Hidden History: Bringing Black Austin to life one page at a time

Black History Month

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After years of living on the west side of Austin, Anita Roberts wanted to connect with other African-Americans in the area.

“I knew that there were other African-Americans here, I just didn’t know where they were,” Roberts said.

Roberts made it her mission to develop a connection with the community.

“That’s one of the things that I’ve made a mission to do, is to create a community,” she said.

The retired Army Lieutenant Colonial spent her career telling the Army’s story, and now she wanted to do the same for her community.

“When I got out, the story of African-Americans in Austin was just not being told,” she said. I wanted people to see what I saw.”

Roberts came up with an idea to create a book called Achievements in Black Austin.

“I lived on the westside for over 10 years and now I have to go to the eastside to see where this all started, where the African-American community in Austin started,” she said.

Roberts connected with local leads and put together a list.

“People didn’t want to be in the book because most people are doing their jobs and they are doing great things but they don’t really get the accolades,” she said. “I told them it’s not about you, it’s about the little boy and girl who looks like you and who says, “I wonder if I can do this” and they look at you and say “Yes, I can.”

Dozens and dozens of people fill the pages of this book.

“Although I was able to get 200 people in the book, there were so many more that were not,” Roberts said.

Following that, Roberts worked on her second book.

“Don’t tell me there are no black people in Austin because I have proof,” she said giggling.

The books combined highlight nearly 500 African-Americans across Austin and its surrounding area. From CEOs, city leaders and community activists to lawyers and doctors.

“Did you know that there are over 90 black doctors in central Texas? I thought there were like two,” she exclaimed.

Dr. Aisha White, a board-certified plastic surgeon and owner of Quintessence Plastic Surgery is one of the dozens of doctors featured in Anita’s book.

The New Orleans-raised surgeon credits a lot of her success to her parents and a supportive community. Throughout the years, she’s been able to break barriers and crush biases.

“When I see patients in the hospital or patients come in the office, I think for some of them I am definitely not what they’re expecting to see,” White said. “We’re here and this book helps to make us visible.”

Feeling seen at a time when data shows African-Americans make up less than 10% of Austin’s population.

Born and raised in Austin, Ryan Coaxum knows the city like the back of his hand.

“When I grew up here I was always like, ‘What are you talking about? There are black people all around. I got my family, I go to a black church.’ So you see black people all the time,” Coaxum said.

But it wasn’t until new friends would point out the problem that Coaxum realized it.

“I knew it was more of a problem when people started moving here and they would say, ‘I don’t see black people or I haven’t seen another black person in a couple of days, Wow.'”

The Guaranty Bank & Trust Vice President said Roberts’ books serve as a sign of hope and a reminder.

“Scroll through it — we are blossoming, we are beautiful people and we’re just going to keep pushing on until Austin becomes stronger and stronger,” he said.

“We are just like everybody else, and I think that’s the biggest lesson of it all,” Roberts added.

Roberts is currently looking for sponsors to purchase the books to donate to young people in local schools.

It’s a campaign called 1k Books for 1k Kids.

“The book really is for them and we’d love to get them in the hands of minority kiddos,” she said.

The book cost $50.

You can contact Roberts at www.blackaustin.org or text “Iheartblackaustin” to 44-321 to donate.

“I do this on my own for the community,” Roberts said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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