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Fifty Women on What It Means to Be Black in Austin

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We asked leaders across industries to share their experiences as black women in Austin and how the city can be more supportive of its black community.

By Chantal Rice and Courtney Runn

Akina Adderley | Mélat | Lisa B. Thompson | Angela Brown | Angela M. Ward | Gigi Edwards Bryant | April Kayganich | Becca Matimba | Charlotte Moore | Courtney Robinson | Daina Berry | Dawn Okoro | De J. Lozada | Fatíma Mann | Jackie Venson | Hope Green | Iffy Ibekwe | Jaleesa McCreary | Tam Hawkins | China Smith | Georgia L. Johnson | Kaneisha Grayson | Milli Hawkins | Andrea Holman | Lamanda Ballard | Maria Brown-Spence | Marsha Stephanson | Maya Smart | Alta Y. Alexander | Mélissa Peng | Meme Styles | Michelle Washington | Riley Blanks | Nina Means | Raasin McIntosh | Rose Smith | Sarah Enouen | Sheri A. Marshall | Sheryl Cole | Susan Seay | Keffrelyn D. Brown | Joi Chevalier | Judge Yvonne Michelle Williams | Kathleen McElroy | Kathy Burrell | Terry P. Mitchell


AKINA ADDERLEY

Vocalist, Songwriter, Bandleader, Educator and Music Director at Griffin School

Austin Woman: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

Akina Adderley: Venues can be more mindful and intentional about booking diverse acts. … There [is] a plethora of dynamic, talented, amazing black artists in this town, and venues need to make sure they are doing the work to keep their listings diverse. It’s better for the venue. It’s better for our image as the Live Music Capital of the World. And it’s better for young people to see that diverse lineups of bands are expected and normal. Representation matters. That applies to press, awards, etc. The black talent in this town is copious.  

AW: What’s next for you?

AA: I am hoping to record a new EP this year. Since having my daughter in 2013, I have recorded two albums with Nori, a nu-jazz quintet in which I am the lead vocalist and co-writer. However, since giving birth, I haven’t recorded anything under my own name, and I think it’s time. I’m also strongly considering finally starting the women’s choir I’ve wanted to start for a long time—and I’m getting a lot of encouragement to do so. Stay tuned!

Mélat

Musician

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

Mélat: To say that Austin has a race issue in music would be misleading, however I do believe that the Austin Music Awards being around for 30 years and finally getting an R&B category this year says a lot about people in this city not recognizing genre and seeing race as the default categorizer. I’ve been nominated as a hip-hop artist before but absolutely did not promote it, as that is not my seat to fill. It’s not my genre just because I make ‘urban’ music. If someone were to do their homework on various sounds, it would be very apparent. And that’s my concern: Who’s in the room that cares to show that special attention to applying diversity appropriately?

AW: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

M: This is a huge question that has a million different answers based on which black person is asked, what their backgrounds are and various other circumstances. But from my particular vantage point, I would point out that Austinites are open to new ideas and varied ways of thinking. So many people want to help in regards to our city’s diversity issues but my concern is that the affected voices aren’t always in the room. I think that’s a good place to start. Listen and learn from the often-overlooked voices and approach with an understanding that while the city is thinking about diversity, without first seeking knowledge and perspective, it’s not always approaching it in a useful way.

LISA B. THOMPSON

Playwright and Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

Lisa B. Thompson: As a theater artist, I’d like to see more theaters move beyond having a token show each season that includes a play by an African American, Latinx or an Asian playwright. Also, it would be wonderful if not all the playwrights whose works are touted are under 40 years old. This is an issue I see not only in Austin but [is] a national issue. In 2017, The Vortex did three world premieres by black women playwrights, including my first world premiere in the city. That kind of programming allowed audiences to see that there is no monolithic African American story, theatrical style or identity. This season, the Signature Theatre in New York is producing plays by three African American women, an Asian American woman and a white man. I’d like to see more theater seasons where diverse offerings are the norm instead of a notable exception.

AW: What’s something you’re really proud of accomplishing in your career in Austin? 

LBT: Austin has been an affirming place for me as an artist and a scholar. As a theatre artist, I’m proud that I’ve had a play on stage every year for the past four years. A true highlight was being on the cover of the Austin Chronicle in 2017 along with the cast of my play Underground which eventually won the David Marc Cohen New Play Award from the Austin Critics Table. As an academic, I’m proud to have received the rank of full professor at the University of Texas at Austin last year, joining the other 15 black women professors at that rank university-wide. I’m looking forward to that number growing. 

ANGELA BROWN

Social Strategist at GSD&M

Chicken sandwiches dominated the summer of 2019. One viral tweet from Popeyes drove America to its fast-food chain and competitors to the drawing board. Angela Brown, a social-media strategist at GSD&M, is the reason you probably ate a chicken sandwich this summer. “We got to see a whole cultural phenomenon unfold in real time, and it was absolutely wild,” she says. Still early in her advertising career, Brown has already seen the potential power of her industry and its faults. “I want our agencies and clients to truly look at a variety of creators and understand not only their temporary impact on a campaign but also the brand longevity they can have,” she says. “Too often, creators all look the same and that usually means they all have similar body types and are, for the most part, white. But we’ve seen time and time again that creators from underrepresented communities frequently create massive waves online, but they aren’t trusted, supported, valued or invested in as much as their counterparts.”

ANGELA M. WARD

Administrative Supervisor of Race and Equity for the Austin Independent School District and Founder and CEO of 2Ward Equity Consulting

Angela M. Ward’s daily work centers on equity and inclusion. Ward has accomplished much in her career, including leading the launch of AISD’s focus on cultural proficiency and inclusiveness. “A major part of this work was to become a No Place for Hate district, which we attained. And [we]have maintained the designation as the largest No Place for Hate school district in the United States for the last six years,” she says. “Our office is leading cutting-edge research and implementation of restorative practices in the field of education.” Ward works to connect with her education colleagues both locally and nationally to collaboratively build spaces to expand knowledge of equity in education. “My passion is and has always been to achieve educational equity for black and brown students,” she says. “I am currently engaged in a research project aimed at eliminating disproportionality and disparities in discipline practice in education.”

GIGI EDWARDS BRYANT

Community Volunteer and Founder of Write To Me Foundation

Austin Woman: What do the women featured here mean to you? 

Gigi Edwards Bryant: These women are among a group of women in Austin that have worked, lived and championed change in the diversity and inclusion space. They are from corporate and nonprofit arenas. They fully understand that to be a leader, they must earn respect and be willing to do as much as they expect someone else to do. There is an innate fear and faith that fuels their passion for creating, sharing and forging better pathways for women because their path has not always been easy or accepted. Every woman has felt a subtle nudge that there’s ‘a best life’ for her that she is living or seeking.

