Mission Waco tour invites community to see ‘Other Side of Waco’

Mission Waco invites groups to participate in its Other Side of Waco tour. Grace Everett | Photo Editor

By Mykah Briscoe | Reporter

Mission Waco offers a chance for groups to be driven through Waco and learn about the side of the city that isn’t often shown on their Other Side of Waco tour.

The free 90-minute tour was created in 2002 to give people the opportunity to learn about and see issues related to poverty and redevelopment, according to the Mission Waco website.

Kathy Wise, associate executive director of administration and mobilization, said that at the time, the area Mission Waco worked in looked very different than it does today, and many churches and people were “still disconnected from poverty.” She said the tour was a way to start the conversation at a time when not many people wanted to come to the area.

“We need the support with the community, so it’s a way to indicate that people are here,” Wise said.

The tour goes through north, east and downtown Waco and highlights the history of the area and the poverty occurring within. It mentions historical events like Urban Renewal — the city redevelopment project that started in 1958 and forced many low-income residents out of their homes — and the 1916 lynching of Jesse Washington, which is sometimes called the Waco Horror. The tour also discusses modern issues like the lack of proximity to banks or grocery stores, the restrictions on the city bus and the importance of communal areas like city parks.

Carlton Willis, associate executive director of programs, said the tour speaks to some of the devastations of Waco as well as some of the good of Waco. He said the tour not only discusses what Mission Waco does but also points out the work of many other local nonprofits as well as the efforts of the City of Waco.

“It’s educational to the point of, ‘Yes, we are doing great, but yes, we have a long way to go, and yes, these are the things that still need to be addressed,’” Willis said.

Spring junior Abigail Reed, who went on the tour with Baylor Koinonia InterVarsity, said the tour opened her eyes to the parts of the city she feels God has called to be served.

“I think a lot of times as Baylor students, we ignore that — not on purpose, but just because we don’t realize it’s there,” Reed said. “And so, for me, the tour was really good in like helping me realize what’s there.”

Bradyn Braziel, who was born and raised in Waco, said she went on the tour after being hired as a children’s programmer for Mission Waco.

“I grew up in the city, and I didn’t know, I didn’t see the poverty that actually is within the city,” Braziel said. “It’s very hidden in Waco, but it’s definitely there.”

According to Braziel, the tour is given by a Mission Waco employee, which makes it “more interesting to listen to” and “really pulls on your heartstrings.”

“It makes you feel like they’re actual humans and not just a statistic,” Braziel said. “We have a very lipstick version of Waco right there, you know, downtown. But then you come over here and you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s extreme poverty, and there’s actually problems to fix.'”

Wise said the tour is a time when they can “personalize poverty” and show “how friendship is possible.”

“We want to draw people out with compassion,” Wise said. “We want to draw them into action.”

The tour is not regularly scheduled, so those wishing to go on a tour must sign up on the Mission Waco website. While it’s preferred for groups to have eight people minimum, individuals who are interested can register and be added to another group with open seats.