Embracing Black History Month in Waco

A Celebration of Heritage and Diversity

by: Debrah Wright

Black History Month serves as an annual tribute to the remarkable achievements of African Americans, highlighting their pivotal role in shaping the nation’s history. In Waco, Texas, we proudly participate in this celebration, fostering a sense of community and understanding through a diverse array of events throughout the month.

Originating from “Negro History Week,” conceived by historian Carter G. Woodson and other influential African Americans, Black History Month gained official recognition in 1976, with every U.S. president designating February as a time to honor the contributions of African Americans.

Waco’s rich history is deeply intertwined with the presence and influence of African Americans, dating back to the mid-nineteenth century when the first black residents, initially brought as slaves, played pivotal roles in the region’s development. Post-Civil War, they actively worked to rebuild their lives as freedmen and freedwomen, contributing significantly to the growth of Waco and McLennan County.

From the historic HBCU Paul Quinn College to the Farmers Improvement Society advocating for equal treatment post-Civil War, Waco’s Black history is filled with inspiring narratives. All Waco residents and visitors alike can celebrate Black History Month by exploring Black-owned businesses and participating in various events and learning opportunities throughout February.

Highlighted events include a Ceremonial Groundbreaking for the Memorial to Enslaved Persons hosted by Baylor University on February 23 at 1:30 P.M. and a Black History Walking Tour led by experts from Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History on Saturday, February 24th.

Join experts from Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History as they lead you through Downtown Waco for its third annual Black History Walk. Gain insights into historic locations during this educated tour, where guides will highlight influential Black figures like Waco’s first Black mayor, the initial Black female mayor, and the late Commissioner Patricia Miller.

Notably, Waco’s Black history once thrived on Bridge Street, but after the 1953 tornado, business owners relocated to Elm Avenue. The walk commences at the McLennan County Courthouse in downtown on Saturday, February 24th, running from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Be part of this enriching journey uncovering the impactful stories woven into Waco’s historical tapestry.

Waco residents and visitors can also embark on a self-guided tour of Black history throughout the city, curated by Baylor’s Institute for Oral Histories and the Texas Collection. This tour, running from February 1 to 29, explores significant landmarks, churches, bridges, and businesses that contribute to Waco’s diverse heritage.

Additional events include “Black History in the Archives” on February 27th at 4 p.m., hosted by the Black Faculty & Staff Association and The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, and an Afro-LatinX Cultural Heritage Celebration on February 28th, hosted by the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science at Baylor University in the Student Union Building at 5 p.m. There is also the Big XII Conference on Black Student Government, hosted by Iowa State University from February 29 to March 3, promises a series of engaging discussions and activities.

Explore the Mini Black History Museum at the Dewey Community Center before it closes on February 29th. The Dewey team has curated an excellent display, and the exhibit is available during the following hours:

Monday to Thursday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (museum closed from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.)
Friday: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (museum closed after 3 p.m.)
Saturday: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Don’t miss the chance to immerse yourself in this enlightening experience celebrating Black history.

Furthermore, Creative Arts Experiences held throughout the month provide opportunities to delve into the works of influential Black authors, musicians, and theatrical performances.

Experience the enchanting melodies of America’s most original genre, jazz, with Baylor’s Concert Jazz Ensemble on February 29 at 7:30 p.m. in Jones Concert Hall, Glennis McCrary Music Building.

Join us in Waco as we commemorate Black History Month, embracing the past, present, and future of our diverse community.

Waco Symphony Orchestra’s 2023-2024 Performance Season is ‘Out of this World’

The Waco Symphony Orchestra’s 2023-2024 performance season theme is Out of this World and is a concert series that is truly something otherworldly. The performances will showcase composers and pieces from around the world and feature several notable guests. The season will end just before Waco becomes a hot spot to view the total solar eclipse next April. 

“The Waco Symphony Orchestra has been a star of the Central Texas performing arts scene since 1962, and it’s all because of your unwavering support… get ready for blastoff, whether you’re renewing your season subscriptions or joining us for the first time!” said Carolyn Bess, Executive Director of the Waco Symphony Orchestra.

The season takes off on October 5 with “Breaking Boundaries” which features music from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. Conductor Lawrence Loh said that the pieces chosen for this performance are “the epitome of the ability of music to take the listener out of the world in which they live”. 

The next performance “Larger than Life” will be on November 16 and will feature music from Johannes Brahms Symphony No. 4, conducted by David Itkin. A special feature of this performance is the narration of the poem that inspired the second piece, “Don Juan”. 