AW: What’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community?

GEB: My vision for 2020 for the city of Austin is the same as it has been in years past: to have decision-makers who know inherently that a multicultural city is more sustainable than a “uni-cultural” city. In that vision, there must be policies and procedures that allow for growth, movement and opportunity for families just starting and families who have a long history in this city. If voices are stifled, citizens fail to take on roots. … Equity and inclusion require deliberate actions. In the nonprofit, education and volunteer spectrum…access is the key. It is the same in all industries. … There is no trick to improving equity and inclusion, and it takes commitment to  deliberate, well-understood actions with a company’s culture. Most importantly, it takes a stretch goal of meeting a practice above the minimum by turning dialogues and intention into action. 

APRIL KAYGANICH

Owner of The Curl Whisperer

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

April Kayganich: I think that the best way that the hair industry can improve when it comes to being treated equal and being included is, for one, expanding the education for students enrolled in cosmetology programs. Now there are more and more people taking notice that natural hair/curls/ waves are here, have always been here and are here to stay, but it still isn’t being put front and center in these schools. The books and curriculum need to be amended to have experts come in and show these students how to work with hair [that’s] other than straight. … All salons should make sure that their stylists can accommodate anyone who sits in their chair by providing the necessary—you guessed it—education if it is needed.  One of the times I trusted someone to cut my hair, I left with half of my hair and I was almost in tears. I had asked questions at the front desk prior to my appointment to ensure that the person working on my hair was knowledgable with curls and I was reassured that they were.  She cut too much of my hair off because she didn’t realize “how curly it was.”

AW: What’s something you’re really proud of accomplishing in your career in Austin? 

AK: I really still can’t believe that I worked two full-time jobs and went to cosmetology school.  I was determined to get licensed so I could finally do hair! I had wanted to become a hair stylist since I was 14.  I knew that I would do whatever it took to get there so I worked from 8 to 4 as a receptionist at Urban Betty, went to school from 5:30 to 9 p.m. and then I would head downtown to West 6th St. where I bartended.  I probably got about two to four hours of sleep a night but I still managed to prep my food so I could eat healthily and work out. I did all of this without a car. I was lucky to have friends who would give me rides when I really needed it, but I took the bus a majority of the time, used Car2go or grabbed a taxi.  So I am proud of myself for pushing through and staying committed.

BECCA MATIMBA

Photographer

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

Becca Matimba: I don’t think the film and arts lack diversity but there’s a heavy lack of minority women and teaming together to continue making great stories. I remember working on set on a Robert Rodriguez film and the cast and crew were incredible, but as I got to talking to them, only about 10 percent were Austin locals. I noticed we outsource great talent and workers instead of utilizing the already talented natives in our city.

AW: What’s something you’re really proud of accomplishing in your career in Austin? 

BM: I’m very proud of launching Becca Matimba Photography officially three years ago and surviving in these streets as a full-time freelancer for about the same time. Sure there are side hustles but I thank the Lord I didn’t lay my dreams to rest because of failure to succeed.

CHARLOTTE MOORE

Founder of Black Bodies Project

Austin Woman: What’s something you’re really proud of accomplishing in your career in Austin? 

Charlotte Moore: Without a doubt, I am most proud of the formation of my nonprofit, the Black Bodies Project. Through it, I was able to direct and produce a feature-length documentary called Black Bodies in which 16 black Austinites speak candidly about what it means to exist each day in their black bodies. I launched season one of Brainstorm Black, a weekly web interview series introducing viewers to members of the community who are actively working to improve the quality of life for black Austinites. Lastly, and perhaps the project of which I’m most proud, I produced a portrait book called Benevolence in Black, which honors—through portraits and essays—30 remarkably benevolent black individuals.

AW: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

CM: As a multimedia storyteller, I have committed myself to actively seeking out stories to tell about black individuals. These stories abound! Media bias has been widely documented. In news, film and literature, black people have historically been portrayed in ways which perpetuate stereotypes and fail to present the “whole humanness” of black people. We are beginning to see black storytellers (like Ava DuVernay and Issa Rae) transform how black people are depicted. White America must actively support these efforts.

COURTNEY ROBINSON

Founder and CEO of the Excellence and Advancement Foundation

Austin Woman: What’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

Courtney Robinson: Austin has to be honest about the ways it pushes black people out of the community. Austin has a very long history of disenfranchising black people. That history matters because those policies and practices are intrenched in the city. It is clear in the similarities of the Clarksville community and the gentrification in East Austin and school closings in Austin Independent School District. With all of our struggles with race as city, I am hopeful. I believe that we can be a beloved community, a city that thrives on justice, equity and love for human beings. It has taken us hundreds of years to create a fluid system of institutional racism. For 2020 and beyond, we will have to work fearlessly, confidently, consistently and lovingly to undo this powerful system. Working to end racism is an act of love and commitment. 

AW: What’s something you’re really proud of accomplishing in your career in Austin? 

CR: The Equity Space! This year, the Excellence and Advancement Foundation, in partnership with Events Unleashed and Jelani Consulting, hosted the first Equity Space. This convening brought five industries—business, education, nonprofit, health care and government—together to celebrate equity warriors in our community and discuss how we can create and improve social and racial equity locally, regionally and nationally. We are looking forward to the second Equity Space in September 2020.

DAINA RAMEY BERRY

Austin Woman: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

Daina Ramey Berry: I believe this is a great place to live but the city should not ignore or overlook its black population. Knowing the history [of] race in Austin tells me that we can and should do more to create a more inclusive environment. I believe this can be done at all levels, in politics, the arts, the tech community, business, housing, philanthropy, etc. My vision for 2020 is for the city to develop a plan that does not further displace African Americans from a gentrifying city.

AW: What’s next for you?

DRB: I want to continue working with the graduate school to transform and improve graduate-student life at the University of Texas, to continue publishing books on slavery and African American history and to develop a digital platform that houses the stories of the enslaved. My latest book, A Black Women’s History of the United States, will be released this month, and I recently started working on my next book, The Myths of Slavery, which will be published in 2021. I am also working with colleagues in education to support K-12 educators as they incorporate slavery and race in the pre-college curriculum.”

