Friday, March 5, 2021

City Council Apologizes, Seeks Atonement for Systemic Disenfranchisement of Black Residents



For immediate release: March 4, 2021
Contact:  Caleb Pritchard, caleb.pritchard@austintexas.gov, (512) 560-8547 

 

City Council Apologizes, Seeks Atonement for Systemic Disenfranchisement of Black Residents

Austin City Council on Thursday formally apologized for the historic role it has played in disenfranchising Black residents through generations of enslavement, segregation, urban renewal, and systemic discrimination.

The action came as part of a resolution sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison which also included a rejection of prejudice and bigotry, an affirmation of Council's determination to right the wrongs of its past, and a call for other jurisdictions to assist with racial reconciliation efforts on the local, state, and federal levels.

The resolution, cosponsored by Mayor Adler and council members Vanessa Fuentes, Greg Casar, and Kathie Tovo, was crafted in partnership with members of the Black Austin Coalition, a group dedicated to building sustainable businesses and progressive educational institutions, infrastructure, community programming, and affordable housing for Black Austinites. One of the collaboration's primary aims is to address the long-standing economic divides between Black Austinites and their white neighbors.

"We cannot move forward unless we recognize the City Council's role in creating the wealth gap between Black and white Austinites," Mayor Pro Tem Harper-Madison said. "To be clear, 'gap' isn't even the right word. It's a chasm of inequality and inequity."

The disparity is visible in a variety of indicators. Black Austinites are disproportionately less likely to go to college, own homes, own businesses, or leave their heirs large inheritances. At the same time, they are disproportionately more likely to have shorter lifespans and lower incomes, and to experience homelessness. The resolution approved by Council acknowledges that these outcomes are the result of slavery, segregation, public and private housing discrimination, community disinvestment, and historic urban renewal policies.

"Our city needs to take ownership of its role in the institutionalized racism that has hurt Black Austinites, and so many others," said Council Member Fuentes. "Acknowledgment is an important step to move us closer to solutions. I thank Mayor Pro Tem for her leadership, and I stand in solidarity with her and the Black community in their fight for a more equitable society."

Council Member Tovo noted that the resolution is a step towards dismantling the legacies of institutional racism and segregation that still exist in Austin.

"As we move forward together in seeking justice, we must confront the truths of our past and meaningfully invest in programs and infrastructure that benefit current and future generations of Black Austinites," Tovo said.

The resolution also directs Cronk to partner with researchers at Huston-Tillotson University and the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs to conduct a study of the economic value of the direct and indirect harm caused by the City's historic discrimination against its Black residents. The manager is directed to bring that report back to Council as well as recommendations for the establishment of a Black resource and cultural center that would provide resources and support for Black-led businesses and organizations.

Quincy Dunlap of the Austin Area Urban League highlighted the community-led nature of this resolution.

"In this instance, Blacks are organizing along with our allies to strategically ask approach and position the City to invest and do the right thing," Dunlap said. "What we will undertake together is the opportunity to strategically invest the right kind of resources into the sustainability, advancement, and evolution of the community."

Yasmine Smith and Nook Turner of the Black Austin Coalition each played a critical role in helping to draft the language of the resolution. Smith described the envisioned Black resource and cultural center as unprecedented.

"The Black embassy will be a hub of resources and refuge not yet seen by this city, this state, or this nation. I am honored and humbled to be amongst the visionaries and the drafters who have birthed this next evolutionary step for us as a society," Smith said. "Let us be the Austin that Austin deserves. Let us take a step towards equity and let us change the world together."

Turner said the ultimate goal is to find some form of restitution to make up for generations of denied opportunities.

"That's what this resolution is about," Turner declared. "It's Black people having economic justice."
  

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