She Did it Anyway : A Birth Story

by Jenuine Poetess

One Friday evening late in May 2009, I ventured to a place I had never been before, yet a place I had known for years: Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural. This independent bookstore and non-profit community center for arts and culture is nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in California. Intentionally planted in the heart of an area known for steel mills, gang violence, and the pornography industry, Tia Chucha’s is a catalyst for revolutionary healing and urban transformation, “where art and minds meet, for a change.”


Performing at Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural Friday Open Mic (photo credit: Patricia Paz Moya)

I came for open mic and found limitless wealth of community, creativity, and inspiration. I also began to notice the imbalance of voices. While there were many womyn in attendance each week, not very many of them stepped up to the mic. I was curious. Many womyn shared with me about how they wrote, yet, they never read aloud. Ever.

Some told me they were shy. Others anxious. Some confided that they didn’t feel welcome at the mic. We talked about what it might be like to have a gathering of womyn writers, to build courage and confidence together.

In the fall of 2009, I offered the suggestion to several of the Centro staff, Stacy, Karina, and Luz as well as the Director of Operations and co-founder, Trini. They loved the idea and asked when I would like to start it. I laughed, clarifying that I did not want to lead it, I just wanted to attend. I thought someone else should lead it. Someone legit. I mean, I wasn’t even published. I had never taken a class on writing. I didn’t know anything. I just rambled on the page and sometimes it came out as poetry. I didn’t even call myself a writer or poet then. No. No way. I was definitely not qualified. With a gentle guiding hand on my shoulder, Trini said, “we have a belief here at the centro, that if someone comes to us with a vision for something, then it is intended for them to accomplish. Take your time, and when you are ready, we are here and will support you all the way.” This was one of the top three transformative moments of my life.

with trini

Trini Rodriguez and Jenuine Poetess outside Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural, Sylmar, CA

I pondered the weight and wisdom of Trini’s words all the way home. I wrestled with doubt, insecurities, and fears over the next four weeks until I came to a liberating and joyful conclusion: none of us need someone to tell us how or what to write. What we need is space held for our becoming. We needed to gather in a circle to teach and learn from each other. We didn’t need red pen massacres on our pages. We didn’t need others’ authority over our work, our words. We needed the chance to claim authority over our own truths. We needed to, “give sound to our story and volume to our voice.”

So I created a proposal. Settled on a name. Bought a domain name (then learned how to build a website). I went back to Trini and with a quiver in my voice I said, “I’m in!” On January 15, 2010 In the Words of Womyn writing circle met for the very first time. Strategically scheduled right before open mic on Fridays, my hope was that as we wrote and shared and grew in our identities as writers, we would also show up en masse to read, perform, and cheer one another on at open mic. And that is exactly what happened!

world festival

ITWOW poets gather to perform at the Annual Celebrating Words Festival at LA Mission College, May 2012

I haven’t quite found the words to articulate the singular joy that is witnessing a woman finding her voice, standing up, and speaking her truth for the very first time. All these years later, many of the womyn who began in ITWOW with shaking voices and trembling hearts are now hosting their own open mic venues and writing circles. They are celebrating publications, compiling and editing anthologies, and featuring at venues far and wide. I look on in awe and wonder, overflowing with pride and joy and profound respect for each of my sisters.

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HOT~ITWOW meeting at Barnes & Noble Waco, fall 2014 (photo credit: Jenuine Poetess)

When I moved from Los Angeles to Texas in 2012, it was my deepest hope that ITWOW would continue at Tia Chucha’s and that I would have an opportunity to gather a circle of womyn in Waco. To my eternal joy, Alex Hohmann stepped up to carry on the vision of ITWOW~San Fernando Valley. In 2013, In the Words of Womyn~Heart of Texas launched. We met weekly on Mondays first at Croft Art Gallery, then at Barnes & Noble. In 2015 the circle will begin on Monday, February 2, at the Art Forum of Waco.