DAWN OKORO

Artist

Dawn Okoro started her career with a passion for fashion illustration, photography and design. And with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in fashion design from the University of Texas—and a law degree from Texas Southern University—she was on track to take on any number of industries. Luckily for art lovers, Okoro chose a creative medium for her career and has been thriving ever since, dazzling viewers with her eye-catching painting, video and fashion projects. Her recent solo exhibition, Punk Noir, a series of large-scale paintings featuring black people who have what Okoro calls “a punk spirit,” showed at the Carver Museum in 2018. The show was so successful that it became a touring exhibition, visiting Seattle, San Antonio and Dallas, where the show is currently on view. “I have work on view at the South Dallas Cultural Center; the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids, Mich.; and the San Antonio Central Library,” she says. “I am going to spend this year creating lots of new work and hopefully put on another solo show in Austin soon.”

De J. Lozada

Founder of Soul Popped Gourmet Popcorn and Soul Made Holdings

Austin Woman: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

De J. Lozada: My vision for Austin in 2020 is for our city to go through a period of enlightenment in which the majority population embraces the ideals of true equity and equality for all, which are not the same things as mere inclusion. Inclusion is just a start. People can be included and still be marginalized by ideas and beliefs that have the opposite effect of perpetuating exclusion. Instead, my hope for Austin at the start of this new decade is to recognize that the city will be stronger when everyone has the same opportunities to thrive and to succeed. But that requires intentionality. 

DJL: My industry falls within consumer packaged goods (CPG). When you look nationwide, there’s not a single black-owned national food brand and hasn’t been since Glory Greens in 1990! (Oprah Winfrey’s new food line O! That’s Good! might be the closest to achieving that standard today.) I find that wholly unacceptable in 2020! There are very real barriers to entry that continue to prevent African American success in CPG. The good news is that a new class of investors are beginning to recognize the wealth-potential of supporting underrepresented CPGs like Soul Popped. And, while a lot of who gets funded and who doesn’t still depends on geography (it might be easier to attract funding if you live in New York or California rather than Texas, for example), I’m heartened by what I’m seeing with CPG brands like Bevel and Partake Foods closing meaningful funding rounds.

FATÍMA MANN

Director of the Community Advocacy and Healing Project

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on themes of equity and inclusion?

Fatíma Mann: Promoting systemic change that will support and implement culturally mindful, healing and human-centered practices within organizational infrastructures can improve and ground themes of equity throughout an industry. The work that I’ve been humbled to perform allows me to guide organizations in cultivating a garden of equity within their personal and professional lives.

AW: What does it mean to you to be an Austin woman?

FM: Being a woman of the African diaspora in Austin means that my voice may not be heard, the hard work I’ve put into the community will go unnoticed and men will most likely be deemed thought leaders and experts for a topic that you have years of experience [with], a graduate degree and references for being a contributing intellectual force on the topic. Being a woman of the African diaspora in Austin can be lonely, isolating, tokenizing and inspiring. … Being a woman in Austin has reminded me that Malcolm X did not lie when he said that black women were the most disrespected women in the United States. Austin permeates that disrespect while simultaneously masquerading in a progressive mask with a KKK tunic. Austin is one of the most beautiful cities to have to endure the impacts of microaggressions and racism.

JACKIE VENSON

Musician

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

Jackie Venson: We could include a more culturally diverse range of genres and acts during our biggest festivals and city events. I was once denied an opening slot for a well-known Austin musician because, and I quote, ‘I can’t have two black female soul singers on the same lineup.’ It’s that mentality that needs to be snuffed out in Austin if we’re going to cultivate a culture of inclusivity and diversity.

AW: What’s something you’re really proud of accomplishing in your career in Austin? 

JV: Winning Best Guitarist [at the Austin Music Awards] and selling out The Paramount Theatre. As an Austin native those were big personal moments for me.

HOPE GREEN

Owner of Emojis Grilled Cheese Truck

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

Hope Green: I feel like the terms ‘equity’ and ‘inclusion’ are being exploited and overused. These terms are being used without the actual work of inclusion being enacted. Equity and inclusion are not just photos of people who look different than one another; it’s a way of thinking. An inclusive environment is one that transparently paves the way for all. Equity becomes visible when industry leaders take an unbiased approach to hiring, finding suppliers and checking in with their existing teams to ensure every voice is being heard.

AW: What’s next for you?

HG: HG:  I currently use my food trucks to teach job and life skills to homeless teens and youth aging out of the foster care system. One day soon I will be opening my own commercial kitchen space and a trauma-informed housing program for displaced youth.

AW: What does it mean to you to be an Austin woman?

HG:  Austin has always been ground zero for me. This is where my grandparents’ home is, the church I grew up in is here and there is a family member in each corner of this city. Austin embodies the term incubator. Many companies test their products in the Austin market, and so have I. Being an Austin woman has allowed me the flexibility, the grit and weirdness needed to be authentically me.

IFFY IBEKWE

Principal Lawyer at Ibekwe Law

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

Iffy Ibekwe: The number of black attorneys is very low in Austin, as well as nationally. When I decided to delve into estate planning, I could count the number of black estate- planning attorneys in Austin on one hand. I really am not sure what the solution is, but mentorship and encouraging others to join the profession is what I do to contribute.

AW: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

II: It would help if Austinites recognized that, for such a booming city, the black population is the only demographic that is leaving in droves. I won’t begin to address the historic and systemic reasons that contribute to this decline, but how can we call ourselves an inclusive community and be okay with this fact? One minor way to promote Austin’s inclusivity is to directly launch a PR campaign that caters to members of the black population who are looking for new places to settle; Austin is usually crossed off the list because it isn’t seen as friendly towards black people.

JALEESA MCCREARY

Worship Leader at The Austin Stone Community Church

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

Jaleesa McCreary: Church, unfortunately, can display cultural and racial division week to week. My hope and the hope of The Austin Stone is that our congregations would reflect the communities represented in our city. We ask for and seek out minority leadership and encourage people with varying ethnic backgrounds to see our church as a welcoming place where their heritage and voice have value.

AW: What’s something you’re really proud of accomplishing in your career in Austin?

JM: Goodness, I’m proud of what I have been able to contribute to my little piece of community here in Austin. My perspective, skillset and voice have been encouraged by my church and the leadership there. I am proud to be our first female worship leader leading her own band in services week to week and I am certain that I wouldn’t have been able to step into a role like this without the constant leaning in from my supervisors and their desire to understand my unique position as well as cultivate in me a passion for the name of Jesus to be elevated in Austin. 

TAM HAWKINS

CEO and President of the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce

Tam Hawkins’ zeal for volunteering and civic engagement—combined with her background in sales and marketing and real-estate development—and her breadth of experience in both the corporate and entrepreneurial spheres make her the ideal person to lead the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce. She has ensured the chamber continues to highlight the work of black entrepreneurs in Central Texas, all while pushing for a more equitable community. “One of our most important themes is to encourage the area to search for ways to diversify spending, create opportunities for all to flourish,” Hawkins says. “I’m proud that our team created so many wonderful programs but my favorite one is the Taste of Black Austin, a photography and food history event that explores entrepreneurship through rich culture and connection,” she says. Next up for Hawkins: launching a new business.

