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 Aston Crosbie
Waco is filled with small businesses trying to stay afloat or expand. Some are family owned and some are simply entrepreneurial endeavors. No matter the case, there are people in the community working to help them increase business and revenue.
Rachel E. Pate is one of those people. She is vice president of economic development at Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce. Pate attained this position four years ago and saw it as an opportunity to cement a legacy for her and her newborn child. She has been a long-time resident in Waco and has seen the town transition from a quiet little town to a tourist destination.
She focuses on the economic development of small businesses in Greater Waco. She assists in business expansion and growth. Pate hints at the fact that as businesses grow so does Waco.
“We’ve been waiting for, as residents who have never lived anywhere else, to see our city become vibrant. We want to be a part of that growth and see all the things we have envisioned,” Pate said.
She expressed her pride in her roots in Waco, especially on her mother’s side. Pate explained how good it feels to watch your hometown grow and flourish. The chamber had visions of what Waco could become, and it is slowly beginning to happen.
Pate encourages young people to get involved through volunteering. It is a great way to get networked within your community. If you don’t know where to start, she said you can simply show up to the office at the African American Chamber. They will help you get started and find events for you to help with.
Also, the African American Chamber has a committee called the Chamber Ambassadors. It is open for anyone to join and includes members of the chamber who want to widen the outreach. They also help new members get acquainted with the community and the opportunities available.
“It has reinforced my need to be self-reliant and that would be the same for our organization. . . . You must be dependable for yourself before you can help anybody,” Pate said.
With Covid-19 taking over the world, Pate expressed the need for everyone to become independent. There will now be more individual responsibility compared to the days of the past. There are new restrictions and guidelines for their organization and surrounding ones. This makes it harder to operate and do the usual things necessary to run smoothly. The African American Chamber is actively trying to develop a program to help people through these strange times.
The African American Chamber collaborates with other organizations in Waco, including the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. These two organizations come together to form an alliance called the Star Bridge. They collaborate on economic development activities, fundraisers, and community events.
Getting involved as much as possible can show you a side of your community that you never knew, Pate said. It can open doors for you in the workplace and in life. Pate encourages people of all ages to get up and learn about their community and get involved.
“Everything depends on you being present in your community,” Pate said.
Education, values, and well-being will benefit from you getting involved in your community, she said. Once you get plugged in, you see the bigger picture. It helps you find your niche and your way to insight change.
Aston Crosbie is from Jupiter, Fla., and a junior 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 [email protected].
By Rachel E. Pate
“In a racially equitable society, the distribution of society’s benefits and burdens would not be skewed by race.” – The Aspen Institute
Around this time last year, the City of Waco, our mayor and city council held a retreat addressing racial inequity within our community. J.B. Smith, Waco Tribune-Herald reporter, covered the story in “Waco council takes aim at racial disparities, gentrification” (May 23, 2019). Some of the staggering statistics gathered and presented by the city were highlighted in J.B.’s article, revealing that:
- Whites account for 43% of Waco’s population but hold 80% of the jobs paying more than $40,000 as of 2015.
- Among white households, 13.5% make less than $25,000 a year, compared with 25.3% among Hispanics and 51.1% among blacks.
- Nearly 29% of white households make more than $100,000 a year, compared with 3.3% for blacks and 8.7% for Hispanics.
- African Americans in 2017 had a 31% mortgage denial rate, compared with 20.9% for Hispanics and 11.7% for whites.
In the news article Councilman Dillion Meek stated: “I’ve always put a high value on grit and self-determination, but if the goal is to improve the economy, we have to look at systems from 100 or 150 years ago to now,” Meek said. “The outcomes from the data speak for themselves and are a direct result of the history of this community.”
Assistant City Manager Deidra Emerson was also quoted saying: “The end goal is to ensure that everyone in Waco thrives, including people of color. … The starting point for the next generation is the ending point of the last generation. If we don’t start to change those outcomes now, we’ll keep repeating the same things.“
Positioned against the backdrop of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, we all witnessed our nation’s institutions, systems, businesses and, most importantly, people brace for a great unknown together. As the virus spread, we were forced to mourn more and differently than before, all while swallowing disproportionate effects happening in communities of color. The Pandemic drastically changed so much of what we thought we once knew and added to the boiling pot of health disparities, income disparities, racial disparities and inequity in the fabric of America.
As the wave of concern swept through our nation, our local leaders were called to immediate attention and action; elected officials, health officials, business experts and volunteer task forces were all on one accord.
The Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce (CTAACC), along with others, was right in the thick of early and ongoing discussions about community health and our local economy. Our staff immediately pivoted from pre-set work to intentionally and strategically supporting the needs of our community’s small and minority-owned businesses.
We partnered with the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to support immediate small business initiatives like our StarBridge Bingo and Buy Local Waco online marketing campaigns. We worked together to collect grassroots data from businesses, employees and people of color.
CTAACC was firmly seated at the table with the city and other community partners breaking down information, providing frequent updates and contributing solutions.
While weeks of the shelter-in-place orders and social distancing continued, CTAACC assembled an informal advisory group to work alongside our staff and help create solutions for business equity. Community business members and leaders included Wannika Muhammad, Rev. Marlon Jones and Cuevas Peacock, who each added diversity, passion and perspective to the dialogue. Our group later became known as the CommUnity Voices team. United in tackling the tasks before us, we put our heads together and strategically planned our moves ahead.
Within our virtual, weekly think-tank sessions, each member shared our concerns about equity, community and business. Each contributed wisdom and insight from our collective backgrounds in business and community development, religion and higher education and lived experiences. We examined and digested everything around us and studied the historical pre-sets of inequity.
As we saw increased unemployment rates for workers, struggling small businesses and government relief that could only do so much, the group determined that solid, perpetual initiatives were mandatory to rightfully shore up vulnerable, small, minority-owned businesses. In those conversations, our vision for equity was honed.
The Chamber’s Center for Business Excellence (CBE) has long been an engine for small business development, offering free business tools, technology resources and meeting space. Utilizing this existing program, CTAACC established the Cen-Tex Minority Business (CTMB) Equity Fund in May 2020 to provide business relief to businesses of color through grant funding and micro-loans. (Donate Here.)
The CTMB Equity Fund is the first local fund in our community that will assist small minority-owned businesses facing income loss or rising expenses due to circumstances caused by natural disasters, illness, global pandemics, or any situation that disrupts their economic and social well-being.
The fund will also provide increased access to social capital and business training/education for entrepreneurs. Our kick-start campaign goal of $100,000 provides individuals, organizations and businesses with the opportunity to not only talk about equity but invest in it also. I could say more, but for now I’ll digress and take a breath. There’s still more action to be done tomorrow.
The Center of Business Excellence (CBE) is a private sector 501(c)(3) charity affiliated with the Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce. The CBE actively helps McLennan County small businesses thrive by providing operational, social, and financial resources needed to sustain business development. The CBE manages the Cen-Tex Minority Business Equity Fund, a program created by the Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce and a Business Advisory Committee comprised of community business members and leaders.
The purpose of the fund program is to provide short-term, immediate aid/relief to small, local minority-owned businesses facing income loss or rising expenses due to circumstances caused by natural disasters, illness, global pandemics, or any situation that disrupts their economic and social well-being.
Any McLennan County-based, minority-owned, small business with 10 employees or less is eligible to apply for assistance. Grants/loans may be awarded up to $2,500 dependent on resources. I could go on, but for now I guess I’ll digress and take a breather. There’s action to be done tomorrow.
Editor’s Note: Investments in the CTMB Equity Fund are currently being accepted online at www.centexchamber.com. The online application portal for business funding is expected to open later this month. CTAACC can be reached at (254) 235-3204.
Rachel E. Pate is vice president of economic development at Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce (CTAACC) in Waco. Rachel is a native Wacoan and graduate of University High School. Since 2016, Rachel has served in various roles at the chamber and championed the causes of small entrepreneurs, women, and minorities. She is also a LeadershipPlenty Institute graduate, Rapoport Academy Public School Board member and Start-Up Waco Board member.
With her mother being a Sunday School teacher and evangelist, Rachel began serving the community at a very early age. She was active on her church’s usher board and youth ministry. Some of her fondest memories of growing up in Waco are being surrounded by her large, extended family for reunions and Juneteenth gatherings; her mother is one of 11 siblings who all hail from Waco. Her father, R.E. Pate Jr. (deceased), and mother met at Paul Quinn College in the early 1970s — the same campus where CTAACC resides today.
Rachel is also a proud mom of one, a lifelong member of Toliver Chapel Church, a lover of the great outdoors, an avid basketball fan, and a dedicated wearer of Converse’s Chuck Taylor shoes. Rachel’s favorite scripture is Romans 8:31- “…If God be for us, then who can stand against us?”