TeAnnah Shields offers styles to go

Special from The Anchor News

By Linda Crawford

Thirty-year-old businesswoman TeAnnah Shields says her business success derives from her consistency, professionalism, and quality of work.

TeAnnah Shields

“I have been braiding about 19 years,” said Shields, owner of The BeauTee Room, 121 N. Hewitt Dr., Suite B, in Hewitt. That’s half of her life. Eleven years old? Twelve? Talk about a lifetime of experience! That would be TeAnnah!

“As a child, I loved doing my sisters’ hair and babysitting because I got to play in the children’s hair.”

At that time, doing hair was a hobby for Shields. While many children played with dolls and two dishes, she played with hair. “Money was not an incentive for me. I simply and genuinely enjoyed doing hair.”

“It was always so satisfying,” she explained. During Shields’s teenage years, her mom would allow friends from school and a few adults to come over to get their hair braided.

“Imagine being a 13-year-old child having an adult client come from McGregor to Waco to get her hair braided,” laughed Shields.

Through the years, it became apparent that Shields had a gift, but wanting the best for her, teachers and family members were adamant about a career that included college.

“I know they wanted the best for me, and I did too. I honestly did not see myself as a full-time braider.”

Thus, such a business or career was never part of her plan. After she graduated from high school, of course, she attended college. Her education prepared her to become a dental assistant, but after working in this field for three years, she was laid off.

It was at that time that Shields used her God-given talent to make ends meet. Yes, God has a way of leading us right to his plan. Still, even in those trying times, it never occurred to her that God was positioning her to start a full-time business, perhaps for life. The old adage says, “The third time is a charm.” Shields worked a few other jobs but always found herself returning to her old love — braiding.

“It was the third time but this time, it stuck, explained Shields.

“I became overwhelmed with working a full-time job, braiding, and being a parent to my three chidlren. I soon stepped out on faith and became a full-time braider and later, a salon owner.”

According to Shields, when people come to her salon, “they enjoy the styles, vibes, and good energy there. The BeauTee Room is clean, fresh, and well-equipped to make customers come back again and again. After four years of braiding fulltime, Shields has a reputation of being the best. Clients book at least 30 days in advance and come from as far as two hours away.

Shields is now thinking about opening a second location with technicians whom she has trained to mock her work. Hours of operation vary and are by appointment only.

Prices range from simple styles like two braids for $45 to box braids for up to $300.

For more information or to book an appointment, call (254) 265-0433.

Linda Crawford, owner of The Anchor News, is an English professor at McLennan Community College, a motivational speaker, and author of the book, God, Destiny and a Glass of Wine (available on Amazon).

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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.


This article was originally published in the March 2021 issue of The Anchor NewsThe Anchor News is a free, monthly publication of Crawford Publishing. The Anchor News is dedicated to serving the community and surrounding area, focusing on positive news and accomplishments of minorities.  For more information about The Anchor News including how to subscribe or where to pick up a copy, please visit The Anchor News website.

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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Little brown girls can now dream their biggest dreams

Special from The Anchor News

By Linda Davis

As a child I was fascinated with dance. I enjoyed watching anything on TV that involved twirling and flipping, such as figure skating, gymnastics, tap dancing, and, of course, music videos.

Linda Davis

By far, “Fame,” a 1980s popular television show starring Debbie Allen as an inner-city dance instructor, was my favorite evening show. Can you picture me, as a 10-year-old plump, brown-skin girl with pigtails dangling, dressed in tights with leg warmers, dancing around the living room with dreams of being cast in the show’s next season?

Unfortunately, 40 years ago many Black girls had dreams that were never fulfilled because there were not many images of African American athletes showcased in the media. The idea didn’t have parental support.

It’s very important for children to be exposed to positive images that raise their curiosity and spark their interest, which foster dreams leadings to goals and success. Sometimes, it’s hard for one to have a dream he/she has never seen demonstrated through the actions of others.

Today, things are looking up! We have many African American women with various high-ranking occupations and careers portrayed in the media for the whole world to see. Madame Vice President Kamala Harris! Need I say more?

Our young children can dream their biggest dream. Former President Barrack Obama and Vice President Harris have raised the bar to the highest level. How great it is to be an African American child during this time. The sky is the limit. There are no restrictions or limitations placed on their desire to reach their full potential.