CHINA SMITH

Founding Executive Director of Ballet Afrique and Woke Families

Austin Woman: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

China Smith: An outside perspective may conclude that the black Austin community is dwindling. My inside experience shows me that black Austin is undergoing a rival business boom! Yes we are expanding in Pflugerville, Round Rock or Manor but by no means are our businesses immobile. I hope my cohorts who’ve moved out of the city still have thriving  businesses in Austin. My vision for Austin in 2020 is for peripheral support, of more awareness and acknowledgment of the manifestation of white privilege within the infrastructure of our city, and the direct support of access to space and funding for black businesses. 

AW: What’s next for you?

CS: My entire career has been based in Austin. My community has embraced me and, like most people of color, I have had many experiences of covert and overt racism. These experiences have led me to my next phase as founder of Woke Families, a program dedicated to bringing attention to the effects of implicit bias and white privilege to black communities and how to change it.

Georgia Leggett Johnson

President of the Austin Chapter of The Links

Austin Woman: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

Georgia Leggett Johnson: My vision for Austin in 2020 is a blustering mecca of intellect and advanced technological capabilities to address the many and varied challenges common to cities that have grown at the rapid rate exhibited by the Austin metroplex area such as equal employment opportunities at all levels for all citizens; [a guarantee] that city contracts and services be awarded to women and minority-owned businesses; developing solutions to address the homeless population…by reducing barriers to resources through advocacy, education and service that includes education and job training, social services, health care and house;  improving the educational systems of our schools such that every child is afforded an equitable education that prepares them to become productive citizens [and finding] common ground between law enforcement and the minority communities by ensuring that diversity training and opportunities for all trainees to spend a certain amount of time learning, observing and interacting with citizens in all sectors of Austin.

AW: What’s something you’re really proud of accomplishing in your career in Austin? 

GLJ: I am most proud of the fact that I served the children of  Round Rock, Austin, Dallas and Huntsville, Texas as a teacher, counselor and principal for over forty years.  I have touched the lives of thousands of children who now are leaders in their own rights. It is rewarding to know that I made a difference in their lives in some small way.

KANEISHA GRAYSON

Founder and CEO of The Art of Applying

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

Kaneisha Grayson: Many of my company’s clients are underrepresented applicants of color, first-generation Americans, and first-generation college graduates. I’m really honored and proud that we’ve been able to send so many people to top graduate schools with full scholarships. In fact, one of my favorite facts is that the majority of clients that we have sent to UT Austin McCombs MBA program are admitted with a full scholarship.

Although we work with many underrepresented and first-generation applicants, there are countless others that we are unable to work with because they can’t afford to invest in working with us. Companies in my industry could better address equity and inclusion by leveraging technology to provide advice and guidance at scale in a way that is both profitable for the business but also more accessible to lower-income applicants. This way, applicants who are not able to afford premium-priced hands-on service still have access to advice and guidance while largely managing the application process on their own. It won’t completely close the gap, but it could help bring more racially and socioeconomically diverse candidates to top graduate schools.

AW: What does it mean to you to be an Austin woman?

KG: Being an Austin woman means authentically showing up as oneself personally and professionally rather than trying to fit into a mold of what others think she should be. An Austin woman claims a space for herself in this exciting, rapidly growing city and doesn’t look to others to give her permission to start something, make her voice heard or share her work with the world.

MILLI HAWKINS

CFO at P. Terry’s Burger Stand

As P. Terry’s Burger Stand’s first female chief financial officer, Milli Hawkins is preparing the local chain for expansion while keeping Austinites happy. “Patrick and Kathy [Terry] have established meaningful values for this company since they started taking orders for Austinites and visitors 15 years ago,” she says. “What makes Austin special for all? Brands like this one, no doubt.” Hawkins has seen the city change in her nearly 15 years here but the spark of creativity and energy she’s always found here hasn’t left. “A lot for the better has happened,” she says. “Sure, a lot has gone away or revamped its way into something different and new. And yes, there’s still plenty to be discussed as we try to protect the cultural core of the city. But I’m here for it.”

ANDREA HOLMAN

Associate Professor of Psychology at Huston-Tillotson University

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

Andrea Holman: I believe the field of counseling psychology is making strides to improve equity and inclusion. As a member of division 17 of the American Psychological Association (APA), I have attended conferences, listened to scholars and practitioners and assisted in research projects that affirm this belief. I also believe intersectionality is an important aspect of identity, and my identity as an African American woman provides a unique experience within academia and psychology. Historically, both of these fields have been male dominated and have a history of oppression and discrimination toward African Americans and women in these spaces. I have experienced microaggressions in the workplace regarding both of these identities and they can be hurtful, discouraging and induce insecurity. For many black women, including myself, these wounds often go unspoken and unacknowledged out of a desire to remain strong and resilient in their careers. The invisibility of the emotional turmoil of black women in the workplace is not fair or helpful. I think both psychological and academic workplaces can do well to make space to listen to and honor the experiences and struggles of black women around them.

AW: What does it mean to you to be an Austin woman?

AH: To identify as an Austin woman means a number of things. It means that I have settled and have a city to reference as home, which is special for someone who was raised in a military family. The way intersectionality manifests for me is that I have difficulty separating my racial identity from my gender identity, so when I think of being a woman in Austin, I think of what it means to be a black woman in Austin. For me, it means that I have a unique perspective on a city I love that does not always feel like it loves me. It also means my family finds notable challenge in raising our children in a community that reflects their racial background, which can be frustrating and isolating. Despite these challenges, it means that I have privilege to live in a city where many are working to overturn long-standing systemic racial oppression. It means that because my family is part of a local church community, we feel a responsibility to challenge the ways that racism, sexism and prejudice have been enabled by the church and work toward a city that truly embraces and advocates for all of God’s people. It also means I have access to great opportunities in the way of education, sunshine, music and food. Being in Austin is home to me and I am so grateful to have the opportunities I do to impact change.

LAMANDA BALLARD

Founder and Executive Director of Flo Code

Austin Woman: What’s something you’re really proud of accomplishing in your career in Austin? 

