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African-Americans Are Austin's Only Shrinking Ethnic Group. Here's What Some Are Doing About That

To say that Austin is growing is an understatement. But amid Austin’s exponential growth, one group is declining – and fast. The African-American community in Austin is shrinking, due to two major factors: moving out of the city’s core, and a mortality rate higher than any other group.

Last night, a diverse group of people met on the UT campus to discuss if there’s a future for black life in Austin.

For about an hour, a panel of experts presented all sorts of statistics, charts and colorful maps that showed how challenging life can be for African-Americans living in Austin. UT Austin’s Dr. King Davis moderated the event. By the end of the evening, he summed up all the major points.

“The four panelists identified seventeen areas in which these disparities exist. Seventeen areas,” Davis emphasized, “everything from the child welfare statistics to criminal justice, health, police stops, shootings, students expelled, death row inmates, prison population, mortality – on and on.”

But the panel was never intended to leave the audience with a feeling of gloom; after all, the panel discussion was entitled “Future of Black Life in Austin”. The questions that emerged were: can the community’s decline be reversed? And if so, what will it take?

Shannon Jones is with Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services. He was one of the panelists. He told the audience he finds hope in the changing political climate that Austin will experience with the city’s new geographic districts.

“The hope is that we will have representatives in our community that speak to the needs of the individuals in that community," Jones said. "There’s no assurance that will occur, but certainly, there is opportunity.”

If the opportunity is missed, panelists predicted the population decline would continue. For one of the panelists, the issue is personal.

Former Travis County Sheriff and current Austin Police Monitor Margo Frasier is white. But she told the audience she has a 20-year old daughter who is African-American. She “is now in college in San Antonio. And I dread the day that she tells me that she’s [going to] live somewhere else because she feels more comfortable as an African American woman. I want my baby to come back and live in town!”

The audience erupted in cheers and applause. But the question persisted, what would it take to retain and attract young African-American talent?

One student said something as simple as having the right hair salon to go to. Other solutions are a bit more complicated. But there’s at least one woman committed to bringing African-American talent to Austin.

Natalie Madeira Cofield is President and CEO of the Capital City African American Chamber of Commerce. She says for years, chamber members have traveled wide and far singing the chamber’s praises. But lately, they have decided to be more specific with their travel goals. Now, they look for black talent in places as far away as Brazil and the continent of Africa itself.

There is a sense of hope among both the UT panelists. They all agree the first step toward rebuilding community is conversation – like last night’s. 

What do you think can be done to stop the decline in Austin's African-American population? Leave your suggestion in the comments below. 

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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