In the Words of Womyn~Lebanon 2014 (photo credit: Nagham Wehbe)

Earlier in 2014 Nagham Wehbe, a writer, activist, and film-maker from the ITWOW~SFV circle approached me with a proposal about beginning a circle chapter overseas in her home place of Lebanon. I was elated! From the beginning, my dream was that ITWOW would become a global project with organic circles popping up everywhere womyn gather from schools to prisons, community centers to front porches, book stores to employee break rooms. In the summer of 2014 a staggering 70 womyn of all ages attended the kick-off of ITWOW-Lebanon!

This year ITWOW celebrates its fifth birthday. What these five years have taught me is that when I go boldly into that which overwhelms or intimidates me, I find extraordinary treasure in my own becoming.  It is my utmost joy to do this work.

event flyerCome celebrate with us January 17, 2015. Attend the “She did it anyway” Womyn’s Writing Retreat from 10a-5pm. The retreat will be followed by evening events open to the public. (Full schedule available online). We all have a story to tell, and when we are given permission to take up space, to turn up our volume, we find immeasurable beauty in the reflection shining back at us from our pages.

Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW), an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles; Waco, TX; and Lebanon. ITWOW empowers womyn of all ages to give sound to our story and volume to our voice. HOT~ITWOW writing circle meets Mondays from 6-7:45pm at the Art Forum of Waco beginning February 2, 2015.  Jenuine also founded Waco Poets Society which sponsors a local open mic venue in Sanger Heights.  Meeting every 2nd & 4th Saturday at the Art Forum of Waco Nuestra Voz Open Mic invites community to share poems, songs, stories, spoken-word, and other creative expressions! You can contact her at: [email protected].


On Art, Culture, and Social Justice

By Jenuine Poetess

Recently I was asked a series of questions all circling around this central notion of, Why poetry? Why art? What purpose does it serve society? Below I share my reflections as I have experienced them. As art is a universal experience with each person giving and receiving into that experience from their own particular filters, there are countless ways to engage these questions. My thoughts are by no means the only ones; please, in the comments, join the dialogue.

Across all of time, art has served as a platform from which to launch ideas, movements, tectonic shifts in collective consciousness.

Personally, I write, I create, because I must. Poetry is my pulse. My breath. A truth that must be written, spilled onto pages between tears, between swoons, between heart-racing becoming. Because I cannot stay quiet.

I write to know myself. I write in protest of injustice—both personal and global. I write to heal. I write to remain compassionate and conscious. I share to remember I am not alone and in doing so, give others permission to be exactly who they are, without shame. I share to bear witness to my stories, to grow with others, to build community, and to forge relationships.

Publicly, poetry—and all art really —is a catalyst. For healing. For change. For protest. For validation. For transformation. Art holds space for what must be said. Art invites sensual experience; and opportunity to feel with another. Art has the potential to condense moments, events, truth into a universally accessible dialogue.

Regarding poetry particularly, I see it making a return to the esteem it once held in past societies. It has a long way to go. There are a myriad of iterations to poetry—from the academic and technically sharp to the raw, provocative spoken-word; from the beauty of strict form to the wilds of free-verse flows all of it serves the artistry of poetry.

On Sunday November 30th, Waco Poets Society and In the Words of Womyn—two local, grass-roots programs—held an open mic and sharing circle in solidarity with Ferguson and to hold space for dialogue about the systemic issues of racism, especially regarding the experience of Black persons of color in the US, and police brutality. We held this space so that we could give sound to our story and volume to our voice. Because in an open mic circle, all people have authority to speak their truth. The circle is a neutral gathering space for dialogue, for grieving, for thrashing out pain, meaning, and transformation.

community circle

Over 40 people from across the community gathered to share poems, songs, reflections, and prayers continuing a national dialogue on justice, racism, and hope for healing.  Pictured here, community activist, Bettie V. Beard speaking.

i poem
i create
i gather with others
for change
for justice
for sustained thriving
because it is the only way i know how
to navigate
this broken world
to counteract
the hate
to understand
how to keep going
to remember
why we do this work
so that every time
i look into the curious eyes
of the next generation
i know i have done
my part
even if in vain
to know that i have been diligent
to fight
with everything in me
to make it safe
for them to be
to play
to walk
to breathe
to dance
to speak
to rage
to become
to live

As I am working, with intention, my way out of blindness to my white privilege, I remember how my community has and continues to guide and love me into consciousness with fierce truth and relentless compassion.

