When Austin unveiled its Black Austin Matters street painting in June 2020, Richard Reddick responded with a tweet: “In light of the #BlackInAustin painting on Congress, I think it’s good for us to talk about what being #BlackInATX is actually like.” Reddick, associate dean of equity, community engagement, and outreach at the University of Texas, then tagged some colleagues.
“I love this question,” replied Lisa B. Thompson, playwright and professor of African and African diaspora studies. “Let’s have a public convo! @KUT are you game?”
That night, the projects editor for Austin public radio station KUT, Matt Largey, emailed, accepting the call to action.
A year and a half later, the local NPR station and its sister music station, KUTX, are debuting a podcast about the full scope of Blackness in Austin. Hosted by the two aforementioned UT staff members and produced by KUT’s own set of colleagues — Largey and Pause/Play producer Miles Bloxson — the collaboration focuses on real-life matters of Black Austin. The Black Austin Matters podcast covers not just what’s promoted during commemorative occasions or lamented in moments of crisis, but everything in between.
“I just really want to get away from the notion of Black life being a problem to be solved,” says Thompson. “We have many grievances that make sense, but we don’t live in that space, always and only.”
The new team is interviewing Black Austin residents of all kinds, from well-known activists and artists to teachers and barbers. So far, two episodes have been released, starting strong with Austin Justice Coalition founder Chas Moore and seven-decade power couple Wilhelmina and Exalton Delco. Soon, the new podcast will start zooming in on community members with less public positions.
Thompson calls this intersection of interviewees “neighbors.” The team considers each potential subject’s reach before each talk, not to exploit outside audiences for new listeners, but to be sure new stories are getting as much space as those making more frequent news. If the topic is normal, diverse Black life, shouldn’t the roster include normal, diverse Black people?
The hosts stumble into a convoluted, hypothetical episode on the top 10 Black Austinites, and laugh.
“I don’t know if we’d make it or not,” says Reddick, as Thompson predicts the latter.
To expand the platform the podcast can offer these normal speakers, it targets normal listeners who might not already be familiar with podcasting. Every month, a new episode will drop, with an eight-minute segment running on KUT 90.5. The segments, producer Bloxson says, are chosen by the professors to represent the most impactful part of the interview.
“We’re adding our artistic value to it [as producers], but we also want to make sure that this is their voice,” says Bloxson. “It’s been fun teaching them how to do a podcast, because they’ve been professors for so long. They’ve been teaching people, so it’s interesting to see them in a different space.”
The professors echo Bloxson’s thoughts, reflecting on their own interview experiences. As ambassadors for the University of Texas — and now the world listening in — they reject the assumption that they are leading the conversation. Actually, they’re learning from Black neighbors about their personal histories and current community topics that may not be visible past those directly involved.
“It’s finding out how recent the history is,” says Reddick of what he’s learned from storytellers like the Delcos. “We’re talking to people who literally broke barriers in the city. They’re up in years, but they’re telling stories about integrating stores, integrating schools, integrating universities, all in one conversation.”
Bloxson, Reddick, and Thompson all emphasize the fun of working together and delving into a community they share. Despite an air of apparent academia in summaries about professors talking on public radio, the conversations mirror those between any Black friends or admirers, and with great purpose. In the podcast’s first week, readers have already written in from across the country to express interest and gratitude. Black community matters to Black communities everywhere, and this one just happens to be unfolding here in Austin.
The first two episodes of Black Austin Matters, featuring Chas Moore and Wilhelmina and Exalton Delco, are available to listen to now at kutkutx.studio or anywhere else podcasts are streaming. Short segments will air locally on KUT 90.5 during breaks between Morning Edition and All Things Considered.