Lamanda Ballard: Since moving to Austin in 2016, I’ve been able to build and grow a nonprofit that has served over 100,000 people across this nation. Flo Code is a leading support organization in the Texas community, donating over 415,000 menstrual products to nonprofits, shelters, schools and natural-disaster victims. My nonprofit works to advance the common good by focusing on health, education and social injustice in our community. Also [we’re] striving to educate, bring awareness to and end the stigma of menstruation in our society.

AW: What’s next for you?

LB: I plan to invest my time and efforts fully into foreseeing the success of my nonprofit. My goal is for my organization to expand across the nation in different states and build a facility within Central Texas that will become a resource center for underserved women and girls within our community.

MARIA BROWN-SPENCE

Founder and CEO of Hearts 2 Heal and Program Manager for Entrepreneurs Foundation

Austin Woman: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

Maria Brown-Spence: Currently, I serve on the executive board for the ​Austin Area Urban League Young Professionals​, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit devoted to community engagement, professional development, fundraising and supporting historically underrepresented businesses. Through this organization, we are creating a foundation for people of color to find their support system and connect them with needed resources, to achieve their wildest dreams and the most of what Austin has to offer. 

AW: What’s something you’re really proud of accomplishing in your career in Austin? 

MBS: I truly feel that anything is possible in Austin with networking, dedication and a strong business mindset. My proudest moment in Austin was incorporating Hearts 2 Heal in May 2018. This organization was started after losing my partner, Farrin Hawkins, to cancer, in 2018 and dedicated to my grandmother, Anna Marie Brown, who lost her battle with cancer in 2012. We provide mental-health and bereavement resources through peer support, advocacy and education. In just a short period of time, I have had the opportunity to share my story at various events, conferences and discussions in the hopes of decreasing the stigma around mental health, grief and loss.

MARSHA STEPHANSON

Founder and CEO of Cater to Mom

Austin Woman: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

Marsha Stephanson: As an African American female and veteran of the United States armed forces, I have seen racism, discrimination from a vantage point that white Americans do not. I have worked for companies where I was the only black individual and it made me question: Besides my experience, was the color of my skin a leading factor in me getting the job? Was I simply part of a check box to say, ‘We are now a diverse organization?’ … Inclusion forces one to allow all workers equal participation in leadership, promotions and advancement opportunities. … It also means sharing money, and that’s where I believe the big disconnect exists. People seem to think that there is a limited amount of financial resources reserved only for the majority.

AW: What does it mean to you to be an Austin woman?

MS: Let me just say being a woman is hard work. Despite all that we endure as a woman, we are still resilient and find the strength to get back up and do it all over again. I am a strong believer that, “Behind every successful woman is herself.” When you know who you are it encourages other women to find the beautiful masterpiece within themselves. I am strong, unapologetically, authentic, God-fearing, natural hair wearing, beautiful black African American female and proud to be an Austin Woman. 

MAYA SMART

Writer and Literacy Advocate

Austin Woman: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

Maya Smart: The heart of the matter isn’t how ‘the city’ can better support ‘its black community,’ but how conscious and committed individual Austinites can defend, encourage, employ and champion the real-life black people in their midst. To make a difference, concerned citizens have to become aware of and address the educational inequity, housing discrimination, civic exclusion and health disparities in their immediate vicinity. Individuals must treat injustice as a personal problem, not as an amorphous systemic or institutional problem for others to sort out. … I heard Julie Todaro, the dean of library services at Austin Community College and past president of the American Library Association, speak about diversity in terms of four Ps: presence, policy, practice and perception. I think that’s a good place for people to start. Ask yourself what black people are present in your life in Austin at work and beyond. What policies, practices or perceptions encourage or impede their presence and success? Most people have been swimming in bias, prejudice and discrimination so long that they don’t recognize any of it when they see it. … When individuals champion social justice however they can and wherever they are, they build the understanding and skills they need to advance the larger strategic work that results in citywide impact. Engagement—even small, isolated action—is better than the nothing most people do.

AW: What’s something you’re really proud of accomplishing in your career in Austin?

MS: I’ve been in Austin for nearly five years and in that time, have deeply immersed myself in research around the question of why racial and socioeconomic reading disparities persist and what parents, teachers and society at large can do to close the gap. Thanks to University of Texas Libraries, I’ve read hundreds of books and articles on reading instruction and children’s literature. And with the support of our local nonprofit community, I’ve spent thousands of hours volunteering as a book buddy, parent coach, library assistant and advisor to numerous literacy organizations. I’m proud of the depth of the work I’ve done to understand the complexity of literacy challenges we face.

ALTA Y. ALEXANDER

Owner of Altatudes

Austin Woman: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

Alta Y. Alexander: One way to be supportive of the black community is to buy black. … It would be an overwhelmingly fantastic blessing to have a day/week/month dedicated to folks committed to patronizing black- owned businesses, be that a storefront like Altatudes or a maker or restaurant like Hoover’s or Big Easy or connecting with black service-run businesses. The only way our business will remain in business is if everyone patronizes us.

AW: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

AYA: I’ve stated from before day one of opening my business that business should give back – no matter how small or large, you should give back something to the community your business is in.  Don’t just take! Altatudes does just this by hosting its Hearts and Handbags initiative for young girls in marginalized areas.  The initiative exist to empower young girls in underserved areas or circumstances to embrace their worth and help them on their life path with a healthy self-esteem and strong sense of confidence.  In its third year, the Altatudes Hearts and Handbags initiative aims to boast self-love and awareness.  All girls are welcomed as this is a very inclusive event and all about helping girls achieve equity now and in the future!

Mélissa Peng

CEO of Curly Executive Brands

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

Mélissa Peng: Support starts with spending time and dollars with black business owners and organizations that already exist in the city and in supporting emerging black companies and brands because we recognize the value they provide in the greater Austin community. In terms of personal experiences, I definitely faced a bit of hardship while launching my dance brand here in Austin. When I arrived, I was disappointed to find that there were virtually no Caribbean dance classes in Austin and limited Afrobeat classes. Having spent a lot of time in New York City and Los Angeles, I had access to several top choreographers who were of Caribbean and African decent and wanted to come teach in Austin (one was even Beyoncé’s choreographer). Despite this fact, I was not able to rally any support from the local established dance studios in Austin and I was even told, ‘Those classes don’t work here in Austin,’ from a pretty reputable studio. … I eventually was able to put on over 40 dance events in Austin in 2019, but I self-funded the whole experience, and despite reaching out consistently to local media outlets, we rarely received any support for what we were trying to do.

AW: What’s something you’re really proud of accomplishing in your career in Austin? 