I don’t have all the answers for how to fix or even reconstruct our system—nationally and within our community. It is not my responsibility to have them all or come up with them. It is my job to recognize what is broken, shed light, speak this truth—which I do most frequently through art, do my own work to be conscious, to be change, to hold space for the expressions of others, and to keep listening to and working along side sisters and brothers for an end to violence, to injustice, to racism, to classism, to patriarchy, to hate crimes, to selfish greedy privilege.

cornel west quote

(Image found at:

I cannot see any other way. I can’t imagine any other response. If I say that LOVE matters above all else, and am not outraged, am not bereft, am not moving to action, am not speaking out on all of this, am not pouring every ounce of breath into this work, then I haven’t the first clue what is love.

i will never know
the depth of the kind of fear
that is deep in the bones
of my black sisters and brothers

i will never presume to know
first hand
the agony they endure
as a result of the injustice
this nation
this society
this system
continues to mete out upon them

i will never fully comprehend
the scope of the privilege
my white skin affords me


i will never stop learning
working in my own way
to be change
to be conscious
to be relentlessly compassionate
to stand up for
and out against injustice
to never stay silent
when i should speak
to use what privilege is mine
to make movements

there is no option
this is the only reasonable response i can muster
anything else
would be a farce
an insult
a hypocrisy

Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW), an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles; Waco, TX; and Lebanon. ITWOW empowers womyn of all ages to give sound to our story and volume to our voice. Jenuine also co-hosts Nuestra Voz & Word Gallery, monthly open mic venues for poetry, music, spoken-word, story-telling, and more! You can contact her at: [email protected].

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 [email protected] for more information.


Brave Young Voices ~ Empowering Youth through Art

by Jenuine Poetess  

In June of this year, I was met with an opportunity to submit a proposal to present at the 10th Annual Strengthening Youth and Families Conference in San Marcos, Texas. I eagerly perused the prompts for possible workshops and break-out sessions and began to formulate an outline. Within several weeks I submitted my proposal for consideration. It was a brave move on my part; this conference looked like a pretty big deal and I have never presented in such a setting before. For better or worse I decided that at the very least, the process would be informative and shaping for me. I was thrilled when I received word two months later that my proposal had been accepted and I was invited to be among the talented and dynamic conference presenters.

jp audience

Some of the fine folks who attended my workshop at the 10th Annual Strengthening Youth and Families Conference November 6, 2014. San Marcos, Texas.

Earlier this month I made the trip to San Marcos and with my “First Timer” name badge I boldly went where I had never gone before with confidence and courage. My workshop? How Art Transforms Youth and Their Communities. My attendees? Counselors, teachers, social workers, mentors, therapists, pastors, probation officers, foster parents, principals, juvenile justice professionals, case managers, and parents. I relished the opportunity to share my passion, experience, and resources with professional colleagues to inspire and affirm ideas for engaging youth in creative practices.

Across the span of my life I have served the generations next in a myriad of roles including: camp counselor, mentor, church youth leader, foster mother, supervisor/manager, teacher, trainer, therapist (mental health), sister, artist, poet, community organizer, and collaborator. I have worked with youth within systems and institutions such as education, corrections, and churches. I have built relationships through community spaces and projects. I have sat in the deepest dark of night to comfort young ones in the throes of nightmares—both imagined and real. I have walked with the vulnerable through their most harrowing traumas and have witnessed the profound liberation of their healing victories. I have wept over my own limitations and the haunting questions of, “have I done/am I doing enough?” In every setting and role, art has played a vital role in fostering the powerfully transformative relationships I have had the honor and privilege of building with so many extraordinary youth over the last two decades.

jp top 10 skillsI came across the infographic to the right along with a corresponding article in the Washington Post as I was doing research for my presentation. I used this as a foundation and categorized the 10 skills into four key components of empowered youth development:

  • Coping Skills
  • Self-Awareness
  • Resilience Training
  • Empathy Building

The Top 10 Skills and my four categories fall in line with a guide released in the 1990s by the Search Institute on the 40 Developmental Assets which they found vital to nurturing a thriving youth. These 40 components are comprised of both internal and external qualities necessary to shape a young person into an individual who has a strong sense of self, a vision for their purpose, and a desire to contribute in meaningful ways to their communities and the world beyond them. Again and again, research and practice has shown that youth who engage in consistent creative outlets through school or community arts programming have greater opportunity to cultivate the skills that will foster their flourishing.

jp every child artistThis past summer, I was invited to facilitate a writing circle workshop with students at La Vega High School during their after-summer-school program. Four young women and I met weekly for four weeks writing and sharing together. Inside the circle they were given prompts to write about—any genre—and every week I was humbled and awe-struck at the strength, courage, and creativity of these brave young voices. Whether through poetry, sci-fi fan fiction, personal reflections, or stories, these girls worked through issues of identity, self-esteem, healing, peer pressure, future goals, relationships, loss, and struggle. They learned how to find their own voice, amidst the cacophony of voices in their lives—parents, teachers, friends, media—and how to turn up the volume truly listening to who they are becoming.

jp greatest goodI watched as these young women became more confident in their own words. I relished seeing a light glow from within as they began to trust that they have a story to tell the world and that their unique story matters so much. Though our time together this summer was short, it is my deepest hope that the seeds of creative expression through the written and spoken-word arts continue to grow and bloom within them, for an individual empowered to know and share their story is an unstoppable force for transformation.

“I’m inspired!…now what?”

If you or an organization with which you are affiliated is interested in starting or strengthening arts programming, I would be delighted to collaborate and consult with you. I have starter kits for writing circles and open mic venues as well as heaps of resources for visual, written, and spoken-word arts projects. I love engaging directly with youth as well as providing adults the tools and support to cultivate creative practice in youth. From printable color sheets to art therapy activities to event planning I am always eager to share what I have and know to expand the impact of arts and culture in and around Waco. Please contact me at: [email protected].

Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW), an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles; Waco, TX; and Lebanon. ITWOW empowers womyn of all ages to give sound to our story and volume to our voice. Jenuine also co-hosts Nuestra Voz & Word Gallery, monthly open mic venues for poetry, music, spoken-word, story-telling, and more! You can contact her at: [email protected]

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 [email protected] for more information.





Art Forum of Waco : where the heART creates change

by Jenuine Poetess

This month I had the pleasure of sitting down with Arturo Huron and Jesus Rivera the co-owner/directors of the Art Forum of Waco located in the heart of the Sanger Heights Neighborhood at 19th and Morrow.

art forum 014

(Art Forum of Waco is located at 1826 Morrow Ave, Waco, TX 76707 | photo: Jenuine Poetess)

A gallery, artist studios, and event venue, this beautiful space serves as a multi-purpose community centro for creative collaborations. Local ceramics artist, Doreen Plotts, of Mammoth Creek Pottery has an ongoing gallery/shop space within the Art Forum and Shawn Knuckles is the featured artist exhibiting now through October 17th. Art Forum of Waco has exhibited works from local artists, including a Waco ISD Student Exhibition, and from artists across North, Central, and South America.

art forum 008

(“The Last Apple” by artist Shawn Knuckles; on exhibit now through October 17, 2014 | photo: Jenuine Poetess)

During our conversation Jesus Rivera, resident artist, gallery curator, and maestro of the Art Forum’s Saturday Art Classes shared about the importance of a community holding space for artists of all media to gather to create, exhibit, and inspire art works. He said that when he was in college he saw the need for artists in the community to have studios, for there to be a gallery for showing work, and for there to be space for performances of music, poetry, dance, theater, and story-telling. As the creative visionary, he teamed up with Arturo who manages the administrative components of the venue and the two have committed to maintaining the Art Forum of Waco. Arturo Huron, who is a teacher and organizer with the American Federation of Teachers, spoke with passion, “it is vital to have thriving arts programs here in Waco. This city is just waiting to come alive!”