Many once viewed African American women as the laser gender of minorities. However, women like Michelle Obama (author, lawyer, and the first Black First Lade of the United States); Oprah Winfrey (journalist and talk show host); and Stacie Abrams (influencer and political guru), just to name a few, are famous Black women who have put that lie to rest.

With the hit TV shows, “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away with Murder,” Shonda Rhimes, producer, screenwriter, and author, has stepped into the limelight along with athletes such as Gabby Douglas, a well-known Olympic gymnast, and Misty Copeland, a world-know ballerina.

Do you have a daughter who has big dreams? Dream the dream with her. Don’t let it die! As parents, grandparents, neighbors, and friends, it’s up to us to help our little brown girl achieve their dreams.

Linda Davis, owner of Pampered Babies, is a caregiver with over two decades of childcare experience. Pampered Babies nursery is a registered home with Texas DHS, 2705 Windsor Ave., in the historic North Waco neighborhood of Dean Highland.


This article was originally published in the February 2021 issue of The Anchor NewsThe Anchor News is a free, monthly publication of Crawford Publishing. The Anchor News is dedicated to serving the community and surrounding area, focusing on positive news and accomplishments of minorities.  For more information about The Anchor News including how to subscribe or where to pick up a copy, please visit The Anchor News website.

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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Baylor’s Lakia Scott working to improve urban literacy

In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By Lauren Combs 

Lakia Scott, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction with Baylor University’s School of Education, pursues research alongside teaching undergraduate and graduate students. She decided to dedicate her research to improve urban literacy. 

Lakia Scott

“My research for the last three years has been on the Freedom Schools program,” Scott said, “and that is a summer literacy initiative that is sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund that helps to lessen summer reading loss.” 

Scott said students who don’t have access to resources like summer enrichment programs or tutoring opportunities typically fall six to nine months behind before returning to school in the fall. 

“They’re actually returning to school as if they are in the mid-year of their previous academic school year,” Scott said. The program she created and continues in partnership with the CDF model seeks to “reduce that learning loss, that summer reading gap, so that students can go back to school in a better frame of mind academically.” 

Scott said the Freedom Schools program uses culturally relevant texts at all levels that are developmentally appropriate to increase students’ exposure to reading. The students have three different opportunities to engage with texts throughout the day. 

“They’ve become more fluent readers. They also build comprehension skills because they’re reading things they really, really care about, and that makes all the difference,” Scott said. “Whereas a sixth grader may come to me on a fluent reading level of fourth grade or right under fifth grade, they may leave Freedom Schools in a 30-day time span over the course of two months at a seventh grade level.” 

Scott said the students who participate in this program are also positively impacted because they are appreciative of reading, academically motivated, and likely to become leaders in their classrooms and communities. 

“I know reading is only one of those core subjects taught,” Scott said, “but reading is seen in every other subject. And so if we don’t equip our students with those foundational literacy skills, it has long-term impacts.”

Waco ISD has a reading proficiency of 30%, which means 30% of the students in the district are reading at or above grade level. “My goal, if I were able to cast this larger vision for the City of Waco, would be to see that reading percentage increase exponentially to the 90 percentage range,” Scott said. 

Scott said the community has already been doing a lot to help achieve this goal, but she would like to continue to see community members making their presence known in the schools with opportunities like mentoring programs. She also encourages sororities, fraternities and other service-based organizations to continue being advocates in school settings. However, Scott also said there are other, less direct way to increase the literacy levels. 

“Something that I think is really overlooked is attending school board meetings. The presence of community members at school board meetings is powerful because so much happens there— the ways budgets are allocated, the ways resources are allocated— all of those things are talked about and discussed and voted upon at the school board level,” Scott said. 

Scott even encouraged community members to run for school board positions and community leadership opportunities. 

“If we are really serious about making change in ways that are going to positively affect the students that are in the community,” Scott said, “we need to be more vocal about it.”

Lauren Combs is a Baylor University sophomore from Virginia majoring in journalism who hopes to pursue magazine writing or public relations for nonprofits or ministries.

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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Waffle Chic’s Evans: ‘Waco is a wonderful, awesome community of outstanding people.’

In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By Skylla Mumana

For many new to the area, and even some long-term residents, navigating the city may prove difficult and finding things to do may seem even harder. However, local figures such as 38-year-old Shamica Evans are proving that the city has so much to offer. 