MP: I am extremely proud of the Curly Executive grants program I founded in partnership with BossbabesATX last year. This program provides mini grants ($500-1000) and 12 months of mentorship to Texas-based women and non-binary entrepreneurs. Last year I personally funded two: one for local artists and another designated to women of color entrepreneurs. It has been really exciting to see the impact of directly supporting fellow entrepreneurs firsthand and I’d personally love to see more community-funded initiatives supporting local entrepreneurs!

MEME STYLES

President of Measure

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

I am incredibly grateful to work in the ecosystem of social justice. As a nonprofit founder, I’ve received so much support. I also understand that so many nonprofit founders that look like me struggle to get the funding needed to operationalize, carry out and sustain the great work. I’d love to see more Austin companies give to nonprofit organizations that are led by black and brown people. Secondly, there are not enough people of color serving on nonprofit boards. That’s problematic because so many nonprofit organizations serve people whose experience should be represented through its directors. I think improvement can start here too. There is an amazing organization called The New Philanthropists that matches nonprofits with people of color who are ready to serve.

AW: What’s next for you?

MS: I’m excited to grow Measure! We are looking forward to creating chapters at colleges and universities with the goal of empowering communities to use data for justice. We just received a grant from St. David’s Foundation to begin this project. This year we will also disrupt adultification bias and injustice against black girls through the Innocence Initiative, a collaborative project funded by Impact Austin and St. David’s. In addition to the empowering projects and initiatives we’re working on for 2020, you will also find me fundraising toward sustainability! Currently we have funding to operate for this year only so securing funding for the next year is imperative. 

MICHELLE WASHINGTON

Fashion Stylist

Austin Woman: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

Michelle Washington: I’m very proud to be a part of a generation that lived to see East Austin in its historic glory. It’s easy to be homesick for the place I knew filled with generations of tradition, a celebration of African American and Latino culture. East Austin was a place of proud working-class families and vibrant neighborhoods filled with community gathering places like barbershops, salons, churches, Sam’s BBQ, Victory Grill, the Piggly Wiggly and the pride of East Austin: L.C. Anderson Yellow Jackets (the state’s best marching band). … East Austin lives in the DNA of the people. Some argue the loss of community has buried hopes of advancement, but seeds have been planted and the next generation of the East Austin black community will thrive in 2020.

AW: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

MW: Fashion is one of the few industries that touches all lives in some way. The fashion industry has shown signs that equity and inclusion is shifting in a progressive direction. However, inclusion is difficult to measure. I can only hope that the efforts toward change are not treated like a fleeting trend. Improving equity and inclusion is more than just checking a box. Fashion-industry decision makers must make it a mindset in order to avoid “tokenism” gestures designed to provide an illusion. No matter if it’s an office environment, fashion event, brand campaign, discussion panel, a magazine or the runway…if everyone looks the same, there is a problem. If people look like you, talk like you, think like you and act like you, how much diversity, equity and inclusion is there? The fashion industry must support greater diversity on the business side: financiers, chief executives, heads of fashion houses, magazine editors and business leaders. In my personal experience (past and present), I’ve gained valuable insight about our society’s shortcomings in terms of compassion and understanding. People have stopped listening; marginalizing the issues as trivial. The challenges of equity and inclusion deserve attention instead of being minimized or silenced in conversations.

RILEY BLANKS

Founder of Woke Beauty

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

Riley Blanks: Racial bias is glued to the forehead of photography and entertainment. Representation is lacking in the industry because, in large part, for decades black people haven’t been valued as much more than objects. To hold a camera, for many, is to hold power. On one hand, as a black woman running and operating a thriving photographic business that seeks to altruistically improve women’s lives, I walk around as an anomaly on a daily basis. On the other, as a commercial model and actress, I subject myself to discrimination and ignorance amongst a sea of others. Last year, after modeling for a local brand, I received images from the photographer. I was sent originals and Photoshopped versions. In the edits, blatantly, my skin was made lighter and my arm thinner. My body and my skin, both of which I own, were modified to present someone whiter, perpetuating the notion that those characteristics are more attractive to viewers. My being was manipulated to persuade an audience to buy the product I held in my hand. The edits screamed, ‘Your beauty isn’t good enough. Your blackness isn’t welcome here unless it fits our mold.’ This scenario is no different than early color film, which was designed with light skin as the ideal standard. Some called it ‘willful obliviousness.’ Progress will be marked by the majority’s will to recognize the bias and injustice that’s perpetuated in our society—no matter how unintentional it might be.

AW: What does it mean to you to be an Austin woman?

RB: In my three years living here, I’ve built my own personal and professional community to represent the vast, varied cities I grew up in; I founded and grew a social impact business that fully supports me; I evolved into a woman I love, respect and admire no matter her flaws; and I developed soft, hopeful resiliency. I think that Austin is like a coloring book with no line art. There are crayons laying around everywhere just begging to be used but there is no infrastructure; there is no framework. It’s just blank chaos. However, if you look closely enough, you’ll find tools and resources. There is hope. There is color. To be an Austin woman, to be a black Austin woman that stays, is to pick up those crayons, fearlessly, and to use them. 

NINA MEANS

Director of the Austin Community College Fashion Incubator

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

Nina Means: Equity and inclusion in the fashion industry has been a sore spot for a long time. In the recent years, I’ve seen more designers offering more sizes. They are showing their products on a range of models by ethnicity and age as well. As a minority in the industry, I have had my fair share of challenging interactions with people who did not understand or respect my background or culture, but my experience is not uncommon. I am always hopeful that a greater level of understanding of people who are different from one another will foster a greater sense of community.

AW: What’s something you’re really proud of accomplishing in your career in Austin?

NM: I love being a part of what I believe will be an incredibly disruptive movement in the fashion industry where you will see unparalleled technology and sustainability integration in one of the world’s most wasteful industries. We have an incredible opportunity to help designers build brands with greater transparency with more specialized product than ever before.

Raasin McIntosh

Founder and Director of Raasin in the Sun

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

Raasin McIntosh: The nonprofit sector can improve on the theme of equity by ensuring the city of Austin and all other sponsors, corporations, developers that all nonprofits that are actively serving our community are fully funded and provided a space to operate, which will, in turn, strengthen the platform to serve the people. Inclusion builds a culture of belonging by actively inviting the contribution and participation of all people. Dare to collaborate and work together with someone or an organization with a different race, ethnic background, gender or sexual orientation. There’s power when unity and diversity come together to inspire and build community. As we serve through beautification projects, we can’t help but notice that right now, more than ever in our city, people, communities, businesses are being displaced. Are there not resources available to stop this? Or is this the fate we are forced to except for our city? It is my belief that equity and inclusion is only possible in an environment built on respect and dignity, not disregard and displacement

AW: What’s something you’re really proud of accomplishing in your career in Austin?