art forum 002

(“Flight” by artist Shawn Knuckles; on exhibit now through October 17, 2014 | photo: Jenuine Poetess)

Every two years the Art Forum of Waco hosts a multi-media Dia De Los Muertos extravaganza event showcasing artwork depicting this season of remembrance of those loved ones lost, and creating a community altar to give honor to deceased ancestors. With more financial support from the city and private donors, Rivera and Huron both agreed, that they could make this important event an annual tradition in addition to growing countless other programs they envision for the space.

art forum 017

(photo: Jenuine Poetess)

“This neighborhood, Sanger Heights, has been very good to us. The people who live across the street and around the block, they come, they volunteer, they support our events and programs. Those with already thin-stretched budgets are donating because they know how much arts y cultura matter to the health of a community.”

art forum 012

(Art Forum co-owner/director, Arturo Huron stands in front of painting by Shawn Knuckles | photo: Jenuine Poetess)

As a teacher, Arturo sees the correlation between the access his students have to creative outlets and their academic performance in areas of math, science, English, and social studies, “the less we engage in art, the less educated are we. Art allows us to celebrate our uniqueness and diversity as well as understand and honor our commonalities.” Art also provides opportunity for us to know ourselves, the greatest education after which we can ever endeavor.


(“Nuestra Voz” open mic featuring Waco musicians Queen of Kings April 12, 2014 | photo: Jenuine Poetess)

Among the diverse offerings of the Art Forum is a monthly open mic, “Nuestra Voz”—Our Voice, co-hosted by Sanger Heights community leader Fernando Arroyo and your columnist truly, me! Every second Saturday evening around 6:45pm people gather–elders and youngers, poets and musicians, people across all cultures, genders, beliefs, abilities, practices, and experiences–to share poems, songs, stories, reflections—bits of ourselves, with each other. We build community together. We co-create art works and nourish inspiration.

When I asked, Why Waco? Why invest here? both gentlemen smiled wide, “Waco is a romantic city with its gorgeous river, its diversity, and beautiful artists,” Rivera said,

“Waco is in need of more spaces for artists, more public art, more beauty where people can pause and enjoy a moment of looking at something created for aesthetic pleasure. We have a saying, in Spanish, ‘la cultura empieza por la limpieza,’ ‘culture begins with cleanliness.’ Where there is public art, people respect it, they honor it. They will be motivated to keep the area clean, it cultivates a sense of pride in the neighborhood, in the city.”


(Art Forum co-owner/director and artist, Jesus Rivera | photo: courtesy Jesus Rivera)

Public art gives everyone a chance to be a part of something outside of ourselves and by taking part we cultivate agency and identity organically. We are creating the culture of Waco in each painting, story, song, dance, play, poem, and artistic expression we share.

To learn more about Saturday Art Classes, Nuestra Voz Open Mic, renting a studio space, attending an exhibit’s opening reception, please click here to visit The Art Forum of Waco’s Facebook page. To sign-up for Saturday Art Classes or find out more information, please call: (254) 652-5119 or email: [email protected].

The majority of Art Forum programming is free and open to all ages; donations are always welcome to support the efforts of Jesus Rivera and Arturo Huron and this rich centro of arts y cultura en Waco!

Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW), an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles; Waco, TX; and Lebanon. ITWOW empowers womyn of all ages to give sound to our story and volume to our voice. Jenuine also co-hosts Nuestra Voz & Word Gallery, monthly open mic venues for poetry, music, spoken-word, story-telling, and more! You can contact her at: [email protected].



Art Without Barriers

by Jenuine Poetess

The first move from chaos isn’t order—it’s creativity. In murals, music, theaters, cafes, and poetry. It comes from within people, within families, within community. It rises from the hunger people have for knowledge, ideas, and stories.” ~ Luis J. Rodriguez

There is a need, within all of us, to be known. A longing to be seen, be heard, be understood.   Across all of time, arts and culture have served as a catalyst for this most fundamental aspect of our beings, of our becomings.


