By Ashley Bean Thornton
When I started Act Locally Waco, it was based on a simple idea. I knew there were all kinds of activities going on around town to build up the community, but it seemed like I was always finding out about them too late. I specifically remember reading about the “Walk for the Homeless” downtown three years in a row… always the day after it was over. I thought it would be handy to have someplace where people could find out about these kinds of events in time to plan to participate. I mentioned the idea to a few other people, and they seemed to agree, so I put up a website and down the road we went.
Up to that point I had not thought very much about what we mean when we say “community.” Working on Act Locally Waco, though, and later serving on the Poverty Solutions Steering Committee caused me to think more and more about the concept: What is a community, really? What kind of community do I want to live in? What is my role and responsibility in bringing that about? What about people who disagree about what kind of community we want? Who do I want to be “in community” with? Can a city as large as Waco have a real sense of community? How can a community work together to solve problems or move toward goals? How do we get a community of people with diverse histories, cultures, financial situations, education levels, religions, political persuasions, etc. etc. to even decide what we want to do, much less work together? How do we balance self-interest with the mutual interests of the community? What builds a community? What tears it down? Why should we care?
This past Thursday, like many of you, I watched the beautiful, somber, heart-breaking, uplifting service for the first-responders who died in the terrible explosion in West. Nearly 10,000 people filled the Ferrell Center for the service and thousands more watched from satellite locations and through computer and television screens. Every single one of us, I imagine, considers these twelve to be heroes – not simply because they died, though that is tragic — but because they died for the sake of others – for the community. Lord God, what would you have me learn from them about what it means to be a community?
By Ashley Bean Thornton
Today – as you know – has been a glorious spring day in Waco. I had already been to the Downtown Farmer’s Market for lunch, and was taking a break after exploring Art on Elm when I happened to walk up behind my friend DB in line at Lula Jane’s . He surprised me by gallantly paying for my orange-cranberry scone and iced tea. That’s the kind of day it has been, the kind where somebody picks up your tab just because you’re standing next to him in line — a TERRIFIC day.
So it came to pass that I’m munching my scone and visiting with my benefactor and his lovely and talented wife, LB, when she says, “I got your email,” meaning the Act Locally Waco Friday Update email. Then she makes a sweeping gesture with her arm that takes in the scone, Art on Elm, and the whole glorious day, and she asks, “What’s the connection?” I don’t know why she asked it – maybe she had seen the blurb about Art on Elm in the Friday Update and wanted to know why a blurb about an art festival was included in a newsletter about reducing poverty. We didn’t end up talking about it. Someone else wandered up and took the conversation in a different direction, or maybe we just got distracted by an especially tasty bite of scone; anyway, we never finished the thought.
There is a connection though.
Act Locally Waco was born out of a desire to help reduce poverty in Waco. The basic idea was that there are (A) lots of people in Waco who care about reducing poverty, and (B) lots of things going on in town to reduce poverty, and maybe it would be (C) helpful to have a website to help bring A and B together. From the very beginning, though, an important part of the Act Locally Waco philosophy has been that “not-poverty” is not enough. It’s not enough to dwell solely on what we DON’T want; we need to do some dwelling on what we DO want. And one of the things we DO want is more days like today: a day that every person in Waco can enjoy regardless of income level, a day to come out and commune with your neighbors and listen to music in the beautiful sunshine, a day to fall in love with everyone you see, a day to remember how great we can be together.