa Mullins coordinates education and outreach for the Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research at Baylor University where she enjoys engaging audiences of all ages around the important topic of water!

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.


Tami’s Big Do Over: Fear Factor

(Tami Nutall Jefferson, a married mother and grandmother, is going back to school and she has invited us all along to enjoy the ride.  For more posts in this series, click here: Tami’s Big Do Over.  – ABT )

By Tami Nutall Jefferson

So, this month – at startup camp – I made history. In my own history book. This past weekend was the first time I have ever pitched a real business idea to a room full of anonymous people. I talk about my dreams and goals with my friends and colleagues all the time, but when it comes to public speaking – and especially about things that are close to my heart – I feel like I have a watermelon in my throat, my mind goes as dark as night, my voice vibrates like I’m yelling into a fan on speed 3, and I start crying inside. Public speaking is my number two fear. Speaking in public to people I don’t know, is number one – which is why my past business endeavors (cough) failed. Because, I refuse to talk to people. Who knows the psychosis behind it, who cares. What matters is how palpable the fright is at that moment – coupled with rejection and embarrassment. So let me tell you what happened.

The Chosen 50

When I first decided to apply at Texas A&M, I started investigating their student entrepreneurship culture online where I discovered this nifty experience called 3DayStartup. Basically, for three days (Friday-Sunday), a group of TAMU budding student business leaders are locked in a room where they flesh out a business from idea to pitch – and deliver that pitch in front of real industry experts and venture capitalists. I kept 3DS on my mental future-things-to-do list while they kept reminding me about it via email almost daily; probably because I signed up for the email list. Then one day in late September, I received an email that said applications were open for the Fall 2017 3DayStartup. A couple of days later something said “Apply!”. As I give in easily to inner-peer pressure, I applied with a non-descript business pitch idea. Soon after, I received another email saying that I was selected. I was one of the Chosen 50! That was impressive to me, until I found out that every student in one of my peer’s startup living community applied but only 6 were selected  – my impression instantly elevated to awe. I knew at that point, God put me in that room. Why? That had yet to be revealed. But I digress.

The Struggle Is Real

After acceptance, the reality of The Pitch set in. How do I pitch a real estate development idea that is sexy enough for a room full of college students to vote for? How do I not die in front of people I don’t know? When I went to the orientation, I found out that pitches were optional. Best news ever! I could NOT pitch and just focus on how to build a business as a team – a new concept for me. But, the Thursday night before 3DS, I realized that I am a old @$$ woman, and I can not waste my time, tuition, and opportunity on being scared to talk to people anymore. If I can’t do this now, then what is even the point of me being in University, Leadership Plenty, Central Texas African American Chamber, and all these other organizations I purport to enhance through my service? I have to do it. And I have to kill it. I worked all night on an idea to pitch, and I came up with a clever real estate one. It had to be real estate, because I had to rep my College of Architecture while the other 49 students repped the Engineering & Business schools – which meant app after app after app. So I built a 60 second pitch in that 1 and a half hour drive to College Station on Friday.

The Struggle Is Over

I stood up on stage. I went blank at first. But I did it. And my pitch was chosen for round 2! Round 2 was a follow-up 60 second pitch with audience questions – for which I had no prepared pitch. I wrote one on the spot, but pretty much had to wing it on stage. My idea was ultimately not chosen for the Final 5, but I did get great feedback and interest and much love from the students and our Austin Capital Factory facilitator. I was first pick on a startup team for a business card app where I learned how to lead, co-lead, and fall back as part of a dynamic team. The best part of the weekend – aside from all the great free food and snacks – was when I got to encourage my teammate to deliver our pitch to the crowd. Her fright was real, as evident in her hyperventilating, but she killed it too. I was so proud of her. I loved seeing her growth. I loved this whole experience and I love the energy of being in a room full of millennials (sans the Ma’ams).


The point in all of this is that – first year, fifteenth year, student, professional, stay at home parent – great experiences and great people live on the other side of fear. Go ahead. Jump that bridge.

Tami Nutall Jefferson is an older, non-traditional student with a professional real estate background. Tami begins her first academic year at Texas A&M University pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Planning and Real Estate Development while commuting between Waco and College Station. Her hope is that Waco becomes the most attractive, modern, vibrant, and prosperous version of itself as an inclusive city and her professional mission is to help make that happen as a real estate developer and entrepreneur. Tami volunteers her time and voice to many downtown Waco placemaking and economic development causes and organizations. To engage and share your non-traditional student experiences with Tami, contact her at taminutall@gmail.com or connect with her on Facebook https://m.facebook.com/tami.nutall1

Learn more about 3DS at www.3daystartup.com and Capital Factory www.capitalfactory.com