Shamica Evans

Evans is founder of Waffle Chic, a local food truck. There, she works to deliver classic Southern comfort food for the Waco public to enjoy. Her goal is to create community, which she continuously strives for by serving up fresh, mindful ingredients with a smile. She came up with the idea of her truck from her own personal experiences with single-motherhood.

“The name Waffle Chic originates from me being a single-parent with my kids,” she said. “The waffle is kind of like the mom, and the chicken is the chicks, my little chicks.” 

By selling chicken and waffles, Evans wanted to bring a fresh, new perspective to the food truck scene in Waco and expose the public to good, Southern cooking on the go. Inclusivity is a staple in her kitchen, and she strives to accommodate the needs of her customers every chance she gets.

“It’s healthier for those that are healthier, it’s still Southern for those that like Southern because I’m still using all the Southern spices. Kids can eat it, and older people can eat it, too,” Evans said. 

To Evans, Waco is a booming city that has room for both big and small businesses. She also thinks Waco continuously fosters a wholesome sense of community that rivals small towns. Growth and connection are two factors that help drive the Waco community and lead to what she describes as outstanding community building. 

“I don’t feel like we’re in competition. I just feel like we’re all growing with each other,” she said. “We’re a village here in Waco, and we’ve got plenty of giants who are willing to build empires and kingdoms with each other.” 

Evans is heavily involved in programs and organizations within the Waco area, such as Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Hewitt Chamber of Commerce. All of these organizations were instrumental in helping Waffle Chic get its start. Not only that, but Evans is also known to actively help out the homeless. Fueled by her faith and background, she hopes to give back to a community that gave so much to her. 

“They’re really the ones experiencing hardship,” Evans said. “I just see them as family as well, and still to this day each of them will come to my truck, and they’ll come to just say hello.” 

When it comes to describing how special Waco is, Evans had her own acronym to share.

“I could give Waco four words or phrases just by using the letters in its own name,” she said. “Waco is a wonderful, awesome community of outstanding people.”

By connecting food and community, Evans proves that not only does Waco have a variety of eateries to choose from, but it also is a city that is filled with people who inspire and prosper. 

“I’ve lived here in Waco my whole life,” Evans said. “I don’t see myself living anywhere else.”

Skylla Mumana is a freshman journalism major at Baylor University from San Antonio. 

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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

‘Blasian’ family brings Cambodian food to Waco


In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By Gi’erra Cottingham

Time does not always permit us to book a flight, pack a bag, and travel to experience foods around the world, but sometimes it comes to us. Two community leaders have brought Cambodian food to the heart of Waco. In 2016, Chevy and Mike DuBose introduced The Blasian Asian, an authentic Cambodian cuisine, in Union Hall. 

Mike and Chevy DuBose (right), with their, daughter Arianna, are with two of their employees, Aaron and Geneva.

“The menu is 100% Cambodian food,” Mike said. The word Blasian comes from the combination of their race and ethnicity. Mike is Black, and Chevy is Cambodian. “Our baby is a combination of Black and Asian,” DuBose said — Blasian.

“Mrs. DuBose and I lived in Seattle for about 20 years where I was an aeronautical engineer, and she did aerospace repair. I accepted a job promotion in Waco, but when we got here, she was really craving Cambodian food,” Mike said. “Eventually, she started cooking for me. I’d share the food with my staff, and they highly encouraged her to invest in a food truck. Our business took off from there. We’ve now migrated from the food trailer of three years to a restaurant in Union Hall that we began in March” last year.

The couple’s determination to fulfill their mission in sharing what they love with the Waco community is appreciated among local Waconians. The Blasian Asian was voted “Best Food Truck 2019” and “Best Asian Food 2020.”

“My personal favorite dish is the garlic fried rice. There are two popular dishes on our menu: the garlic fried rice and the Blasian itself,” Mike said. “The Blasian has a large variety that includes chicken, beef, pork, noodles, and egg rolls, while the garlic fried rice has been voted the best in Waco. Most customers have commented that they were obligated to use soy sauce at other restaurants to increase the flavor and didn’t need it for ours.”

Due to the couple’s community involvement and leadership duties, Chevy’s availability to consistently cook in the kitchen is slim. She oversees the quality of the food as she’s the only one who knows each Cambodian dish intimately, but most of her time is spent preparing and making sure the food meets her expectations, while The Blasian Asian’s employees are trained to cook and present the dishes. 

