Terry P. Mitchell’s upcoming children’s book, City We Built: Black Leaders of Austin, highlights Austin’s historic Black leaders to inspire the next generation.

Willie Mae Kirk

By Bella Larralde, Illustrations by Sadé Lawson

Releasing her first children’s book, City We Built: Black Leaders of Austin, activist and new author Terry Mitchell decided to give the audience a chance to immerse themselves in the history of Austin’s African American culture. The inspiration came from Black Leaders Collective, a nonprofit made up of about 100 Black leaders focusing on fixing prevalent issues within Black and Brown communities and assisting with fair housing, health, education and economic and workforce development.

The birth of her daughter combined with her activism inspired Mitchell to focus her book on Austin’s youth. Reading to her daughter, Mitchell became fascinated by children’s books like Little Leaders and others, sparking the idea to give writing her own children’s book a shot, but on a local level. Including 26 Black leaders from around Austin, with a variety of backgrounds, and around three years of processing, the book is set for release on April 15.

Why do you think this book is important now?

Because of history, Black history is being scrutinized and even villainized. I think it is important to remember our past and for us to know how to move forward into our future. When you know those who come before you, it makes it easier for you to set an agenda for what is to come. I think the representation is important. All children, especially children of color, need to see themselves as history makers, game changers and trailblazers. When you look at those who look like you and have already done it, it empowers you and inspires you to continue to do the work from that space of excellence. More specifically here in Austin, the Black demographic is declining. So we must remember those who have built this city and come before us. They must be honored and recognized.

What do you hope the impact of this book will be in the future?

I hope that we see a surge of Black and Brown authors who tell our stories and archive our history. Black and Brown history is American history. The parts that we play to lift this country are being shunned and washed away by different lenses that are not our own. I think it is important that we appreciate and recognize those who have come before us. Those who have done the work and those who have paved the way.

We are folk tellers and storytellers, but unfortunately, there are gaps. If you are only telling it through word of mouth, gaps appear in the stories, which causes gaps in the generations of youth learning these stories. So doing this work in book form, written form, ensures that it is here to live forever. The generations to come have a blueprint and a marker to move forward and continue reconstructing inequitable systems and making a way for all of us to live a decent quality of life.

Who was involved in the creation of this book?

The Black Leaders Collective produced this book, which is made up of more than 100 Black leaders who came together to work on quality-of-life issues and how to set a path forward for seven generations. We partnered directly with the George Washington Carver Museum Cultural and Genealogy Center, who did the research, archiving and fact checking. I am grateful for them and my co-author Carre Adams, who is the director at the Carver; our illustrator, who is a visual artist and muralist throughout the country, Sadé Lawson; and lastly our publisher, Arcadia Publishing. The honorable mention is my daughter Elle Mitchell, who has been the inspiration of the book.

The City We Built Reading!

On April 13 at 4 p.m., join us for a reading and signing of The City We Built, celebrating historic Black leaders of Austin. Illustrator and renowned visual artist Sadé Lawson will accompany the event with a live painting based on audience participation. Visit Eventbrite to RSVP. While the event is free for everyone, RSVPs are appreciated. Order your copy now!



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