Raasin McIntosh: I’m proud of establishing a 501(c)(3) designed to remedy impacts of urbanization through beautification projects that inspire, unite and restore communities.

ROSE SMITH

Rose Smith founded Black Women in Business in 2014 and has since expanded her movement of “self-confidence, sisterhood and success” to eight other Texas cities. As a fierce advocate for the black community and women in business, she also started Austin Black Business Week, the Black Women in Business Scholarship Fund and the Teen Entrepreneurs Advanced Mentoring Program. Her community service is extensive and her desire to promote and sustain local black business knows no bounds. “For me, being an Austin woman means I have the opportunity to help build platforms for other women to stand on,” Smith says. “It is the expectation of my ancestors that I live each day with purpose and passion. Living any other way is simply time wasted. In a city where competition and replication can run rampant, I strive to stay true to who I was raised to be.”

SARAH ENOUEN

Owner of Truly Well

Austin Woman: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

Sarah Enouen: I first moved to Austin in 1999. There has never been a large black community presence in Austin, and I feel it has really shrunk over the last two decades. That being said, Austin has always been a very accepting city for me. As a multirace woman of color, I have never felt out of place here. I see Austin really growing into a healthy city, and that excites me. More and more Austinites are taking the time to learn about what they put in their bodies, where things are sourced from and how to find the healthiest available options. Austin can keep this trend going and ensure that it carries over into the black community by continuing to be an open and welcoming city.

AW: What’s something you’re really proud of accomplishing in your career in Austin? 

SE: I am proud to have become a female business owner here in Austin. Truly Well allows me to work with clients in all three areas that I specialize in: personal training, nutrition consulting and corrective exercise.  It can be hard for females to find somewhere to train and work on their health where they truly feel heard. I am happy to bring a client-centered business to Austin. I pride myself on listening to my clients, both male and female, and training them right where they are now. It’s important for someone to feel comfortable enough to start a new training program. I let my clients know that they do not have to be an athlete to train. They do not need to get in shape to start working with me. I create sustainable programming based off of each individual. 

SHERI A. MARSHALL

CEO and Owner of Umoveit-WeCleanit Commercial Janitorial and Best Choice Mobile Notary

Austin Woman: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community?

Sheri A. Marshall: I think the black Austin community is making a great comeback. As the city is growing, there are becoming more and more opportunities for black Austin. I think you have to be intentional about what you want and find a way to make it happen. I have noticed more black-owned business popping up all over the East Austin.  I think the city can be supportive by highlighting all Black Businesses promoting them and allowing them to tell their stories and journeys. Find out what their needs are; each business owner has different needs.

AW: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

SAM: As a black woman in a predominately white male-dominated field of post construction and janitorial, I feel that I don’t get the same offers as my male counterparts, so I have learn to show up, stand up and speak- up and let them know I can do the job equally, if not better, and it will not have to be done a second time.  This has been a game changer!  They know me when I grace the room! Contracts have become plentiful.

AW: What does it mean to you to be an Austin woman?

SAM: [Being an Austin woman] shows empowerment. An Austin woman [is one] whose business is thriving in this economy. It shows that entrepreneur dreams can come true when you empower the change within.

SHERYL COLE

State Representative

Austin Woman: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

Sheryl Cole: We must be committed to deep investments in affordable housing. One of the reasons we are losing our black population is because folks are just being priced out of living here. … We also need to invest deeply in our public schools, especially those in the East Side with historically heavy minority populations. These schools went without investments in the students, teachers and classrooms for far too long, and now we are reaping what we sowed. I am hopeful that we have started to turn things around locally, but unfortunately, for the families that have already had to move on, it is too late.

AW: What’s something you’re really proud of accomplishing in your career in Austin?

SC: I have worked for the past two decades to advance policies to improve the lives of our friends, family, and neighbors. But what I am most proud of is raising my three boys into the successful young men that they are today.

SUSAN SEAY

Host of the Mentor 4 Moms podcast

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

Susan Seay: When I became an author and public speaker on raising an intentional family, I almost quit before I could even really get started. Anytime I looked at the authors of popular books, speakers at conferences and trusted voices on media appearances, I almost never saw moms that look like me. But thanks to dear friends and an encouraging husband, I see now that I offer an opportunity for event planners, media agencies and conference organizers to diversify their platforms.

AW: What’s next for you?

SS: I’m finishing edits on my book 10 Questions You Should Ask Your Kids Every Year. It’s a guidebook for parents on how to take the corporate feedback session and bring it home to use with your kids. For parents looking for new ways to connect with their kids, this book will be a valuable tool. I originally shared this idea at a conference with thousands of parents and then as an episode on my podcast. The feedback I have received from parents across the nation has been incredible.

Keffrelyn D. Brown by Marsha Miller
By Marsha Miller

KEFFRELYN D. BROWN

Professor and University Distinguished Teaching Professor of Cultural Studies in Education at the University of Texas

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

Keffrelyn D. Brown: I work with practicing teachers, school leaders, and students preparing to become teachers. Across all of my work, I stress that educators must understand and address the impact of race and culture if they want to provide an equitable and just schooling experience. I work mainly with students who plan to go into education but I think universities must work to ensure all graduates leave holding a commitment to promote inclusion, equity and justice in their respective fields.

My work with students is powerful, often illusive, and has an impact that is not always immediately apparent. I like to think of it as a “long game.” For example, sometimes students have difficulty accepting that they need to understand and address race and culture in their teaching and curriculum decision-making. I can also encounter resistance or even apathy from students, especially when they are beginning the process. I am always delighted to hear from people I have worked with in the past. Just last week I received a message from a former student I worked with almost 20 years ago, who was still reflecting on and inspired by the lessons she learned during our time together.

AW: What’s next for you?

KDB: I have several projects underway. I co-founded and co-direct the Center for Innovation in Race, Teaching and Curriculum at UT-Austin. In fall 2019, my spouse and colleague, Dr. Anthony Brown, and colleague Dr. Daina Ramey Berry launched the Teaching Texas Slavery website and a teacher workshop to support teachers in teaching about race and slavery in the U.S. and Texas. I am working on a curriculum project to help parents, like myself, engage in productive dialogues around race, and a book on how to become a culturally responsive and race-conscious educator, professional and citizen. I am also engaged in several community projects to promote voter participation and civic education.