(artwork: Jenuine Poetess 2011)

Join me as I explore Waco’s rich community of visionary artists transforming, awakening, and inspiring individuals and their neighborhoods. My mission, as facilitator of Act Locally Waco’s newest blog series on Arts & Culture, is to show you—in such a myriad of vibrant hues—the thrilling work being done here and the extraordinary individuals giving their time and talents to our city!

Last week I sat down with Doreen Ravenscroft, founder and director of Cultural Arts of Waco . I have the utmost respect and admiration for her vision, her creativity, and her unwavering dedication to making arts, cultural, and opportunities for creative expression accessible to individuals of every age, ability, gender, culture, belief, class, and language.

Originally from the United Kingdom, Doreen moved to Waco in 1978 when her late husband Bill, was transferred to the M & M Mars US division. Here she became a part of the Open Door Arts Festival and when that project come to a close, she founded the Cultural Arts of Waco believing in the importance of continuing free, community arts opportunities. This vision gave birth to the Waco Cultural Arts Festival which is now celebrating it’s 11th year and has grown into five flourishing festivals in one.


(photo courtesy of Cultural Arts of Waco)

In her own practice, Doreen most enjoys painting in a large scale such as murals and faux finishing walls in addition to taking in theater, gallery shows, and live music. She is constantly nourishing her creative aspects and brainstorming ways to enrich Waco’s arts and culture offerings.

The Cultural Arts of Waco was granted the only Texas award from the Mid-America Arts Alliance in June 2013. This award funded the creation of the mural on the East Waco branch of the McLennan County Library. For several weeks leading up to the painting, artists gathered with community members to dialogue and draft the vision for this mural. Doreen organized the team of artists as well as the collaboration with neighborhood residents remembering, “It was so fabulous to learn so much more about everyone who lives in East Waco and all those little special anecdotes that only they could give to this project.”

I took a drive by that mural again after I met with Doreen; a visit I like to make pretty regularly. There are so many facets and stories within the mural I relish each time I spend with it.


(photo: Jenuine Poetess 2014)

As I was enjoying this gorgeous canvas, a man also paused to take it in. We chatted for a moment and agreed how lovely it is. I asked if he helped paint it, with a spark of pride and honor he said, “No, I didn’t. But I know people who painted this, they’re my neighbors and friends. I take this street to the bus stop, just so I can walk by here and look at it.”

This is the power of art. In community, for community, by the community. Accessible collaborations for all. I was moved, deeply, by this man’s pride and ownership of this public artwork. It means so much more than a brightly colored building in his neighborhood.

Doreen has an number of dynamic projects on her easel at the moment the grandest of which is the Waco Cultural Arts Festival happening September 26-28th at Indian Spring Park and Waco Convention Center. This free, three-day, community event for all ages offers art activities, concerts, performances, workshops, panel discussions, open mics, poetry slam, and film screenings from across the five festivals which include {254}DanceFest, ScienceFest, Celebration Africa FilmFest, WordFest, and the Main Stage MusicFest . Kicking off the festival weekend is the Annual White Linen pARTy featuring music by Guy Forsyth and the Hot Nut Riveters, a sneak peek at the {254}Dance-Fest, and ScienceFest Chair and visual artist, Erica Wickett. The White Linen pARTy is one of the key fundraising events for the Cultural Arts of Waco.

Toward the end of our conversation, I asked Doreen what her hopes are for Waco. I listened as she dreamed,

I hope for Waco to heal wounds of its past, between its different communities. Arts help express what can’t always be said, it reveals our hurts, and provides space for understanding. I long to see more safe spaces where children and elders and individuals across every generation and ethnicity can gather around creative projects fostering curiosity, without barriers. And through that curiosity, begin to share and to listen to each other’s stories.”

Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW), an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles; Waco, TX; and Lebanon. ITWOW empowers womyn of all ages to give sound to our story and volume to our voice. Jenuine also co-hosts Nuestra Voz & Word Gallery, monthly open mic venues for poetry, music, spoken-word, story-telling, and more! You can contact her at: [email protected].

