Dear Austin,

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Aisha Oliver, a proud resident of Austin for the past 24 years. Over the years, many titles have been attached to my name in regard to my work within this vibrant community, from activist to organizer, but I consider myself to be more of an advocate for Austin. No matter where I go in this world, I carry Austin with me. It’s part of my makeup, ingrained in my DNA.

I’ve been reading our community paper since I was first featured in it as a teenager. The Austin Weekly highlighted me at the age of 16 when I was runner-up for Miss Junior Teen Illinois. Being recognized by my community meant so much to me at that age. I saw myself as a representation of the people and the community I lived in, and I took that responsibility seriously. 

Over the course of 19 years, I’ve earned my stripes and respect among residents and community members, specifically our young Austinites. I seamlessly transition from the block to the boardroom. I like to be active and informed, but I also stay close enough to the streets to convey important messages to the people.

Needless to say, I am more than qualified to be a trusted and supportive voice for Austin. This monthly letter to Austin residents is written with the intention to connect, impart wisdom, and empower. It reflects my perspective and represents an honest effort to engage with those who may have been disengaged.

As we witness our community changing in various ways, I must acknowledge that Austin is a predominantly Black community with deep roots of both prosperity and poverty. I see it as a privilege and a priority to emphasize the protection and preservation of Black residents and culture in Austin. This includes acknowledging and challenging structures, systems, and ways of being that do not serve us as a collective.

Community engagement is where I shine. I understand the importance of knowing and engaging with my neighbors. It is time to welcome new people into these spaces, and I am committed to helping create that energy.

As we enter a new season, it’s time to reset and clean house. Let’s begin with the simple act of engaging with our neighbors through a clean-up effort. Let’s call a spade a spade: Austin often looks like a bomb hit it, due to the trash and blatant disrespect for our community. Our environment profoundly affects our mindset, so what does the physical state of Austin say to our children right now?

I invite you all to gather your neighbors and organize a community clean-up on Saturday, Oct. 14. How wonderful would it be to see our community coming together from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. to clean our blocks, main corridors, parks, vacant lots, and side streets? Clean up the areas that impact you the most. 

We are better than our current conditions.

I look forward to connecting with Austinites, North, South, and The Island. Let’s unite, uplift, and empower Austin, one clean block at a time.

Aisha Oliver is an Austin resident advocate and a new Austin Weekly News columnist.