The third performance “Extraordinary Feats” takes off with a jaw-dropping 30,000 note piano solo by the 2022 International Piano Competition Silver Medalist Anna Geniushene and will be conducted by Emmy award-winning conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya. 

“Exploring the Great Unknown”, the fourth performance in the season, features a performance by the 2023 Grammy Award winning trio, Time for Three. The performance will be on March 21 and will pair music with an incredible visual of the cosmos. 

On the eve of the Great American Eclipse, the WSO will perform music from some of your favorite Sci-Fi films such as “Star Wars”, “Star Trek” and “Interstellar”. The “Sci-Fi Spectacular: Sun, Moon, & Superstars” will be performed on April 7 and include insights from Emmy Award-winning journalist Gary Gogill. 

By popular demand, the annual “The Nutcracker” performance has added an additional show. The two performances, taking place on December 9 and 10, will feature the WSO and the Ballet Frontier to bring a treasured holiday tradition to Waco.

Patrons can purchase season tickets for the Out of this World performance season or individual tickets to “The Nutcracker” or any other shows. Season tickets are sold in varying bundles with benefits such as parking passes, better seating, social events and after-concert receptions.

Season tickets for the Out of this World performance season and for “The Nutcracker” are on sale now and can be found here. Individual tickets for the Out of this World performance season will go on sale September 7 and can be found here. 


About Waco Symphony Orchestra:

The Waco Symphony Orchestra has been a cornerstone of Waco music for over 45 years. The orchestra features a wide variety of world-renowned soloists and guest conductors during their performance season concerts. They also feature a variety of special performances such as “The Nutcracker”. 

The WSO’s mission is to present live classical music that will enrich the cultural life of the Waco community. They believe that music serves as a source of beauty, conscience, humanity and tranquility, which are essential to the human spirit. 

For more information, please visit their website

Mural Monday: Chesley Smith

“Black Pride”

by Debbie Wright

Art has long been recognized as a potent medium for expressing emotions, stimulating dialogue, and challenging societal conventions. In recent times, the significance of representation in art has gained considerable acknowledgment due to its ability to amplify diverse voices, bridge divides, and foster a sense of belonging within communities. An exemplar of this principle can be found in Chesley Smith’s new mural project, proudly titled “Black Pride,” located on the wall of Marilyn’s Gift Gallery on Elm Ave in Waco, Texas.

When asked about his inspiration for the mural, Smith said, “My goal is to inspire the community to embrace their African American culture and celebrate their heritage.” 

With 45 years of experience as an educator, including teaching art in both college and Waco public schools for 22 years, Smith brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to his artistic endeavors. Furthermore, he previously taught at Paul Quinn College, the oldest historically black college in Texas, which holds significant historical value as part of Waco’s legacy as the “Athens on the Brazos”. The mural project is particularly poignant as it also stands near the former location of the Paul Quinn College campus, situated at Eighth Street and Mary Avenue. 

Smith has left his artistic imprint in other prominent Waco landmarks as well, such as the old Paul Quinn Johnson Hall and the historic Anheuser-Busch building on 10th and Webster Ave. Both structures are presently undergoing redevelopment, contributing to the city’s ongoing evolution.

Smith’s mural project on Elm Ave in Waco, Texas, required approximately three months to complete, spanning from the initial stages of design to the final touches. Throughout the process, Smith collaborated with Marilyn’s shop, receiving some amazing community support from individuals such as Doreen Ravenscroft, Kim Torres, Sam Torres, and Tyler Vansyckle. Moreover, the mural project aligns with the mission of Marilyn’s shop, which specializes in offering a selection of African American attire and artifacts. In combination, the mural and the shop contribute to the promotion of black pride, unity, and a more inclusive community in Waco.

Chesley Smith’s commitment to art and representation has left an indelible mark on Waco, fostering dialogue, honoring heritage, and inspiring the community to embrace and celebrate their African American culture. His mural project serves as a testament to the transformative power of art and the importance of representation in promoting inclusivity and understanding within our communities here in Waco.

*Photos from the Art on Elm Facebook page

“The Addams Family” to be featured at Feb. 23 Hearts in the Arts Theatre Gala

Reservations are open for the 21st Annual Hearts in the Arts Gala sponsored by the McLennan Community College Foundation. This year’s gala on Feb. 23 features a McLennan Theatre performance of “The Addams Family-A New Musical” at the MCC Ball Performing Arts Center. 