“Since we moved to Waco, my wife and I have been a part of community tasks. We are active members of the NAACP Waco chapter where we participate in meetings, functions, and events. We are also members of the African American Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,” Mike said. 

The Blasian Asian’s owners have persevered during COVID-19 and are hopeful that other small businesses do the same. The couple began their dream from simply sharing Cambodian food with friends and has made it thus far despite setbacks. 

“The advice I would give to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic is to keep on. This is temporary,” Mike said. “We have a lot of support from the community during this time, but the most important thing to remember is to not give up and find ways to reduce costs without shutting down.”

Gi’erra Cottingham is a freshman at Baylor University, majoring in broadcast journalism. She was born and raised in Houston where she attended Carnegie Vanguard High School. Her hobbies include being outdoors, spending time with family, and writing. 

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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Jury Service: Moving from “How can I get out of it?” to “How can I be faithful?”

By Rev. Susan Finck

Because I come from a family of lawyers and almost became one myself, I am usually drawn to all things legal. But I must confess, when I received a little white card in the mail summoning me for jury duty, I was contemplating how I might avoid serving. How could I have enough time for sermon preparation? What about my other responsibilities? What if I got “stuck” on a horrible, violent case? I knew it was part of my responsibility of being a citizen, so I headed downtown, wrestling with my inner objections.  

I was chosen first for the larger panel, and my interest and curiosity turned to concern as we were seated. I noticed the racial disparity in the room.  The defendant was the only AfricanAmerican.  Perhaps two of the 50 or so potential jurors might have been Hispanic or people of color. Everyone else was white: the attorneys, the judge — even the bailiff. (The room did not reflect our county: 55% white, 27% Hispanic, 15% Black.) “How does he feel?” I wondered, as I looked at the defendant. 

My mind flashed back to all I had read about Waco’s troubled racial history, and the racial history in this country. From slavery, to reconstruction, then Jim Crow.  The segregation that had been entrenched in our own community, that my older church members recall vividly. The phenomenon of mass incarceration throughout our country. “Will he be able to truly get a fair trial?” I wondered, as I looked at his court-appointed attorney. I know they are frequently overloaded with cases and often can’t provide the same high quality defense that money can buy.   

Then I was chosen for what became an all-white jury of 12. It was the defendant’s fourth DUI, and he was arrested after swerving markedly while driving (without a license) and testing substantially over the legal blood alcohol limit. The prosecutor presented a video where we saw the car swerving, and we heard the officer’s respectful, appropriate interaction with the defendant. We saw documentation of the defendant’s blood alcohol level. Sadly, I voted for a guilty verdict.  

After being seated in the courtroom once again, we heard information we had to consider when issuing the “punishment.” Here is where I agonized. The prosecution was recommending a sentence that could put him in prison the rest of his life, since he was an older man. I asked if there was a way that we could sentence the defendant to mandatory confinement in a rehab facility or other location where he could receive the medical/psychological intervention we all felt he needed.  I asked about alternatives: programs to help him, rehabilitation.  He had been sentenced to those before and had done well while in prison.  The problem was when he would get out of prison, “family members couldn’t keep him from behind a wheel.”     

It took us several hours to deliberate the “punishment phase.” Most of the jurors were ready to hand down the recommended sentence.   I was overcome with the weightiness of our task. We would be responsible for sending a man away from his family and depriving him of his freedom.   We also had a duty to protect society.  There wasn’t a good solution.  It was sad and hard — made harder by the racial dynamic.

“I need for us to ask ourselves the question,” I said. “If he was white, would we be taking this same course of action?” I got a mix of responses, all from the perspective of “color doesn’t matter.” One of the other jurors confronted me: “If he goes free, and you pick up the Trib and read where he kills a child, how are you going to feel?” Obviously we are weighing odds and probability. I changed my vote. 

We were escorted back into the courtroom. His family filled two rows of the gallery, the only African-Americans present. I was praying as I looked around. Then, one of the older women caught my eye. It was like she read my thoughts, overhearing my prayer. For an extended moment, we were connected. 

I’m not usually a cry-er. As much as I tried to fight it, and as much as I was embarrassed, I cried in the jury box that day. I cried for the family. I cried for the defendant. I cried for our history in Waco; and for “the system.” I cried from the weight of the decisions I had to participate in.  

