“I am heartbroken over what has happened on East 11th Street. I fear that it just might be too late.”

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In  GivingCity Issue #2, we interviewed three African-American social entrepreneurs to get their opinions on East Austin, gentrification, and being African American in Austin.

I was a little worried about running that interview. What worried me is that I had never heard anyone say these things before. Yes, I’m a little naive and ignorant about East Austin issues, so maybe none of it was news; but I also worried about things like fact-checking and getting the other side of their stories.

But then I figured … you know, we’ve heard the other side of their stories. I’m just going to give these guys some space and hear what they have to say. So I just had the interview transcribed and just got out of their way.

This is an excerpt from that story. To read the whole thing – and see some gorgeous portraits taken by Austin photographer (who still shoots film!) Owen Laracuente – download GC2.

 

Michael Lofton, Director of The African- American Men and Boys Harvest Foundation
Lofton is a community leader who has worked for many years on behalf of the African-American community in Austin, with a particular emphasis on education and mentoring.

What inspires me is the salvation of the kids. It bothers me to no end to see 56 percent of our kids dropping out. Because you have to realize that when you have 50 to 60 percent of the kids dropping out, and the stats are 6 out of 10 that don’t graduate will end up in jail, we as a community need to come together and address not only the community but address the educational systems and try and bring in whatever social service programs needed in order to turn the kids around.

Kids have lost hope in the educational system. Too often kids recognize the disparity in the disciplinary process. But that is what prompted us to start hosting the African-American Men and Boys Conferences, because we saw so much disparity in the disciplinary process in putting our kids in the juvenile system.

Now, you’ve got tons of kids that are coming out of high school with a criminal record already. And it’s sad that as big as Austin is, we only have 280 African- American males in the 12th grade right now, and how many of those are going to graduate?

So what I’m saying is the community is going to have to come together to talk to our young men, talk to our young ladies, and find out what the problem is, and give them those strategies to deal with things that they don’t have somebody at home to talk to them about.

Gator, Co-Founder of The Cipher
Gator is a hip hop and spoken word artist, community activist, and youth leader.

I’m a native of Austin, and I’ve stayed in East Austin and Northeast Austin all my life. I’m only 22, and I didn’t develop a conscience at about community until recently, you know. But I remember the Juneteenth festivals and how they used to be, and just seeing a lot of African-Americans come together; it was real positive back then. You had more adults involved in that process.

When you fast-forward to today, it’s just not what it used to be. I see the gentrification and the effect that it’s having on the people. A lot of youth, when they see it happening they don’t really know what’s going on and don’t realize that it’s going to have an effect on their lives.

But there are a lot of community organizations involved in educating the youth, for example Michael’s organization and our organization. We try to get Eastside kids involved, because they don’t feel like school is that important anymore.

On the other side of I-35 it’s totally different, and at those schools they have more to work with. In our schools, some of them, it’s different. Like Reagan, for example, that’s the school that I went to; I remember a time where Reagan was full of pride, and it was just the school to be at. And now it comes to a point to where it’s almost sad.

It’s like what Michael was saying about the dropout rate—they just don’t feel like school is that important anymore. You have to question that and why do they think that.

Harold McMillan, Founder/Director of DiverseArts Production Group
McMillan is a nonprofit producer of multidisciplinary art and culture projects and programs, and has been involved and active in Austin’s art and music community for the past 20 years.

The black community has to do a lot of that. And like I said, I hate to be cynical and jaded, but my area of interest and expertise is cultural history and cultural preservation, that piece of a community’s life. And I am heartbroken over what has happened on East 11th Street and what’s not happening on East 12th Street at Rosewood. And I fear that it just might be too late—it just might be gone.

As the population declines, as the African- American population inside the city of Austin declines and that money goes in this wave, two waves ago many of the foundation bedrock families of central East Austin that actually do and did have money, they moved out, too.

Part of my disappointment is that many of those people that really do or I think should have an emotional stake in the community took their money with them, too. We can blame the gentry for coming in and developing on East 11th Street. But we can also blame moneyed black folks whose families grew up in that neighborhood who walked away a long time ago and never brought their money back. You know, that’s really disappointing to me.

Langston Hughes has a poem that has a line in it: “Lord have mercy, they done stole my blues.” Sometimes you give your blues away. And I am disheartened by the high rate that people are cashing out and just getting out of the community. It will never be the same, we know that—we can’t stop progress. But there’s a legacy of a rich culture there that’s being trampled on right there that hurts me.

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