6 questions with the creators of the ‘Black Austin Matters’ podcast
When the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum in the summer of 2020, two Austin residents decided to explore the conversation locally and asked what it meant to be black and live in Austin.
Almost three years later, they continue to lead conversations about the black experience in Central Texas, uniting the community through storytelling.
Lisa B. Thompson and Richard J. Reddick, Black Austinites and University of Texas professors, partnered with radio stations KUT and KUTX last year to create “Black Austin Matters,” a podcast centered around conversations with diverse community members Black Austin. .
With a new episode a month, Black Austin Matters continues to grow in recognition and listenership. According to KUT, the podcast has had 40,315 downloads since its release.
As they head into the podcast’s second season in March, Thompson and Reddick spoke with Community Impact about their goals for the show and the importance of creating a positive space for black voices in Austin.
Interview content was edited for length, style and clarity.
You mentioned on the podcast that the idea for Black Austin Matters started in a social media post. How did it evolve into what it is today?
Reddick: It was June 2020, and I woke up one morning and saw that they had painted “Black Austin Matters” on Congress Avenue. … I had no idea who had created it and it got me thinking about the more philosophical angle, which was who does Black Austin matter to? We need to talk about it. I tagged a bunch of people I know in the community who I thought would be good conversationalists to talk about and posted it [on Twitter].
Thompson: I definitely had a point of view—if anyone knows me, I always have a point of view—but I wanted it to not just be a conversation of, “Oh, trauma is happening to Black America right now. … Tell us how you feel.” I wanted it to be a more sustained conversation about what Black Austinities think and feel about all kinds of things. I’ve said this often lately, is that African Americans have a very clear view of racial oppression, but we actually have views on the price of eggs; we have views on the weather; we have views on how to hold power, whether it’s electricity or the people in the White House.
How did it feel when that random thought turned into something so impactful for the community?
Thompson: It’s been a burning thought for me [because] I’ve always been disappointed with news coverage that comes into a traumatized community and wants to get their take on that moment, as opposed to a thoughtful engagement that’s complete, that gives the full humanity of their feeling about the world. I’m a playwright, so narrative is important to me; history is important to me, and I’m also a scholar in black studies, and it just feels like there’s a missing piece in our everyday conversation. … We hear so much about the disappearance of Black Austin and not enough conversations about who is here—who is Black in Austin—and we wanted that to be more clear to our neighbors.
How do you decide which guests to invite on the show and which stories to tell?
Reddick: One thing about this is the diversity of our community, so we didn’t want to make it like, “Here are Austin’s top business leaders or top political leaders.” We wanted to have a variety of people coming, and that sometimes means people we actually know ourselves or people we don’t know but have heard of in certain circles. … [We want] being mindful of really caring about all the diversity—that mosaic of Black Austin—because I think sometimes there’s this assumption that the community is a monolith. We always think, “Now that we’ve talked to this person [and] We had this representation, who did we not talk to?” This is always an ongoing conversation. It’s good for us too because we get to learn more about the community we’re a part of too.
What kind of feedback/feedback have you gotten from the Black Austin community and the Austin community at large about the podcast?
Thompson: A big one is like, “you should talk to him” fill in the blank. It’s nice, actually, because it’s such an engagement with the community, but also that people who know us feel comfortable suggesting people who they think are awesome, and they’re always people I’ve never heard of, which is fantastic. We have a long list [of suggestions], and we actually take them very seriously. People also like the fact that it is varied. [Black Austin] it’s very close, but we also see the world differently, different things that interest us. I think we bring a variety.
Reddick: I think the element of surprise is really important. … We actually challenge ourselves to get out of our comfort zones and really talk to people [who] again we have connections maybe, but they may not be very strong connections. More importantly, I think I hear a lot of what Lisa described. … We always follow them and think, “Does this person represent a point of view that we haven’t heard from yet?” We have a lot of ideas and a lot of energy, so we’re not going to stop anytime soon, but I’m always thinking, “Gosh, that’s a good idea” or “We have to do this.”
What do you want people from outside the community to know about Black Austin?
Reddick: I think dimensionality is always a thing. We will talk about everything. … It will be very much based on the experiences that people live every day. We want to understand how they navigate and exist in the city. For me it’s like, you hear both, ‘Wow, that’s really amazing,’ or, ‘That’s really common—I do that, or I go to that place, or I like that thing.’ It is the normalization of our existence. … We live full of life. We don’t just go out into spaces where we are “the only ones”. The podcast tries to get at that, like, “How are you living, existing, and thriving in this space?”
What are your goals for the current season of Black Austin Matters?
Reddick: I was actually talking to an older Black Austinite today and I was like, “Gosh, we need to start thinking about age diversity.” We have talked to some very old people, [and] we’ve talked to some young adults, but we’ve never really talked to young people. One of the things that’s kind of great about our collaboration is that I have experience growing up—at least my high school years—here in Austin, and now Lisa and I are raising kids of the same vintage in Austin. … What does it mean to be young and observe the world and the events that have happened in recent years, and does the city weigh in on this?
Thompson: We’re definitely going to be doing some kind of community event sometime this season, and we’re also taking a big leap and teaching a Signature course at the University of Texas called Black Austin Matters. … We’re excited for students to think about what it means to them to create a podcast for their community … and how they want to specifically represent voices that are underrepresented in broadcasting and podcasting.