Almost three years later, they continue to spearhead conversations about the Black experience in Central Texas, uniting the community through storytelling.
Lisa B. Thompson and Richard J. Reddick, Black Austinites and professors at The University of Texas, partnered with radio stations KUT and KUTX last year to create “Black Austin Matters”, a podcast centered around conversations with different members of the Black Austin community.
With one new episode per month, “Black Austin Matters” continues to grow in recognition and listeners. The podcast has had 40,315 downloads since its release, according to KUT.
As they navigate the second season of the podcast in March, Thompson and Reddick spoke with Community Impact about their goals for the show and the importance of creating a positive space for Black voices in Austin.
The interview content was edited for length, style and clarity.
You mentioned in the podcast that the idea for “Black Austin Matters” started in a social media post. How has it evolved into what it is today?
Reddick: It was in June 2020, and I woke up one morning, and I had seen that they had painted “Black Austin Matters” on Congress Avenue. ... I had no idea who had created it, and it made me sort of think about the more philosophical angle, which was to whom does Black Austin matter? We should talk about that. I tagged a bunch of folks who I know in the community who I thought would be great interlocutors to talk about this, and I posted it [on Twitter].
Thompson: I definitely had a viewpoint—if anyone knows me, I always have a viewpoint—but I wanted it to not be a one-off conversation of, “Oh, trauma is happening to Black America at this moment. ... Tell us how you feel.” I wanted it to be a more sustained conversation about what Black Austinities think and feel about all kinds of things. I’ve been saying this a lot lately, is that African Americans have a very clear viewpoint about racial oppression, but we actually have views about the price of eggs; we have views about the weather; we have views about the way in which power is maintained, whether it’s electricity or people in the White House.
How did it feel to have that casual thought turn into something so impactful for the community?
Thompson: It’s been a burning thought for me [because] I’ve always been disappointed with news coverage that comes into a traumatized community and wants to get their take on that moment as opposed to a thoughtful engagement that’s thorough, gives the full humanity of their sense of the world. I’m a playwright, so narrative is important to me; story is important to me, and I’m also a scholar as well in Black studies, and it just feels like there is a piece that’s missing in our daily conversation. ... We hear so much about Black Austin’s disappearance and not enough conversation about who is here—who is Black in Austin—and we wanted that to be clearer to our neighbors.
How do you decide which guests you’re going to invite on the show and what stories you’re going to tell?
Reddick: One thing about this is the diversity of our community, so we didn’t want to make it like, “Here are Austin’s top business leaders or top political leaders.” We wanted to have a variety of folks coming in, and so that means sometimes people who we actually know ourselves or people we don’t know but we’ve heard of in certain circles. ... [We want] to be mindful about really attending to all the diversity—that mosaic of Black Austin—because I think sometimes there’s this assumption that the community is a monolith. We’re always thinking about, “Now that we’ve talked to this person [and] had this representation, who have we not talked to?” That’s always a constant conversation. It’s good for us too because we get to learn more about the community that we are a part of as well.
What kind of feedback/reactions have you received from the Black Austin community and Austin community in general about the podcast?
Thompson: A big one is like, “you should talk to” fill in the blank. It’s lovely, actually, because it’s such an engagement with the community but also that folks who know us feel comfortable suggesting people who they think are remarkable, and they’re always people who I’d never heard of, which is great. We have a long list [of suggestions], and we actually take those very seriously. People also like the fact that it is diverse. [Black Austin] is very close but we also see the world differently, different things that we’re interested in. I think we bring in a variety.
Reddick: I think the element of surprise is really important. ... We actually sort of challenge ourselves to go out of our comfort zones and really talk to folks [who] again we have connections to perhaps, but they might not be very strong connections. More importantly, I think I hear a lot of what Lisa described. ... We always follow up on those and think about, “Does this person represent a perspective we haven’t heard from yet?” We have lots of ideas and lots of energy, so we’re not going to stop anytime soon, but I’m always thinking about, “Gosh, that’s a good idea,” or ‘We should do this.”
What do you want people from outside of the community to know about Black Austin?
Reddick: I think the dimensionality is always a thing. We will talk about everything. ... It’s going to be very much grounded in the experiences that people live day to day. We want to understand how they navigate and exist in the city. For me it’s like, listen for both, ‘Wow, that’s really amazing’ or, ‘That’s really an ordinary thing—I do that, or I go to that place, or I like that thing.’ It’s the normalization of our existence. ... We live full lives. We don’t just pop up in spaces where we are the “only ones.” The podcast tries to get at that, like, “How are you living and existing and thriving in this space?”
What are your goals for the current season of “Black Austin Matters”?
Reddick: I was actually talking to an older Black Austinite today, and I was like “Gosh, we have to start thinking about age diversity.” We’ve talked to some very senior folks, [and] we’ve talked to some young adults, but we’ve really never talked to youth. One of the things that’s sort of great about our collaboration is that I have the experience of growing up—at least my high school years—here in Austin, and now both Lisa and I are raising kids of that same vintage in Austin. ... What does it mean to be young and observe the world and the events that have happened in the last several years, and does the city weigh into that?
Thompson: We are definitely going to do some kind of community events sometime this season, and we’re also taking a big leap and teaching a Signature course at The University of Texas called Black Austin Matters. ... We’re excited about having students think about what it would mean for them to create a podcast about their own community ... and how they want to represent particularly the voices that are underrepresented on air and podcasts.
Sarah Brager is a reporting fellow for a Community Impact and University of Texas at Austin partnership with a focus on growing and diverse neighborhoods. The project is supported by the School of Journalism and Media’s Dallas Morning News Innovation Endowment.