Tickets are $100 each and include drinks and dining at 6 p.m. and the performance at 7:30 p.m. Dessert will be served at intermission. Tables for eight are $800 and include preferred dinner seating.

Guests will be transported to the Addams’ ethereal Central Park mansion for an evening hosted by the most macabre family in the neighborhood. Wednesday Addams, daughter to the delightfully spooky Gomez and Morticia, has invited her new boyfriend, Lucas, and his parents over for dinner. There is only one catch: Lucas is a well-mannered suitor from Ohio who does not have a ghoulish bone in his body. Musical comedy carnage ensues as Gomez and Morticia try to persuade the family to act “normal” for Wednesday’s sake. Also appearing are familiar Uncle Fester, devious brother Pugsley, stoic butler Lurch, and the ever-helpful Thing. 

The McLennan production will be directed by Kelly Parker and choreographed by Joe Taylor and will feature elaborate costuming and sets to immerse the audience in the Addams Family vibe. Honorary Hearts in the Arts Chair Nell Hawkins will host the evening as the elegant Morticia Addams.

Hearts in the Arts is an affinity group of the MCC Foundation that supports the arts at McLennan. All proceeds from the gala benefit McLennan scholarships and special projects benefitting visual and performing arts students and faculty.

Gala reservations are due by Feb. 16. For more information, visit www.mclennan.edu/foundation/hearts. To make reservations, contact the McLennan Community College Foundation at 254-299-8604 or [email protected]

McLennan Steinway Series to present Yoon & Terry in concert

The McLennan Steinway Series presents Drs. Angela Yoon, soprano, and Jason Terry, pianist, in concert at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23 at Ball Performing Arts Center on the McLennan Community College campus.

The concert titled, “Broken Harmony: Reconstructing Art – A Musical Journey through World War I,” will be a multimedia production outlining the effects of WWII on the arts and society. The concert will include MCC professors Kelly Parker as narrator and Jon Conrad as trumpeter.

Tickets are $5 and may be purchased through the MCC Box Office at 254-299-8200 or [email protected].

Art Center Waco to feature area artists in exhibition

Art Center Waco is hosting an exhibition by Professional Artists of Central Texas Jan. 19-March 11. The “collective exhibition” will boast artworks from 17 artists are exhibited in one place.

PACT promotes the arts in Central Texas. Founded in 2016, the juried membership of artists also work as individuals: creating, selling, and showing their art. The collaborative group aims to “strengthen, improve, and promote the artistic, professional, and economic success of its artists,” an ACW release said.

The 17 artists are from Waco and surrounding area. The artists are: Joanna Burch, Karen Cruce, Joel R. Edwards, Linda Williams Filgo, Carol Fox Henrichs, Hailey Herrera, Cory Lind, Kevin Malone, Kimberly Merck-Moore, Kay Reinke, Judi Simon, Susan Sistrunk, Susan Sterle, Chesley Smith, Melanie Stokes, Charles Wallis, and LaJuana Westerfield.

ARTá la Carte!, the name of the group show, showcases a variety of styles, as varied as the 17 personalities of the artists.

The community is invited to an Opening Reception 5-8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19. The show will be accessible during regular Art Center hours Jan. 19-March 11 when several free demonstrations, gallery talks, docent-led tours and family-friendly activities for viewing art will be available from the PACT artists. The gallery will feature hands-on Creation Stations for children 10 a.m.-2 p.m. March 11 as the show closes at the end of spring break.

Contact Art Center Waco, 701 S. Eighth St., or Professional Artists of Central Texas on social media for a calendar of events and activities taking place Jan. 19-March 11.

Mayborn becomes first Smithsonian affiliate in Central Texas

The Mayborn Museum announces its new status as a Smithsonian Affiliate. The museum joins a network of more than 200 Smithsonian Affiliates in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Panama. The Mayborn will now be the Central Texas connection to the Smithsonian and its many resources. This recognition makes The Mayborn Museum one of 13 Smithsonian Affiliates in Texas and the only one in Central Texas.

“Smithsonian Affiliates are collaborators on many Smithsonian strategic priorities, adding local content, context, and expertise to help tell a fuller story,” said Myriam Springuel, director of Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and Smithsonian Affiliations. “Including the Mayborn in our Affiliate network provides greater access to the rich history and culture of Central Texas and we look forward to creating experiences that align those stories with national initiatives at the Smithsonian.” 

