Here’s a preview of a feature story about black Austin for the next issue of GivingCity

We had a photo and video shoot earlier this week for a feature we’re working on for the next issue. Torquil’s posted a few photos on his blog. I think he really likes them. Thanks to Owen Laracuente for the photos and Randy Hinesfor the videography, and to Chris Jones for conducting the interview.

I’m excited about this story. Here’s where the idea came from. A few weeks ago, Mando Rayo told me about the East Austin Economic Summit, an annual meeting of stakeholders for East Austin during which they discuss economic opportunities and concerns. While there, he interviewed Jeff Clark, owner of the Studio East Barbershop on East 12th Street in Austin. Jeff’s a small-businessman, a father and husband, and an East Austin resident, and I’m not sure he’s impressed with the progress occurring in East Austin. I think he summed up his point of view by saying, “We need more walk,” that is, as opposed to talk. You can watch Mando’s video here.

So the story of East Austin intrigues me, mostly because it seems like we’re not hearing enough from East Austin residents.

About the same time, I discovered Michael Lofton and the African American Men and Boys Conference on Docubloggers. Michael is a social entrepreneur who created the conference in response to what he wanted for his own teenage sons. The success of the first conference was phenomenal, so much so that AISD asked him to create a similar program for its students. This man has so much data in his head, and he’s tied it all together to create a stirring message about what’s going on in African American Austin.

Then I remembered Gator and The Cipher. I don’t get out a lot, so I hadn’t really heard of this organization before I saw them at last year’s MLK Day of Caring. When I saw them, I immediately filed them under the “Who Knew This Was Austin?” category. Wow. Gator has a compelling story of his own, leading up to his co-founding this nonprofit organization. It’s a testament to the power of creativity and culture, and how introducing these concepts to young people can set them on a positive path.

The Cipher uses hip-hop to help young people express themselves, but there are other forms of music with a much longer history in Austin that black Austin helped create. I’m not talking about all the alt-country junk promoted to within an inch of its life by our visitors bureau, I’m talking about Jazz and Blues, and there’s one man who’s made it his life’s work to tell people more about the rich history of these music forms – Harold McMillan of the nonprofit, DiverseArts. Harold lives in Clarksville but has lived in Austin more than two decades since when he came here for his master’s degree. Think he doesn’t have anything to say about East Austin?

So I prayed to the scheduling gods, and they created a slot during which Michael, Gator, Harold, Owen, Randy, and Torquil could all meet. Then Torquil called The Driskill Hotel, which graciously let us create this content in their Jim Hogg room. We got Chris to pose the qusetions, and then we just let Michael, Gator, and Harold tell us everything they could about the election, East Austin, gentrification, high school drop-outs and more. And we recorded, shot, and videotaped the whole interview, just to make sure we didn’t miss anything.

What they told us in no way tells the whole story about black Austin. That’s way too complicated for just three men to explain. But I learned a lot. I’m not sure what I can do personally to help East Austin beyond supporting the residents and their efforts to maintain their community and culture.  Mostly we wanted to offer another opportunity for their story to be told.

I hope you’ll take a look at the story, photos, and video when it comes out next month.

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