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We Dare You!
Follow these simple tips for keeping your community green:
Create a Community Garden
Don’t recycle, FREEcycle
Wash your clothes in cold water instead of warm
Mary Darden characterizes her career in two parts—one in which her work is paid and the other unpaid. Though her profession is in higher education administration, Mary devotes much of her energy to areas of need in Waco, Texas, her community.
Before Hurricane Katrina hit, she was organizing her church to prepare itself to take in evacuees. “When I came before the congregation that Sunday and told them that we needed to set up a shelter in our church for potential victims—they all thought I was crazy,” Mary confesses. But the next day, Katrina would ravage New Orleans and they received their first evacuees that night; by Wednesday they were full. “To see what we were able to do out of the seemingly impossible still astounds me.”
Mary constructed an effective model to meet the physical and psychological needs of distressed evacuees. “Several hundred of our church members were equipped to serve.” Numerous other churches in the area would follow the model and set up similar shelters as Louisianans were shuttled out of the state. “It was a display in the purest form of what we can do as members of humanity.”
But this was not Mary’s first act of intervening to meet an important need. In 2006, Waco received national attention because an energy conglomerate made plans to build eight coal-fired power plants in the area. If the plants were constructed, Waco would become what the media and local ranchers called a “ring of fire”. Its pollution levels would threaten local livestock and the livelihood of residents. “I kept thinking—somebody’s going to pick this one up, someone will fight this,” reflected Mary. A friend of hers, however, suggested she be the one to take on the energy giants and keep Waco’s air clean. “I thought, well this is not going to be convenient—I’m busy and writing my book.” But that didn’t stop Mary. For a year she worked 40-hour weeks with other community organizers to rally the support of city and state leaders. As Robert Redford termed it in a documentary, they were “fighting Goliath.”
“I never expected to win,” Mary recalls. “But you wage the war if only because you know it is the right thing to do. Even if we didn’t win, I knew that one day I could look my grandchildren in the eye and tell them I did all I could do.” But they did succeed. None of the proposed plants were constructed in Mary’s McClennan County.
Last year she celebrated the publication of her book Beyond 2020: Envisioning the Future of Universities in America. Another passion of Mary’s is improving higher education. Focusing on today’s challenges as well as the emerging issues facing tomorrow’s universities, Mary looks at the University system in depth. She is a fierce advocate for equity in academia and cites the need for change. But her faith in the power of education to improve global imbalances is strong. She affirms, “Within the University, we have the means to address humanity’s greatest ills.”
By Paige Panter