Miles In Their Shoes
KUT podcaster prepares Austin listeners for a more nuanced Juneteenth celebration
KUT hits a sweet spot in Austin media — the same one that NPR, its parent network, is known for across the board. It has funding, but it also has freedom from lots of corporate interests, and this combination draws some of the best talents in radio as staff.
One of Austin's talents is Miles Bloxson, best known for hosting and producing the music industry podcast Pause/Play, and producing the Black community podcastBlack Austin Matters. Bloxson has the personality to get people talking, the journalistic sense to keep it efficient, and the local savvy — as a lifelong Austinite — to know exactly where to look to find important Austin stories.
This Juneteenth, the station is celebrating and diving into Black Austin stories by airing a standalone, single-episode podcast documentary by Bloxson titled "Juneteenth: Are We Really Free?" It's an impossible question to answer, but Bloxson and her guests grapple with it for 52 minutes, tying their answers to things as niche as Austin's different neighborhoods, and as broad as the economic model of the United States.
It took Bloxson more than two months to compile these thoughts, interviewing up to 15 people. The documentary came out a year ago, but the station is re-running it, since it is just as relevant each year. Some things take time to sink in, too; The titular question hadn't even occurred to Bloxson until she talked to Stephanie Lang, who spoke with a nuance that made Bloxson question how free Black Austinites feel, despite their freedom on paper.
"It became a [question] of, well, does she feel free? Do we all feel free? What is freedom?" asks Bloxson. "I could assume that everybody was going to say yes — which I thought that they would — but when you started really digging into people's answers, it was like, oh, man, maybe we're not."
One of the voices a guest lends to the conversation belongs to Richard J. Reddick, a co-host of Black Austin Matters. Reddick talks about returning to his birth state of Texas after having been raised elsewhere, arriving with a vague understanding of Juneteenth as something that Black people celebrated, but being unsure of what it represented.
Reddick learned about the true meaning in a college course at the University of Texas — something that is being mirrored now across the nation, as people come face-to-face with the new national holiday for the first, or second time. As Bloxson points out in the podcast, Texans, who live in the state central to Juneteenth's founding, have a major head start in being familiar with the day of observation. But this may be at risk as critical race theory, and often anything tangentially related, comes under fire.
"I think that if you live here, it's our responsibility to learn about the history and the culture," says Bloxson. She is always full of questions: "What is the fabric of the city like what is the foundation of this city? How is the city built? What type of people lived here? What type of people still live here? And you can learn a lot about that listening to 'Are We Really Free?'"
Several guests talk about the types of events they attend on Juneteenth, or the traditions they grew up with. Austinites exploring these celebrations for the first time may find these reflections to be a useful primer before heading out to a parade or concert. Similar, those who come with preconceived notions from family and friends may hear something that differs from what they've come to expect from the day, prompting unexpected new traditions.
"I'm out in the community...and I also take time to really reflect. I'm quiet and still, as well," said Lang, the guest whose honesty made Bloxson question the reality of freedom. She draws a parallel to the more boisterous celebrations going on in across Austin and its suburbs. "And then I usually will go to a known plantation — usually ruins — in Austin, with friends, and we take white carnations ... and give honor to those that were enslaved in that space."
Bloxson's choice in guests both creates a unity and highlights how many different experiences people in one city can have. "It shows that we are all really one and even though we celebrate this holiday, a lot of us celebrate it in very similar ways," she says. "You learn something different from each person that we get answers from, and I think that that's a really beautiful thing — to get all of those perspectives from all of these beautiful Black Austinites."
Juneteenth will be a special day for Bloxson for another reason: the launch of her long-awaited personal podcast, Miles to Mogul. This series also focuses on people of color, with a much wider lens. In this podcast, Bloxson interviews artists, business people, and more visionaries she's met from Austin and beyond, about the "experiences, tools, and mindsets" that led to their success. One episode of the podcast from 2017 exists, but this time around, the host is a podcasting pro with some major projects already under her belt.
"Juneteenth: Are We Really Free?" will air on June 19th, first on KUT 90.5 at 9 am, then on KAZI 88.7 at noon. To listen to the podcast outside of these programming blocks, visit kutkutx.studio.