"On all fronts, I've been affected by gentrification," says Zell Miller III. "As a teacher who has a kid who lives in Kyle, or they live in Del Valle. ... I've got kids from Round Rock, man, because their families cannot afford rent anywhere in the city."
Miller, who's an educator by day and also a multifaceted writer and performer, has seen the effects of gentrification for years in Austin, and that worries him.
"And I know that what tends to happen... when they begin to gentrify areas is that you get over-policing of a particular area, so then you have that issue going on," Miller says. "So all of those aspects caused me to write this show."
He wrote Echo of the Refugee... Me? a year ago, but felt the timing wasn't quite right then. Originally, it was a solo show of poetry, but now Miller's expanded the show. "I've added characters, I've got a cast -- I've got Valoneecia Tolbert, this amazing actress who's doing character work," Miller says. He's also brought in some musicians and dancers.
As is often the case with Miller's work, he's got an important point to make, but he'd rather present that message as part of an entertaining show than just lecture his audience. "I've got some really satirical, hard-hitting moments, man, but I think it's important," he says. "I think [in] a lot of my work, I come kind of straight ahead, but this one, you know, we've got a little humor to it."
Despite all the negative changes he's seen over the years, Miller remains hopeful that possitive change can happen as well. "I really would like to see families within these neighborhoods, going to these schools," he says. "I would like to see multinational neighbors... hopefully there's a mix, because I think that's the only way we're going to get out of the situation that we're in, is that we have conversations. And that's -- with all my work, that's what I'm hoping for, man, is hoping that we can have those conversations. And I think that's where it's going to go."