As a longtime resident of the Waco area, it didn’t take Jerry Gilbert long to tire of seeing his city as the butt of jokes spawned by the standoff at Mount Carmel.
Just about every day since the siege started Feb. 28, Gilbert, who lives about three miles from Mount Carmel, has passed hawkers selling T-shirts — like the ones that say WACO stands for “We Ain’t Coming Out” — and other items that seem to blame the whole area for the behavior of a religious cult.
The best way to counter the negative publicity, he said, was to come up with a positive message that could be emblazoned on T-shirts and bumper stickers.
The motto: WACO PROUD.
“I just think that’s not a 100 percent true representation of our community,” said Gilbert of the jokes and other bad publicity. “I just think that we needed to get something out that was positive at this time while there are so many people here from other parts of the country.
“They’re going to take these perceptions with them back to their respective communities,” he said.
About mid-March, Gilbert, an employee of Kinko’s Copies shop in Waco, designed a log made up of the Texas Lone Star Flag and the words “Waco Proud.”
He took his idea to his boss, Stuart Moran, and they recruited some local vendors to sell the shirts for $12 and stickers for $1.
They are on sale at the Kinko’s store at Parkdale Shopping Center, 5912 Bosque Blvd., and at the following museums: Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum; Dr Pepper Museum; and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
So far, about 100 of the shirts have been sold. The proceeds will go to the Museum Association of Waco.
MAW president Joe Cavanaugh said Gilbert’s simple message will go a long way toward wiping out any stigma Waco might have developed because of the siege.
“There is a perception that is going out, because of the negative publicity coming from the Davidian compound that is going to have a negative impact in Waco. “We don’t think so. We’re proud of Waco,” said Cavanaugh, director of the Dr Pepper Museum.
During the siege, city leaders — from Mayor Bob Sheehy on down — have vigorously argued that the city, after the crisis has passed, will benefit from the national and international media attention.
“I think people tend to remember there was some activity, but I don’t think the negative stigma will stay forever,” said city tourism coordination Sarah Sheppard.
“I think people will, in the long run, remember Waco for the good things we have.”
Those “good things,” said speakers at a Wednesday news conference, include beautiful parks and lakes, a good business climate and friendly people.
“I think the people are a great natural resource,” Gilbert said.
“We’ve been portrayed just as religious extremists here. Well, there are people from all different religions, all different backgrounds, all races here,” he said.
“I think a lot of different people are represented here.”