I came away from that experience with a deepening of a conviction that we need more attorneys in our county who are people of color. And jurors, especially jurors. Jury service pulled me out of my own self-focus and broadened my perspective, making me more passionate about the justice I say I believe in. I found many of my beliefs and biases challenged; I had to choose between a list of heartbreaking options.  How “severe” was what he had done? How do we equate that with a number of years of someone’s life?

How did depriving him of his freedom balance with protecting society or even his own life?  

If you get the little white card in the mail, I want to encourage you to think beyond how you might be inconvenienced. Jury service will cost your time and your mental and intellectual energy. You will have to find others to cover work and home responsibilities. Things will go undone. But it takes all of us to make our society work and work fairly. 

The little white card may be your invitation to be faithful to your values or your God, if you are a person of faith. Instead of, “Oh, no, how can I get out of this?” What if you thought: “If I am called, I will willingly serve to do my part to witness for truth and justice. My voice, in dialogue with those of my fellow community members, is needed.”   

Besides serving if you are called, I want to invite you to think of any Hispanic or Black young adults you know who might make good lawyers.  Ask them if they’ve considered this path. Tell them you can see them in this role. Encourage. Plant that seed.  

Finally, join Waco NAACP Black History Month Criminal Justice Series (on Zoom): 

Who Let George Zimmerman Go?: How Being a Juror Serves Justice,” 6:30-8 p.m., Feb. 22, free. One juror could have prevented George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin, from being acquitted. Yet, African Americans are routinely prevented from serving on jurors. Worse, many African Americans actively work to avoid jury duty. William Snowden, founder of The Juror Project, aims to eliminate both these problems.

“Breonna Taylor Could Have Gotten Justice: The Power of Grand Juries,” Feb. 28, 6:30-8 p.m., free. Had the members of the grand jury who heard the Breonna Taylor case known the power they had to call witnesses or issue subpoenas, the outcome might have been different. Award winning, board-certified Criminal Defense attorney Tyrone Moncriffe, explains the grand jury procedure, the power that jurors have, and why it is crucial that African Americans serve on them. 

Rev. Susan Finck serves as the pastor of El Calvario Presbyterian Church in North Waco and a board member for Greater Waco Legal Services. She is passionate about literacy and education in our city, and encouraging opportunity for everyone to fulfill their callings. She and her husband, Dr. Bill Lockhart, a long-time instructor at McLennan Community College, have lived in Waco since 2001. They have four adult children and two grandchildren.

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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Baylor professor enjoying Waco & giving to future generations

In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By George Schroeder

Mia Moody-Ramirez came to Waco for a job 31 years ago and ended up staying to pursue more education and a new career path. “Waco really grows on you,” she said. “It’s the right size, not too small, not too big, and I like that Waco is centrally located.”

Mia Moody-Ramirez

She moved to Waco in 1990 to work with the Waco Tribune-Herald. Then, while pursuing her master’s degree in journalism at Baylor University, Moody-Ramirez was asked to teach a class.

“I found out it was something that I was passionate about, and I decided to pursue teaching,” Moody-Ramirez said. “After graduating with my master’s degree, I decided to immediately go on and get a Ph.D. in journalism and after I got my Ph.D. I just stayed on at Baylor.”

Today, she is chair of Baylor’s journalism, public relations, and new media department.

Though she thought she would move on to a larger city after receiving her degrees from Baylor, she wanted to continue working at Baylor and decided Waco would be a good place to raise her family. 

Moody-Ramirez appreciates the simpler, more affordable aspects of Waco. She loves to walk with her family around downtown, along the Brazos River, and around the various parks and lakes. 

“You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have fun,” Moody-Ramirez said. “You can just walk around and take pictures. It’s beautiful. It’s very scenic, so I like that part about Waco.”

While her sons, much of her time revolved around them and involved taking them to their various activities, Moody-Ramirez said. As they have gotten older, she has been able to focus on more of what interests her around Waco. 

“I like to go to wine tastings, book readings, poetry readings, just pretty chill events like that, that are melo where I can relax,” Moody-Ramirez said. “I’ve pretty much been shut in since March, but traditionally those are some of the things I would do.”

Apart from leisurely activities, Moody-Ramirez is a member of three organizations in Waco — Jack and Jill of America, The Links, and Delta Sigma Theta. Many of their events have gone virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

These organizations revolve around service and civic engagement, she said, and most of her activity is now centered around them. When it comes to local events, she likes a two-pronged approach.