Waco Music and Fun: 26th Street!

When my 13-year-old son came home from school one day last year and told me he and some friends had formed a rock band, I was skeptical. We had tried violin lessons in third grade and guitar lessons a few years later — and bought all the equipment that goes with it. But it wasn’t until he found his own path to music with friends that he started having fun and wanting to spend his spare time practicing his instrument.

fullbandThe band is made up of Jackson Anderson (lead guitar), Spencer Davis (keyboard), Analisa Villarreal (lead vocals), George Eichenberg (bass) and John Paul Bustamante (drums). They have taken the name “26th Street” because they practice in John Paul’s grandparents’ garage on 26th Street in Waco. They play everything from classic rock to modern to country.

With the birth of 26th Street, I started to see less TV time and more creativity flowing — and with that I saw a sense of accomplishment, pride and a love of something all his own. He was excited to show me the more complicated bass line of “Hotel California,” which he had spent hours perfecting. And I was hearing the same from the other parents.

They began playing at some friends’ birthday parties and at a local yogurt shop, where they had a friend willing to let them play on the patio for tips.

audienceAs they worked and got better, crowds of cheering friends and family showed up to watch them play. Eventually even folks who weren’t there just to be nice started showing up. Then, they started getting paid gigs at places like El Chico, who promoted them with posters and emails. People started asking them for photos, business cards and Facebook page, which they now have. They are making money, coordinating their own schedules, working with business owners and learning to be responsible and deliver a quality product: their music. Their summer is sprinkled with gigs that include everything from a quinceanera to a museum fundraiser — and they love contributing to the local music scene.

One of the best parts is that the Waco community has been very welcoming. The band has played at El Chico, Slippery Minnow, Valley Mills Vineyard, The Gin in Belton and other parties and events. In May, they were named the Music Association of Central Texas’ “Horizon” award winner for up and coming artists.

The band practices once a week in the garage on 26th street, and I think the kids look forward to this time together, creating, collaborating, and making music. As a parent, I can’t think of anything I’d rather my kid be doing. And the funny thing is, it was all their idea, not ours. The parents provide support – sometimes lots of support – but the kids and their music are in the driver’s seat.

The other 26th Street parents and I are proud of our kids. As Erin Davis, mom of Spencer Davis, the keyboard player, says. “It’s deeply rewarding to see our kids work so hard and be recognized in the local music scene.”   They are building up a sense of responsibility and self-worth. They are taking risks. They are making a personal investment in something they care about. They are learning habits and skills that will serve them well throughout the rest of their lives. One of the most important skills they are learning is how to make their own fun!

Waco and other towns our size can sometimes suffer from a general misperception, especially regarding young people, that “there’s nothing to do.” One thing that 26th Street can teach all of us is that there is always something to do if you know how to make your own fun. In fact, the fun you make yourself can be better, and better for you, than the fun that is delivered ready-made. Imagine how much more fun our kids are having being in a band than they would ever have just by paying to go see bands. Imagine how much more benefit they are getting from this experience.

Whether it’s music or something else, there are lots of things kids can do in Waco to have fun, get involved in the community, make friends, learn crucial life skills and even in some cases earn some money: start a band, start a business, find some regular volunteer “employment.” Parents, this will take some subtlety on your part, but try not to buy in if you hear your kids saying, “there’s nothing to do.” Find a subtle way to suggest, inspire and encourage something – and let them run with it. Then – when they are running – cheer like crazy and invite your friends and the whole community to do the same.

GretchenGretchen Eichenberg is a life-long Wacoan and local high school newspaper and yearbook adviser. There’s nothing she’d rather be doing more than cheering on her favorite softball player or jamming to the tunes of her son’s band. Her family includes husband, Alex, and kids George, 14, and Brigitte, 11, and an energetic Lab named Luke, who thinks he rules the HOT Dog Park.




