"Are you in town for the Relays?" a waitress at Frank's asked me.
"No, I live here," I responded, with a bit of surprise. Sometimes when I say that, people give me an odd look. It's a look that suggests it's odd for black people to live in Austin and love it.
But it’s a familiar question among African Americans in Austin this time of year. As nice as it is to be mistaken for college or high school age, the arrival of the Texas Relays always reminds me how much easier it is to blend in as an African American in a predominantly white city.
When the Relays are in town, it’s nice just to walk around and know that I’m not the only black person within a five mile radius on the Hike and Bike Trail or at a restaurant. It creates a cultural ease I don’t often feel in Austin.
I could tell who the chaperones and visitors were because we greeted each other, as black people do in the South.
When Homer Hill, co-founder of the Austin Urban Music Festival, said that the city as a whole was generally receptive of the Texas Relays, he was right. On Sixth Street Friday afternoon, windows at Shakespeare's Pub, Maggie Mae's and the Blind Pig were darkened from the inside with black plastic bags. But many more bars were open, a few with chalk boards outside, announcing specials for the weekend.
After a week of responding to the Daily Texan editorial cartoon controversy, Dr. Gregory Vincent, Vice President of Diversity and Community Engagement at UT and Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole were part of a panel discussion at the Carver Museum and Cultural Center in East Austin called “Moving Past Racial Stigmas to Help Students Succeed,” followed by a reception. KXAN covered the diversity discussion, which included Austin Independent School District Superintendent Meria Carstarphen and Austin police monitor Margo Frasier.
There was an East End block party, and the two-hour B.L. Joyce Parade, named for Anderson High School’s first African American band leader, which started at Huston-Tillotson University and ended at the Carver Museum and Cultural Center.
Around Auditorium Shores, where the Urban Music Festival began at 3 p.m. Friday, barbecue was for sale outside of Run-Tex and light sabers were for sale across the street. A crowd of people gathered to attend an event at the Long Center looked startled at the thump of R&B from across Riverside -- that almost never happens -- and some gathered on the hill to watch a crowd of over 1,000 people in portable chairs, summer dresses and short-sleeved shirt cheer on their favorite acts.
The ride home was smooth, since some exits were closed off on Interstate 35. The crowds on Sixth Street looked peaceful. The weather outside was perfect, around 80 degrees and breezy — another reminder of why I love calling this city home.
The Urban Music festival continues beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday and running until 10:30 p.m. at Auditorium Shores. Tickets are available for $30.