By Elizabeth Arnold
Over 200 people of all ages, colors and backgrounds gathered Monday at the Jubilee Theatre for Mission Waco’s production of “A Woman Called Truth: The Story of Sojourner Truth.” The production was a part of a day long celebration addressing racial history and tensions of Waco.
“The play has a lot of parallels to what’s going on now in the world,” said Khira Hailey, program director for the Jubilee Theater. “No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, everybody has a voice.”
Hailey chose the play to emphasize social justice and remind viewers of a lesser-known figure in the abolition and civil rights histories.
“Even the young whites and blacks forget their history,” said Jimmy Dorrell, executive director of Mission Waco. “This is our history and we don’t need to live in it, but we’ve got to remember it so we don’t go back.”
Following the production, members of the community stayed for lunch and a discussion on racial issues in the Waco area. Nearly 150 volunteer groups and individuals also spent the afternoon serving at 13 project sites around the community.
During the discussion, members from the audience were encouraged to share their stories of racial tension and their hopes for community growth. Topics included interracial marriage, the rewriting of history in textbooks and racial representation. One man delivered a spoken-word poem.
“When you talk about love and unity one of the elements of love and unity is the ability to deal with truth,” said Dr. Stephen Reid, a George W. Truett Theological Seminary professor who led the discussion. “Unless we can be truthful about our history, it’s going to be hard to get to that place of love and unity.”
Al Pollard, 73, attended the play and discussion after marching in Waco’s annual peace march Monday morning. In the early 1960s Pollard marched with Dr. King during a peace demonstration at Tennessee State University, where Pollard was a student. To him, Monday’s celebration was a time to reflect.
“It’s a day of remembrance, to keep the dream alive,” Pollard said. “We still have an awful long ways to go but I’m optimistic that things will improve as we go along.”
Since founding Mission Waco with his wife, Janet, in 1991, Dorrell has made racial reconciliation a priority for the ministry. Today the staff of 60 is purposely multicultural.
“I think Jimmy’s always been proactive trying to bring races together,” said Mary Evans.
Evans, 44, first met Dorrell as a teenager in the Dorrell’s north Waco neighborhood. Evans, after living in Houston and California, now teaches math at Brazos High School.
Dorrell’s passion for racial reconciliation began during his undergraduate work at Baylor. Coming from the racially divided of Conroe, Dorrell served as a youth director and sought to teach his students an understanding of other races he was never taught.
“I didn’t hate black people,” Dorrell said, “I just had no part of their culture.”
According to Dorrell, Mission Waco seeks not only unity between races but also between economic classes.
“This is not just a black and white issue for us. Any racial or ethnic barriers are wrong, and so the divide between rich and poor is just as big as the black and white.”
This is the tenth year Mission Waco has celebrated the holiday with efforts to further promote reconciliation, and the fourth year the celebration has been a day long affair. According to Dorrell, the numbers have continued to grow every year.
“I have seen significant change,” Dorrell said. “At the same time, there are so many ways it has not changed. The fact we have to say black and white churches to me is a problem. Biblically, foundationally, it’s just wrong to be divided.”
The play will run again Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., and Thursday at 3 p.m. Adult admission is $5 in advance and $8 at the door.