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.
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 [email protected].
March is National Reading Month, a whole month designated to encouraging Americans – and by extension Wacoans – to read! The Act Locally Waco blog is beating the drum for National Reading Month by hosting a blog series throughout the month of March, called “Books Matter.” Every day throughout March we will be sharing a post about a Waco resident and a book that matters to him/her. Thank you to students from the Baylor Department of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media and professor Amber Adamson for help with this fun project. To read all the blog posts so far, click here.
By Catherine Rennell
During National Reading Month, McLennan County Commissioner Pat Miller celebrates by revisiting her favorite book “Jesus and the Disinherited” by Howard Thurman.
Thurman, an author and activist of the early 20th century, wrote his 1949 book in response to the increase in segregation and racism in America. He was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent protests and relied on his own Christian theology to provide a message of hope for marginalized African Americans.
“He introduces the life of Jesus in parallel to the African Americans existing in America to Jesus as a Jew existing under Roman authority,” Miller said.
Miller grew up in New York and moved to the South at 10 years old. She said she experienced the Civil Rights movement and segregation in Waco through the slow integration of teaching staff at private schools and later the students themselves at public schools. Miller experienced the harsh reality of American racism that Thurman writes about in his novel. But for Miller, Thurman provides a hopeful message that has inspired and comforted her ever since she read “Jesus and the Disinherited” for the first time.
“What impressed me most was that it was coming from a Christian perspective,” Miller said. “He addresses the question of how you can embrace Christianity in light of the reality of what is perceived to be the African American’s place in America.”
Miller said she relied on Thurman’s book for guidance when running for office and that it is the most important book to her at this point in her life as county commissioner.
“What I found myself having to do, when asking people for their vote,” Miller said, “is it made me really examine my faith in the Democratic system, and America being a place where everybody can be part of the American dream. I found myself relying more and more on some of the points he made in his book.”