Smithsonian Affiliates represent the diversity of America’s museum community and serve all audiences. As a Smithsonian Affiliate, the Mayborn will have the opportunity to collaborate on unique, public programs and workshops, professional development opportunities, co-develop youth programs, host traveling exhibitions, borrow artifacts, and co-host public lectures by Smithsonian scholars. 

As part of the first phase of collaboration, the Mayborn is bringing the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Youth Action and Leadership Program to Waco. The initiative works with local schools to empower young people to act on environmental issues. With support from the Smithsonian, the Mayborn will develop young people’s leadership skills with the goal of inspiring climate-literate leaders in Central Texas. Earth Optimism Youth Action and Leadership for Sustainable Communities is funded in part by a Jeff Bezos gift to the National Air and Space Museum.

“Our partnership with the Smithsonian will facilitate new exhibits and programs for our visitors that will inspire a deeper understanding of our world and how it can be changed for the better,” said Charlie Walter, executive director of the Mayborn.

Wild Imaginings to host award-winning writer Amy Tofte for world premier

By Chris Qualls

Wild Imaginings, Waco’s only professional theater company, will host the 2022 Epiphanies New Works Festival debuting the world premiere of an award-winning writer’s never-before-seen play. It’s Oct. 13-16 at Cultivate 7Twelve, 712 Austin Ave.

Amy Tofte’s new play, “Cardboard Castles Hung on Walls,” stood out from hundreds of entries in a Waco-based competition for unseen works. Tofte’s work will be performed for the first time ever right here in downtown Waco. 

Tofte, who was previously recognized as one of Samuel French’s “Top 30” in the “Off Off Broadway” Festival, will be at the premiere. VIP ticket holders to the weekend’s event can expect to receive free drinks, snacks, special seating, and facetime with the playwright among their elevated experience. 

Trent Sutton, founder and artistic director for Wild Imaginings, had this to say:

“There is this idea that Waco isn’t a thriving place for the arts; that to engage with great art, one has to go to Austin, Dallas, or Houston. At Wild Imaginings, we are committed to making Waco a place for diverse artists to live, work, and thrive. We love bringing new perspectives and new voices to the stage, and Epiphanies is just one small part of that.”

Sponsorship opportunities for the special event remain, as do a variety of ticket types. VIP tickets are limited and are going quickly.

Chris Qualls is a board member of Wild Imaginings, as well as the marketing director/homeownership center manager at NeighborWorks Waco.

Jack Bowers & Art Center of Waco help us focus on perspective

By Ferrell Foster

Years ago, Jack Bowers became interested in the impact a viewer’s perspective has on an artistic work. Artwork is not just a static piece of clay or painting on a canvas, the viewer’s perspective affects how the art is perceived, Jack told me the other day.

Jack Bowers describes “Perspectivism”

Walk into the Jack Bowers exhibit, “Perspectivism,” at the Art Center of Waco, and you quickly realize what Jack is talking about. None of his exhibited art is two dimensional; it has three dimensions, and, if you’re like me, you will find yourself walking from side-to-side in front of a wall-hanging piece or moving around a clay sculpture taking in the varied angles presented by the art.

Sorry, but I can’t really describe it. You’ve got to see it. And, thanks to the Art Center, you can. CEO Doug McDurham and his team are doing a great job. They have brought us the first local show of Bowers’s work, and the artist now lives in Waco, having moved here from California. 

The exhibit at the Art Center of Waco, 701 S. 8th St., opened Thursday, Sept. 1. It will be on display through Nov. 5, free to the public, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.

Since most of you don’t know me, you’re probably thinking something like, “Oh, this Ferrell guy must be one of those artsy types.” I wish. The visual arts often go over my head, but they do, at times, go straight to my heart. 

As a result of my artistic ignorance, my encounters with art forms are more like a Siskel & Ebert movie review — thumbs up or thumbs down. It either connects with me or it doesn’t. And, chances are, I will not be able to tell you why.

I stopped by the Art Center of Waco Thursday and had a chance to visit with Bowers, the exhibit artist.

Jack is a delightful and interesting human being. His eyes reflect an internal spirit that is alive with fascination. He spent some time helping me understand his artform — perspectivism. It’s interesting when an artist starts talking about science — how light is both a wave and a particle. And art, he realized years ago, functioned in two ways, as well — from the perspective of the artist and the perspective of the viewer.

It all connected pretty quickly to my years-ago school art classes when the teacher had us mark two points toward either end of a horizon line near the top of the blank drawing paper and then draw a building in the space below the line. Lines representing the corners of the house went straight up and down; lines depicting the sides of the house all pointed toward one of the two dots at the left and right near the top. 

