Austin Coming Together (ACT) coalition released a 15-minute documentary about its work on the Austin Quality of Life Plan and its ongoing efforts to make the plan a reality.

The Austin Quality of Life Plan, also known as the Austin Forward Together plan, which was developed in 2018, is a compilation of strategies designed to improve the community. ACT planned to host regular community summits every year to update the community on its progress, but the pandemic made those kinds of large-scale gatherings impossible. 

The documentary was created to bring a summit-like experience by creating something residents can watch together and share throughout the community.

The Austin Forward Together documentary debuted at a private screening held on July 29 at the Kehrein Center for the Arts, 5628 W. Washington Blvd. It was released to the public on Aug. 18 on Facebook Live. ACT is encouraging residents to share the documentary through virtual or in-person watch parties, as well as by sharing the link. 

ACT is a coalition that includes a number of businesses, nonprofits and other entities that work in Austin, including Austin Weekly News. The coalition hired Digifé, a Black-owned, Streeterville-based video production company, to create a documentary. 

According to the documentary page, the company mentored teens from Austin at the Mic, a youth media partnership between ACT and coalition members Westside Health Authority (WHA) and Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development (BUILD) Chicago, a youth development organization. 

The documentary features several teens from the program, noting that the partnership was created to empower Austin youth by giving them a chance to tell their story. 

The documentary chronicled the disinvestment throughout Austin since the 1970s, especially when it came to available jobs, public safety and access to grocery stores. It spotlighted the fact that, while Austin residents spend $775 million annually in shopping and dining, almost $160 million of that is spent outside the community. 

The documentary touched on several initiatives ACT has been working on since the Quality of Life Plan was released, including providing grants to area daycares, using restorative justice to reduce crime and violence, and launching the Austin Eats initiative to distribute healthy food, launch more farmers markets and build more community gardens. 

The documentary spotlights the Pop Courts outdoor event space at the intersection of Chicago and Lockwood avenues, which opened on June 17. The short film also touched on the future development of the shuttered Emmet Elementary School, 5500 W Madison St, which WHA purchased in 2018. 

In his introductory remarks, Darnell Shields, ACT’s executive director, said that he hopes that the documentary will challenge misconceptions about Austin and move viewers to get involved in making the Quality of Life Plan a reality.

“People outside the area may think our community is just full of crime and violence, and I can admit we have our challenges like any other community, but we also have beauty and our culture, architecture, history and respect for our neighbors,” he said. “We want and deserve our community to have the same opportunity as other parts of Chicago.”

Find out more about the documentary and how to screen it at or watch the documentary on ACT’s Youtube channel:

Editor’s note (full disclosure): Darnell Shields sits on the board of directors of Growing Community Media, the nonprofit media entity that owns and operates Austin Weekly News. 

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...