CWCW: Art in the Face of Tragedy

By Fiona Bond
Executive Director

This post is an extension of the Conversations with Creative Waco radio program on 103.3 KWBU fm, where we take you behind the scenes of art and culture in Waco. Catch us on the air every fourth and fifth Friday of the month at 11:30 a.m. and 8 p.m

When Rev. Amos Humphries received a phone call in the early morning of June 2, 2020 from Waco Police Department, he realized, in his own state of shock and grief, that his church congregation needed to respond and minister to a grieving community in ways they had never anticipated (and in the middle of a pandemic). As a diverse, bilingual and open congregation that seeks to “truly love everyone who walks in the door”, they were uniquely equipped to do this, and turned to art when words were not enough.

(From Left) Artist Tashita Bibles, Pastor Amos Humphries, and Creative Waco’s Fiona Bond. Photo Credit KWBU

Following a frantic community search through Cameron Park, the body of 2-year-old Frankie Gonzales was discovered in a dumpster in the parking lot of Park Lake Drive Baptist Church where Rev. Amos Humphries, this week’s first guest on Conversations With Creative Waco, has been Senior pastor for the past 11 years. 

The tragic news spread fast, and when Pastor Amos arrived at the church, he found a crowd already gathered. It included those who had spent the whole night searching for Frankie, hoping desperately to find the toddler alive. They joined (socially distanced) first responders, media, people from the neighborhood, and members of the church community. It became apparent that the child’s mother had provided key information about the location of his body, and the crowd’s sense of anger and outrage was palpable. In the face of the unspeakable. The crowd gathered in prayer.

Art became the focal point for creating a place to grieve, acknowledge the tragedy, honor victims of violence across the community, and call for faith, hope and love in response to anger and anguish. The church commissioned artists Maura Shipman, Ramon Herrera, and Tashita Bibles to create three murals on the theme faith, love and hope, to be placed around the building where the dumpster (now removed) had stood. A memorial seating area was also added. 

Artist Tashita Bibles is this week’s second guest, and joined the conversation to talk about the project and her artistic response. As a survivor of violent crime herself, she describes how the process of creating art in the face of fear and trauma is a powerful and positive response. Art has helped her move forward from her own experience, and she sees in the murals created at Park-Lake Drive Baptist Church, an invitation to people who have experienced or been impacted by violence to find a safe, sacred and ultimately healing space.