I still remember being surprised that lines coming closer together on two-dimensional drawing paper give the illusion of the image depth. I had drawn a two-dimensional image that could then be perceived as three dimensional. My personal drawings got a lot better after that — though never good.

Here’s one thing I think I’m learning about art. You don’t necessarily have to personally like a piece to find it interesting. More and more, I find myself looking at art not to decide if I like it but what is being “said” through it and what am I “hearing,” if I may use auditory descriptors to speak about a visual experience.

Thank you, Jack, for helping us see and think about our world and life. Thank you, Doug, for giving us this opportunity to experience Jack’s art.

Ferrell Foster is president of Kortabocker LLC: Communications Built on Caring. He is a former member of the Act Locally Waco Board of Directors and has helped post information to ALW at different times. He is also the former care and communications specialist with Prosper Waco. Contact ALW and Ferrell through [email protected]

Waco may be pursuing greatness in just the right way

By Ferrell Foster

Waco may be on the verge of greatness. This thought came to me this morning as I reflected on two true things — our town seems to be facing the reality of its high poverty rate, and we also seem to be taking the arts seriously.

It may seem odd to tie these two things together, so let me try.

Art gives expression to all that makes a community great.

No city can be great when such a high percentage of its population lives in poverty. There is all kinds of data to prove this point, but you can also drive into certain parts of town and convince the other side of your brain of this truth.

The poor will always be with us, as someone famous once said, but that did not prevent him from caring deeply and working on behalf of the poor. That guy’s name was Jesus, and people are still talking about him, even worshipping him, 2,000 years later.

So, yes, there will always be people who live in poverty, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t work our tails off helping as many as we can. We help them in the short term by dealing with basic needs (food and shelter), but the most important help comes in the form of education and job training — things related to earning a liveable wage. A minimum wage job cannot support anyone adequately unless they are living with someone else.

And, by the way, our very best schools should be in our very poorest neighborhoods. That’s where it is most needed. But, in Texas, we have the opposite. The best schools are usually in wealthier neighborhoods. Education takes money, even though some don’t like to admit it. Those same people often pay more for housing or private schools for that very reason — it takes money to educate children while parents are working elsewhere.

The other side of this coin is promotion of the arts. This is not often understood as intuitively as the other. We are so enmeshed in a capitalist society that we can easily think business and money-making are the most important parts of building a community. Business and money-making are essential, but addressing poverty and promoting the arts is equally important.

Why the arts? This sector is much like the spiritual sector (of which we already have great strength). Both promote a connection to truth and concerns beyond oneself, and when we connect to deeper Realities we generally become more attuned to the people around us, or we should. Sometimes American religion can be very self-centered (as in “my” salvation) and undermine broader concern, but Christianity and other religions lift love of neighbor to equal footing with love of self. Self-esteem is good (you are created in the image of God), but neighbor-esteem is just as important (they are created in that same image).

More than 100 years ago, Evelyn Underhill understood the connection between spirituality and art. Artists, she said, are “aware of a more vivid and more beautiful world” than other people. They are “always driven by their love and enthusiasm” to express before others “those deeper significances of form, sound, rhythm, which they have been able to apprehend.”

Artists can do this because “they taste deeper and deeper truths, make ever closer unions with the Real. For them, the duty of creation is tightly bound up with the gift of love,” Underhill wrote.

This is why we need artists, just as surely as we need preachers. They help us to connect with the broader realities that many of us identify as God, while others identify it in other ways. This makes, or should make us, better neighbors. And better neighbors make better towns.

And, by the way, the creativity of the artistic mindset can be financially profitable, as well. For proof of this look no further than our very own Joanna Gaines. Joanna’s creativity with Chip’s business sense as built something important that is benefiting many.

Almost 30 years ago, the band Jars of Clay recorded a song titled “The Art in Me,” which included these lyrics:

“Sculpting every move 

You compose a symphony 

And you plead to everyone 

See the art in me 

See the art in me 

See the art in me.”

(Songwriters: Charlie Lowell / Dan Haseltine / Matthew Ryan Bronleewe / Stephen Daniel Mason)

May we see the art in each other and work to help each other, both in our struggles and in our art.

Ferrell Foster is senior specialist for care & communication with Prosper Waco. He is also on the Board of Directors of Act Locally Waco and a regular contributor to the blog.

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 the ALW team — [email protected].