The best $5 I spent last year…

By Ashley Bean Thornton

Art on Elm was on April 13 last year. The night before, at the preview party, the organizers had arranged for a photographer. He had a big picture frame suspended from some wires and an assortment of goofy hats and other accessories to entice people to pose within the frame for a picture. My friend Ramona and I took full advantage — she wore the pink feather boa and I wore the huge crown. We had a blast.

The next day was one of those fine Texas spring days that make you remember why you love living here – perfect temperature, blue sky. I had breakfast at the Farmer’s Market, then headed over to Elm Avenue to enjoy the art festival. I strolled through the booths, yakked with some friends, listened to some fantastic music and enjoyed a scone at Lula Jane’s. On my way home from Art on Elm I decided to swing by the Habitat Restore on Franklin. They were having their annual half-price sale. The first thing I noticed when I walked through the door was a huge stack of big three-foot-square picture frames. Originally priced at $10 each, they were $5 each for half-price day. Who can resist that? I bought two.

One of my extra-curricular activities is managing a website called Act Locally Waco. The idea of the website is that everyone has a part to play in making our community a terrific place to live.  It is  kind of like an on-line Greensheet for getting involved in Waco.  It’s full of local events, volunteer opportunities, announcements, resources… all kinds of things that contribute to the general greatness of Waco. Of course you can’t have a website these days without also having a “social media presence,” so I run the Act Locally Waco Facebook page as well. I am no social media expert by any means, but in my limited understanding, what makes Facebook fun is pictures.

It seemed providential that these $5 frames at the Re-store appeared in my life so immediately after having such a great time with a picture frame at the Art on Elm preview party. It sparked an idea: what if I take one of these picture frames with me on my adventures around town and catch people in the act of getting involved in Waco and then post them on the Facebook page? Why not? I bought a can of orange paint and painted one of the frames to match the orange in the website. Thus was born The Big Orange Frame.

In the course of a year I’ve lugged that frame to dozens of events and activities: The L.I.F.T. Workshop at First Baptist, Farm Day, Juneteenth, the Education Alliance Summit, the Farmer’s Market, First Friday Downtown, the East Waco Library mural party, The Texas Hunger Initiative Summit, The Cultural Arts Festival, Winter Wonderland, so many more… I cannot possibly list them all in the space available here.

kids in frameIt turns out that more people than you might think find it hard to resist a middle-aged lady in red tennis shoes with a giant orange picture frame and a camera. I bet I’ve taken almost a thousand pictures this year. I have pictures of every size, shape, race and age of person you can imagine. I also have pictures of a fair number of dogs, one goat, and a chicken of some kind – all captured in the Big Orange Frame. That $5 investment has paid for itself over and over in laughter and fun.

It’s been right at a year since the Big Orange Frame was born, and it struck me that it would be fun for the one year anniversary to try to put all the pictures on display somehow. My friend Susan Mullally in the Baylor Photography Department and John Orr at Frames, etc. on Bosque came to my aid, and thanks to them we figured out a way to get about 350 of them printed and framed in five giant posters in time to show them off at Art on Elm this year. That’s not nearly all of them, but it is an impressive chunk.

While working on that project I spent one entire afternoon looking at the years’ worth of pictures. It turns out I am not that great of a photographer. Many of the pictures are too shady or too bright…oh, but the people, the faces…each one is incredibly beautiful. Looking at the faces of our community, one after another – kids and middle aged folks and older people, every color and shape, smiling and shy, in groups and alone – struck a chord deep inside me, a chord that I don’t always attend to in the midst of my busy life. I cannot adequately describe how precious we all seemed to me in that moment. I got teary-eyed looking at those faces, and I’m getting teary-eyed again writing about it.

It reminded me of a quote from the Trappist monk Thomas Merton that I heard a long time ago. He had his epiphany watching the busy crowds walk by at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky. I had mine at a computer looking at beautiful faces from Waco, Texas, but the sentiment is the same: “I’m a member of the human race just like everyone else. I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. …. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake. …I have the immense joy of being a member of the human race: if only everybody could realize this! There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

ABT in FrameThis Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, the Manager of the website and the editor of the Friday Update newsletter.  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 [email protected] for more information.