Chicago is one of the most racially diverse cities in the country. In just one city, tourists can get a taste of Greektown, Chinatown, Little Mexico and Little Italy.
But no neighborhood reflects the African-American culture like other ethnic enclaves do-that’s something some business leaders in Austin want to change.
“Austin needs to give the tourists and people in the community the opportunity to indulge in who we are as African Americans,” says Malcolm Crawford, executive director of the African American Business Networking Association.
Crawford dreams of a new business district featuring music clubs dedicated to jazz and blues, as well as poetry spots and dine-in restaurants with African-American-themed menus.
“I guess, in a way, I want to bring Africa to Austin,” he said.
Creating an African-American business district would take some work and should involve increasing the number of black-owned businesses, some local business experts say.
“It would definitely be nice to see more African-American-owned businesses in the Austin community,” says state Rep. Camille Lilly (78th), who also serves as executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce. “It’s about collective-thinking. So many times people in one community think they have all the answers, but when you have more people come together from one race, you get a richer story.”
Dexter Voisin, an associate professor at University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, believes bringing one culture together in a positive way benefits the community in other ways, too.
“When African Americans have a strong sense of ethnic identity, they feel better about who they are and where they live,” he said. “Oftentimes, if a community has visual displays in terms of cultural representation, it is a way of bringing people together.”
Lilly agrees, adding: “Bringing more African-American culture to Austin may be the key to cleaning up the violent behavior. More black-owned businesses and organizations in Austin can help each other survive.”
But Jerome Wilson, a long time Austin resident, worries that if black culture is highlighted in Austin, it could cause crime in a neighborhood already struggling with youth violence and gangs.
“Before blacks here in Austin can try to show our race in a good light, we have to realize the other races that are around us. We have to keep in mind of other races in and around the neighborhood who may take offense to all of this black pride we are fighting for,” Wilson said, “and this can only be a ticket to more racism and more crime.”