East Waco Voices: Cultivating Produce and Culture, Channeling Multiple Passions into One

By Khristian Howard

Inspiring hope in the black community is a passion for Kay Bell. She takes this passion into her work as a school teacher and friend, but nowhere else does it play out more practically than with her own nonprofits. Founder of Global Revive, president of the Waco Chapter of National Women in Agriculture Association, and recent playwright, Mrs. Bell is known for ambition. Her ability to combine her passions for healthy living and the arts have created a concrete example for the community of what it means to cling to your dream and to bring positive light to those that may be overlooked in the community.

A New Home

Kay Bell’s life in Waco began eleven years ago, when she and husband, Virgil, bought a house on Taylor Street. Next to this house was an overgrown, vacant lot that Kay would soon transform into a neighborhood attraction. After a call to the appraisal district, and a transaction with the lot’s owner, Kay bought the plot of land and prepared it for a garden. “We cleared off the whole spot, and my brother broke it up. We planted squash, zucchini, and tomatoes that first summer,” Kay remembers. Due to the minerals and nutrients that had composted on that lot over the years, Kay’s first crop was surprisingly hefty – in quantity and size. “I literally had people slowing down in front of my house looking at my garden because of the huge zucchini vines, squash vines, and tomato vines…my squash and zucchini bushes grew about that tall,” Kay stated, holding her hand about five and a half feet in the air.

The surplus she had from her crops that summer led Kay to turn her first profit from the garden. After giving away some of the crop to people in need, she responded to an ad in the paper for the Heart of Texas Farmer’s Market and paid ten dollars to be a vendor. “I went out there with a card table, and all of my squash and zucchini, and I sold out in about thirty minutes…I made $75 dollars in thirty minutes off of what I grew. So, from there I was really inspired to grow gardens more,” Kay shared. The speedy profit was not the only reason Kay continued to garden, she also began learning about the health benefits of eating fresh, local produce. “I began to grow food for financial reasons, as well as health reasons. And that made me feel like, I want everybody else to catch hold to this feeling I have that we should all be growing gardens and eating from [them] as much as possible,” she stated.

A New Organization

Kay’s knack for gardening and promoting healthy living have led her to lead various organizations that build on these initiatives within the community. One of these organizations is Global Revive, a multifaceted non-profit that seeks to promote gardening, the arts, and economic development. Kay says that she started Global Revive to “revive people back to growing gardens, eating natural, and to tap into their creativity and gifts that have gone dormant… So that’s where the art part of Global Revive comes from.”

Blending creativity and the arts into community work is an important part of Kay’s community involvement.  For example, poetry has been a part of the work.  “I’ve put my creativity into poetry,” Kay stated, “I think poetry is a way to express your opinions [that] you can’t say in church, or you may not be able to say in a big public meeting.” She has been able to use her love of poetry to connect with other people sharing a similar interest. She believes that, “When you have a group of people with the same mind, you can get more accomplished vs. one person by themselves.” The art committee of Global Revive has been responsible for creating a new quarterly open mic night for poets in Waco to bring more poets of color together.

A New Venture

That’s not all this committee has been responsible for. Kay and her team recently wrote, directed, and starred in their first sold out play, Born 2 Win, at Jubilee Theater. When asked about her inspiration for the play, Kay recounted the events that sparked the idea. The title, Born 2 Win, was inspired by a book that one of the Global Revive members wrote. After deciding to use the title to pay homage to the 90-year-old writer and Global Revive member, Kay began planning the content. She shared that her husband had been homeless for seventeen years and had provided stories and details that would make up the play. “He often tells me stories of how he lived as a homeless person, and what they had to go through – freezing in the winter, burning up in the summer, in line to eat. So, the play is about homeless people who want to come out of homelessness and be successful,” Kay told us. The characters in the play combine their talents and efforts to form a cooperative that eventually helps them out of homelessness – depicting more of Kay’s zeal for black-owned businesses.

The main takeaway from the play? Everyone can win. Kay sums up her play’s message by saying, “If you’ve been to the bottom, I mean the bottom. There is something inside of you that you have that you can use [to win]. It may not be speaking, it may not be singing, it may not be passing a test. But there is something in you that makes you a winner, because you were born to win.”  For Kay, presenting these messages to the community with a play that casts actors that look like the community was imperative. She shared, “You look at TV and it’s not a whole lot – even in 2019 – of us [African-Americans]. I just feel there are other people out there who should have a great representation.” She wanted people of color to have a positive representation in media, but also in her own surroundings.

Encouragement for Other Dreamers

When asked what advice she would give others who seek to pursue different passions and make positive change in East Waco, Kay’s message was simple and direct. “Don’t quit!” she laughed, “Don’t give up. Keep persisting. Your dream can happen…There’s somebody else out there who sees the same thing you see. You may not find them then and there, you may not get a big crowd, but keep holding on to that dream that you want. Just don’t give up.” Kay Bell has certainly proven herself to be an inspiration for leaders and entrepreneurs who will not fit into a single box. Her commitment to cultivate gardens and art without compromising one for the other shows that it is possible to connect interests that seem difficult to merge…as long as you work together.

Khristian Howard is an Atlanta native and a recent graduate of Georgia State University where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. She has a passion for empowering communities through service, and seeks to connect advocacy to creativity. Currently, she is serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA for Texas Hunger Initiative Waco, where her work focuses on fostering collective impact to improve health and eating habits in East Waco. When she is not working, you may find her sharpening her culinary skills or exploring new poetic and artistic pathways.  

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.