'Black Austin Matters' co-host: 'There’s not enough air time for all we want to do'
It started with yellow letters on asphalt. Crews painted “Black Austin Matters” right onto Congress Avenue downtown in June of 2020, as pandemic-wearied communities reeled from the deaths of Black men like George Floyd and Michael Ramos, both of whom were killed by police officers.
Dr. Richard Reddick, a University of Texas professor, tweeted on June 16, 2020: “I think it’s good for us to talk about what being #BlackInATX is actually like.” Dr. Lisa B. Thompson, a colleague at UT, replied: “I love this question. Let’s have a public convo! @KUT are you game?”
KUT, Austin’s NPR affiliate that’s based at the university, was indeed game.
Now, Reddick and Thompson are the hosts of “Black Austin Matters,” a new podcast from the station. The show “aims to give voice to the daily experiences of Black Austinites, while deepening mutual understanding throughout the broader Austin community,” according to KUT’s official description.
“I would love for Austinites of all types to have a chance to hear from one of their neighbors about how they feel about living in the city and in Central Texas at this current moment,” Thompson, a professor of African and African diaspora studies and an acclaimed playwright, tells the American-Statesman.
The inaugural season of “Black Austin Matters” will be 12 episodes long, and segments of the podcast also will air on KUT. The first two episodes of the show are now streaming. According to the radio station, they’ve already been downloaded 4,600 times.
In the first episode, Thompson and Reddick chat with Wilhelmina Delco and Dr. Exalton Delco, the married couple at the head of one of the city’s most famous families. Wilhelmina Delco in 1968 became the first Black person elected to the Austin school district’s board of trustees. She later made history as the first Black person elected at-large from Travis County to the Texas House of Representatives in 1974. Exalton Delco in 1962 earned a PhD in zoology from UT, the first Black person to do so. He’s since taught at Huston-Tillotson University and Austin Community College.
In the second episode, the hosts welcome Chas Moore, executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition. Moore, one of the city’s most prominent voices in the fight for racial justice today, organized large demonstrations in support of Black lives during the summer of 2020.
With a kickoff that connects past and present luminaries in Austin, Thompson sees the show as an avenue for “cross conversation.”
It’s also an opportunity to learn. Thompson says that she knew the Delcos socially before starting the show — they go to the same branch of the YMCA — and had struck up conversations. But she initially didn’t realize the full scope of their significance to local history. (Or as Thompson puts it, she didn’t connect them to the name on buildings like the Delco Activity Center and Delco Elementary School.) The hope is people will do their own research into local history after listening to “Black Austin Matters,” Thompson says.
By featuring a broad collection of voices, Thompson would like the podcast’s name to reframe what the phrase “Black Austin Matters” can mean.
“Here are the things that matter to Black Austin, as opposed to the ‘We deserve to live’ kind of matter,” she says, adding that “I love the way the title works on different levels.” She wants not to focus just on issues of deficit or trauma, but to take time to celebrate, too.
Listeners can expect more than the usual “experts” that sit in a podcast guest’s chair, including everyone from artists to those in service jobs, as well as people of all genders, sexualities, classes and faiths. Too often, Thompson says, those invited to hold forth on interview programs are just the people in the host’s Rolodex. They’re not the “folks you’re dealing with every day,” like a neighbor who works at H-E-B.
From the archive:UT professor Lisa B. Thompson's work of the soul, on-stage and off
She wants “Black Austin Matters” to work against stereotypes and “dispel the idea of a monolithic Black identity, period.” Black Austin is many things, she says: Muslim, queer, single parents, disabled people, more.
“There’s not enough air time for all we want to do,” she says.
Thompson has never hosted a podcast before, though she’s no stranger to being a guest. (Reddick's experience is similar.) She calls "Black Austin Matters" a "labor of absolute joy,” and something that’s received an overwhelmingly positive response.
“It’s not about me or my beloved co-host,” she says. “It’s really about the people we’re bringing in, and teeing them up to shine and share.”
Thompson wants listeners to think about how policies affect different communities and give everybody a different sense of the world their neighbors occupy. She says: “I think the biggest thing is to not only think of issues of race … when something has gone awry.”
“Black Austin Matters” is for both listeners who are new to town or who have been here for a decade. The show addresses, among other topics, Austin’s Black population shrinking.
“It’s hard for people to care about that if they don’t know who and what Black Austin is,” Thompson says.
And even though she’s the co-host, Thompson has already learned a lot from her “Black Austin Matters” guests, too.
“They’ve definitely enriched my understanding of the city and life in Texas,” she says.
Listen to ‘Black Austin Matters’
The first two episode are available online at kutkutx.studio and wherever you listen to podcasts. New episodes will be released the first Wednesday of each month. Excerpts from the show also will air on KUT 90.5 every other Thursday at 8:51 a.m. during “Morning Edition” and at 3:50 p.m. during “All Things Considered.”