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Creators Tackle Gentrification, Visibility, and Storytelling in 'Austin While Black'



Visibility and gentrification have become important topics in the rapidly growing city of Austin, Texas with 2014 estimates recording a Black population of 7 percent. Through smart and engaging video journalism, Doyin, who currently lives in Dallas, but commutes to work on the series, and Evelyn, both journalism graduates from UT Austin, work to increase the visibility of Black Austinites and document the rich history and culture of the city in their webseries Austin While Black. I was super excited to talk with them briefly about how the project got its start and what to expect from them in the future.

-Joneka Percentie

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

For Harriet: What inspired you to start Austin While Black?

Doyin: There was a lot of talk about gentrification in Austin late 2013 or 2014. There were a lot of articles about it and we were like, "Yeah there are not a lot of Black people in the city." We wanted to approach it from a journalistic video standpoint of "What is another part of the story?" and "Who are the Black people who are still here in Austin?"

FH: Gentrification is so real. My family moved here to Charlotte seven years ago and I remember the area we lived in was not that nice at all, and now they have all of these fancy restaurants and ritzy things opening up. It's really weird.

D: Is there a vegan restaurant nearby? That's another sign you've been gentrified. [laughs]

FH: Not yet, but soon enough. So you’ve featured a photographer, musicians, a restaurateur; what drew you to their stories?
Evelyn: It's usually through mutual friends, or in the case of Lola, we just ate there and we were like, "Hey, the food was great do you want to be in this episode?" We both have a background in journalism, so we just ask people questions. It helps if it's through a common friend or we get the hookup to someone's email address, but it ranges from that to a cold ask.


D: We actually do have in mind the kinds of people or occupations that we want to cover, but it's not too strict. We want there to be diversity in the positions that we cover in each episode. So we don't want to do eight episodes on people who are photographers. While we have that in mind, the process of finding people to fill those categories is like Evelyn said, either through friends or whoever catches our attention.

FH: How does Austin While Black tackle limited representation of Black Austinites?

E: For me personally as someone who is not from here originally, but went to school and has lived here for years past that, it was a mix of curiosity and wanting to answer people's questions. So when people come to Austin and they think of moving here the first question they ask is, "Okay so where are all of the Black people?" 

It made me realize, "Yo I don't know. I don't know where all the Black people are." And that's because we don't have visibility. It's not like you come to Austin and they give you a Black People Manual™. So I never knew the history of Austin that much. It's not really visible. Now it's starting to become more visible through different initiatives, but we're still kind of just fading into the background. So for me Austin While Black is a way for us to have some sort of a record of people who exist now.

D: Our unofficial phrase for Austin While Black is, "We outchea." On a personal level it's like, "I know we're here, but where are we?" I'm not native to Austin either, so the process has been learning the history to give it some context and just understanding what people are doing in Austin. It's been a learning process, but it's been a good one especially since more people have been reaching out to us and sharing stories that we haven't heard before.

FH: Can you give any hints on what we can expect from Austin While Black in the future? Do you have any specific goals in mind?

D: We do have a really big goal in mind, but that's for the future so we'll leave that for the future for now.

E: I will say that a goal that I have is to be able to produce a lot more content. Right now it's just the two of us. We both have jobs and it can be kind of a struggle to get to know someone well enough first that they are then willing to go through the process of having their story told on camera. My goal for Austin While Black right now is to grow to be able to churn out content. There are a lot of stories here, but Austin is still relatively small. So if it was Houston While Black that would be a whole different thing.

D: That's not even necessary in Houston though 'cause you don't go to Houston and think, "Where are all the Black people?"


E: True, but as far as storytelling I think they have a lot more going on than we do. So my goal is to get more visibility so that soon, hopefully, we get funding or a team or something to where we can create content a lot faster.

D: Personally a goal for me through this is to not only become a better storyteller, but to start learning about Austin. We have a short list right now of categories we want to fill. So for right now we'll see how, if we have seasons, season one goes. We'll see what we have learned from season one and then decide what to move forward with and how to improve for later seasons and episodes.

FH: Any advice for someone starting a similar project? 

E: I feel like we are an example of "If you don't see something, make it." Although we have a background in journalism and we have a certain skill set, I wouldn't say we're these massive professionals. We're just two girls who live in Austin and we wanted to answer questions. It was a simple question and we went out to answer it. So I would encourage everybody to do the same thing.

D: When we first started out there weren't a lot of Black narratives being told, but that's changed recently and that's what I really liked about what's happening in Austin right now. I don't want Austin While Black to be the only voice for Black Austinites. There's no way that could happen. I don't want that to be the case, and that shouldn't be the case. So I would like to inspire other people to find ways to tell the stories of Black Austinites because we deserve to have our story told.

Make sure to check out the Austin While Black website, follow Twitter and Instagram for the latest updates, watch more videos on YouTube, and look forward to their next episode which is on graduation. Send them suggestions for what you'd like to see in the future!

Joneka Percentie is a rising junior studying Mass Media Communications, Africana Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies at UNC Charlotte. When she’s not working with SPARK Movement, or tweeting @jpercentie, she enjoys singing, dancing, and sleeping. Email her at joneka.percentie@forharriet.com

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