“They are fun on one hand but are also sponsored so you can raise money to give back to an organization,” Moody-Ramirez said. “I like to give back to organizations that are focused on you, organizations that will have an impact on our future generations, on children.”

Specifically focusing on children with the Waco Chapter of Jack and Jill, Moody-Ramirez attends “Jazzy for a Healthy Heart” every January. At this event, having a strong heart is promoted through healthy food, jazz music, and various speakers.

“It’s one of the things I look forward to every year,” Moody-Ramirez said. “I like that organization because I participate in it with my children. The money we raise from that event will go to an organization that’s for children.”

With her emphasis on giving back to the community and specifically younger generations, Moody-Ramirez has become a valued member of the Waco community, and is a caring teacher and leading voice at Baylor.

George Schroeder is a journalism student at Baylor University.

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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Stewart brings leadership & compassion to his ‘home community’

In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By Kristin Hookassian

Local heroes make efforts to ensure their communities are not only taken care of but embraced. They make changes in their community and create relationships with the people in them. 

James Stewart, Jr.

James Stewart, Jr., is a local hero in Waco and Waco ISD.  He is principal of Waco High School. After graduating from Waco High School in 1997, he attended Southwest Texas State University to earn his bachelor’s degree in business administration in management and finance while playing football. 

He then earned his master’s degree in education administration at Tarleton State University. 

Stewart began his educational career in his hometown of Waco. He took a leadership role as the athletic campus coordinator at Lake Air Middle School in 2002. He then began his work at Waco High School to coach football and track while teaching computer and business classes for six years. He worked as an assistant principal at Waco High 2014-2018 and as principal at Carver Middle School in 2019. 

Born and raised in Waco, Stewart said he knew he wanted to work in his hometown after working his first job.

“My first job out of college was working with Wells Fargo for about two years. I like the small-town feel; there’s not too much of a small-town feel anymore. I got involved with coaching and teaching because of 9/11 and the connections I had with former teachers, mentors, people that raised me along the way,” Stewart said. “So, I figured, why not Waco? I figured if I was going to do something in the community, I figured I’d want to do it for my home community.”

Stewart’s compassion and overall influence on Waco ISD students was largely based upon his experience growing up in Waco.

“I know what it’s like to come from generational poverty and so to try to come back and explain to kids, ‘Hey there’s a lot more outside of the city that you may not get to experience.’ So, I’m trying to make sure that they understand that education is the ticket out,” Stewart said. 

He gives his students advice about life beyond classrooms and cafeterias.

“One thing I say on the announcements quite often is, ‘You have to get paper to make paper.’ First you have to get your diploma, then you have to work on getting a certificate of a trade or some kind of a degree,” he said.

Since working with Waco ISD, Stewart has made it a priority to make changes in his community starting with the most vulnerable.

“I usually mentor at least two young boys and try to take them, when I take my daughters to Texas State games or college games, I try to give those kids an opportunity to come with me and my family, so they get to see what college life is like,” Stewart said. My biggest calling is to “give other kids the exposure or chance to see what it’s like outside Waco.”

Seeing local kids grow and mature is the most rewarding part of his career in education. Kids come in as “squirrely freshmen,” but they mature and learn to “walk away from incidents that they didn’t walk away from when they were freshmen.” They grow into young adults, and “that’s the biggest highlight as a professional,” Stewart said.

Kristin Hookassian is a junior psychology and advertising student at Baylor University. She is from Tennessee. 

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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

McLennan’s first Black commissioner encourages others to get involved

In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By Lauren Boyt

McLennan County Commissioner Pat Miller has a unique view of the Waco community, as she has served on several local committees for over 20 years. Being the first Black woman to serve on the commissioners court, the Precinct 2 representative knows a few things about the ins and outs of local government and its importance in the lives of everyday people. 

County Commissioner Pat Miller

With 23 years of experience, Miller easily won her position on the court back in 2018. She said she knew not many people were as qualified as her, which gave her the confidence to run. 

Miller said the commissioners court “has always been a gentlemen’s club.” There are 254 counties in Texas, with 1,014 commissioners total. At the time Miller ran, only 50 women and six Black women served in the role statewide. 