JOI CHEVALIER

CEO of The Cook’s Nook and Food+Cultures at The Cook’s Nook

Austin Woman: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

Joi Chevalier: There is a myth that there is a singular black community in Austin. That is a false narrative. There is a community of black Central Texans that are comprised of native Austinites and Central Texans whose families have been here for over 150 years. … Black residents choose not to live at the city’s core for a variety of reasons: because it does not have activities that appeal to them, because it is very expensive, because it may not be family-oriented. It is not near our places of worship. Our dining preferences are not there. Our shopping preferences are not there. The growth of black residents to our suburbs doesn’t seem to be any different than other communities in Austin. I don’t think it’s dwindling—or worse, departure. It’s just [black people are going] to the affordable, accessible suburbs.

AW: What does it mean to you to be an Austin woman?

JC: There’s lots to appreciate about Austin. It is a place that tends to look upward and forward, but we’re also keenly aware of our challenges, local history, the history of our state and nation. … So, while we are optimistic and can throw ourselves very much into solving issues and problems, we know that there will be institutional and individual roadblocks, and we have to plan to navigate those. We’re a pretty thoughtful bunch, but always focused on how to succeed, how to get the win, how to get the right win that works for everyone.

Judge Yvonne Michelle Williams.
Courtesy of Judge Yvonne Michelle Williams

JUDGE YVONNE MICHELLE WILLIAMS

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Travis County

Working as a justice of the peace in Travis County since 2011 and practicing law since 1982 has afforded Judge Yvonne Michelle Williams a unique perspective on the black community in Austin, criminal-justice reform, fair and affordable housing and education issues. She is dedicated to continuing to dispense justice through her third term, which expires at the end of 2022. But for Williams, justice isn’t served unless it’s paired with a significant portion of grace. “As a judge, [I am] sworn to impartiality as [I] mete out justice,” she says. “We also have a certain amount of discretion— what I call grace—which we all dispense at one time or another. Whenever I can apply grace in my courtroom, I do, no matter the [person’s] race, sexual orientation, sex, socioeconomic status, religion.” Though her position, she has made a positive impact on the problem of truancy among local school districts and applied a compassionate approach to disrupting the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, providing families with support and tools on how to navigate this phenomenon. “I [also] feel especially good about being able to marry same-sex couples since the U.S. Supreme Court gave them that right across the country,” she says. “Seeing the joy felt by these couples and their families has been truly rewarding.”

KATHLEEN MCELROY

Director of the School of Journalism at the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas 

Austin Woman: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

Kathleen McElroy: Journalism has got to do a better job of including more voices and reporting the world from different perspectives. We’ve got to question everything, especially if we see people of color, like the first Austin bombing victim, being dismissed by authorities.

AW: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community?

KE: We all should have a stake in supporting all of our communities. But it is troubling that the Austin I knew when I first lived here – in the mid-80s – had more African Americans than today. We need to help the city be less economically and culturally exclusive by actively seeking ways to bring diversity to Austin, and not just preserving what’s left. The University of Texas at Austin conducts meaningful research and has several programs supportive of the African American community. But we at the university must continue working to increase the number of students of color. The lack of diversity in the city and the university have common threads of exclusivity or at least the appearance of not being welcoming.

AW: What does it mean to you to be an Austin woman?

KM: This is my third stint in Austin. I’ve gotten older while Austin has become younger and shinier. That’s OK.  So for me, being an Austin woman means being proud of who I am and what I am, and being grateful for the bbq joints in town.

KATHY BURRELL

Senior Vice President of Business Banking for Bank of America

Austin Woman: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

Kathy Burrell: It’s no longer enough to just talk about being progressive and inclusive, but time to put those words into action. That inclusivity starts with leadership and the community being comfortable enough to have courageous conversations. It’s important that we recognize and embrace our cultural differences.

KB: Banking, as we all know, has traditionally been a conservative industry. The industry overall has been very reactive, as opposed to proactive, acknowledging and adjusting to reflect the diverse communities that we serve. The industry has to recognize and embrace that equity and inclusion bring fresh new ideas, creativity and different perspectives. By allowing everyone to have a seat at the table, it levels the playing field and ultimately benefits everyone.  

Fortunately, I work for a company that values diversity and a culture of inclusion at all levels. At Bank of America, women make up more than 50 percent of our global workforce and more than 45 percent of our U.S.-based workforce is racially or ethnically diverse. Our Global Diversity and Inclusion Council, chaired by our CEO, drives this from the top, and all of our lines of business plan and implement diversity strategies. 

Here in Austin, we recently started the Black Professional Group (BPG). BPG provides a support network for our black employees in the local market and throughout the enterprise. We have support from the executive level and interact with the group frequently to have frank discussions about equity and inclusion. By embracing diversity and inclusion, we enrich our culture and better serve the unique needs of our clients and community. I believe that is what our clients seek. My goal is to see other banks in the local market step outside of their comfort zones as well.

Terry P. Mitchell
By Greg Smith

TERRY P. MITCHELL

Serial Entrepreneur

Austin Woman: Austin is one of the largest growing cities that has a dwindling black community. In light of that, what’s your vision for Austin in 2020 and how can the city be more supportive of its black community? 

Terry P. Mitchell: Gentrification, high tax rates and minimal job opportunities at lead levels have played a big role in the deficiency. … It is important to have a community of friends to keep you motivated in a climate as such, so creating a way to unify and meet each other is extremely important. … Finding and creating job opportunities as well as supporting and teaching how to create sustainable small businesses for people of color is a valuable way to help rev up the population.

AW: How can your particular industry improve on equity and inclusion issues? 

TPM: In order to improve equity and inclusion in Austin, I want to improve on using my platforms to enhance the quality of news and stories for the African American community of Austin. It’s important for our voices to be heard on a large scale, so that all of Austin knows that there is a community that is thriving and doing great things. It’s not that we are not here, or that we are not doing stuff, it’s that our stories are not told and our voices are not heard. Creating a proper news outlet for current events, people and things is essential to improving and sustaining equity and inclusion in the city.


MORE BLACK AUSTIN WOMEN POWERHOUSES

• Ruthie Foster, award-winning blues artist and vocal force

• Sharon Brogdon, head of diversity and inclusion at RetailMeNot

• Sanya Richards-Ross, gold-medal-winning track-and-field Olympic athlete, entrepre- neur and philanthropist

• Juanita Budd, general manager of the Brushy Creek Municipal Utility District

• Colette Pierce Burnette, president and CEO of Huston-Tillotson University

• Yolanda Conyers, chief diversity officer at Lenovo

• Kelenne Blake-Fallon, founder of ColorReel

• Courtney Holland, professional ballet dancer with Ballet Austin

• Paola Mathé, founder of Fanm Djanm

• Jehmu Greene, political analyst

• Ada-Renee Johnson, diversity, equity and inclusion business partner at Google

TO THE TOP OF THE PAGE



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