Miller has paved the way for not just women, but specifically Black women in local government. 

“What I hope that my term on the court says to young women is that the ceiling is only as high as your talents and your vision. Nothing out there is off limits or out of reach,” Miller said. 

Miller has served on many councils, including Live Oak Classical School Community Outreach and Engagement Committee, Community Race Relations Coalition Board of Directors, the Eastern Waco Development Corp. Board of Directors, Compassion Ministries Board of Directors, United Way Allocations Committee, and the Women’s Resource Center Advisory Board. 

The commissioner has noticed county government to be unknown to many citizens, which is interesting to her because, “it touches our day-to-day lives in ways people don’t really realize,” Miller said. 

Miller strongly recommends watching and attending city council, commissioners court, and school board meetings as a way to begin involvement in local government. Miller said those three areas of government “touch your lives in all ways.”

“To really be in tune with what is happening to you and your children, you need to at a minimum watch [the meetings] on TV,” Miller said. 

Watching and attending meetings, volunteering to be on commissions and taking advantage of connections is the best way to get involved in local government. Miller said attending these meetings might pique one’s interests in a specific area. One can then reach out to the person in charge of that commission or coalition to ask for ways to be involved. 

“We all crave volunteers, especially young volunteers to start serving and working in some capacity with us. It won’t be hard to get pulled in as long as you avail yourself,” Miller said. 

Reminiscing on the personal effect of her time in local government so far, Miller said, “a lot of my long-lasting alliances have come through a period of crisis that working through has evolved into long-lasting friendships.”

Miller loves her Waco community and is dedicated to serving it. She has enjoyed friendships that have lasted decades.

Waco is “kind of like coming home to grandma; it’s welcoming, it’s warm, and it’s nurturing for all intents and purposes,” Miller said. “Anyone that comes to Waco should get the sense that Waco wants you to succeed.” 

Lauren Boyt is a sophomore public relations major at Baylor University from Midland. 

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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Tiffani Johnson enjoys Waco & its people

By Erianne Lewis

On any given day, Tiffani Johnson could be found doing something to enrich the Waco community, whether through her job at United Way or in her free time as a Wacoan.

Tiffani Johnson

Johnson, senior director of impact and engagement for United Way of Waco-McLennan County, has held this position with United Way since January 2018. After graduating from college, Johnson was undecided on what she wanted to pursue — due to her various interests — so she decided to serve in the Marine Corps for four years. 

“It was one of the most gratifying experiences and has greatly contributed to the person I am today, the leader I am today,” Johnson said.

Not only does Johnson care for the city, but she cares for the people within the community. Prior to working with United Way, Johnson worked for the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District and as a teacher in Waco Independent School District. She became teary-eyed when reminiscing on her days as a teacher in WISD. 

Her work with United Way, “allows me to do that work in a different way” with health and education. “But I am still able to connect with the community again to understand what it is that the community wants,” Johnson said. “To help convene local people to make sure that we can begin to help support families in a way that will benefit them and help them to thrive in the county.”

The complexities of Johnson’s position cause every day to be a different experience, which she said that she enjoys.

“There isn’t really a normal day, which I’m excited about,” Johnson said. “I think what draws me to the community is that no day looks the same.”

Johnson has lived in Waco for the last 17 years, having lived in major cities beforehand. She said she enjoys that the people of Waco are unlike people in other cities; they have a strong willingness to dream.

“I think the people of Waco have a vision for who we can be and where we can be, and I see people working towards that, that’s exciting,” Johnson said. “I continue to see people from various communities across the county come together.”

Johnson said she spends her time off enjoying Waco’s outdoors or being with family.

“My favorite places are really outdoors. If it’s not hanging at home with my kids, which is my absolute favorite place, it is being somewhere near water. If I can go sit by Lake Waco at Woodway Park, I will do that,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s love of Waco is evident in the way she lights up when speaking about it. One of the many things she enjoys about Waco is how accessible community leaders are, Johnson said. 

“[They are] really open minded, and they are of one accord about how we can make greater change here,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she tries to use her job to help the people of Waco to feel appreciated and loved. 

“It’s vitally important to me that there is an avenue with which people from various communities and neighborhoods throughout Waco can speak how they feel. They can speak their aspirations for what they want this community to be,” Johnson said.

Erianne Lewis is a freshman journalism major at Baylor University and hopes to work in print journalism after 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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.