Preserving Austin’s Black History – Diversity and Community Engagement Division

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When Stephanie Lang walks among the black-owned businesses and properties in her East Austin neighborhood, she often thinks of the stories that need to be told before they get lost over time. Determined to bring these stories to light, Lang dedicates her work to capturing oral histories from community members that can give us insight into what life was like before the onslaught of urban sprawl, going as far back as in time as the mid-20th century when I-35 became the city’s racial dividing line.

Lang dedicates his work to supporting and empowering his neighbors through various projects within the Center for Community Engagement – ​​from community classrooms to service-learning initiatives to porch gatherings. As the former host of the longtime radio show ZUMBI, she has featured interviews with activists, scholars, and artists whose work centers on black life in Austin and beyond.

Read on to learn more about Lang’s good work in her role as Director of Equity and Community Advocacy at the Center for Community Engagement – and how she plans to use the art of storytelling as a powerful tool for social justice.


What are you most looking forward to in the spring semester?

Each semester, I look forward to working with our amazing students, graduates, and undergraduates, who participate in our community engagement projects. Currently, I work with students from the Moody College Honors Program doing projects around oral storytelling and preservation work in the Robertson Hill Historic District. I worked as a liaison, connecting students with community partners, the Travis County Historical Commission, the School of Nursing Community Outreach Program, and other campus partners. Through their preservation work, they have learned a lot about the power of storytelling in social justice and how it all translates into impactful equity work.

What value do these stories bring to the community?

An important part of this project is to show that we are good stewards and part of this neighborhood. Not only are these stories important to the historical record, but they are also valuable tools for others in the community facing similar challenges. Through these stories, people can learn how to preserve their own homes with historic markers or deal with higher tax issues that might drive them out of the neighborhood. This work is so important, and it needs to be community driven. My job is to shine a light on their stories and serve as a link to valuable community and academic resources.

What does it mean to you to work in the historic John S. and Drucie R. Chase building?

I am so grateful to work in a building surrounded by such an amazing historic community. It’s exciting to be in a place where people can stop and engage with us on a daily basis. Shortly after moving in, we started connecting with our neighbors to bring them into this fabric as much as possible. This neighborhood is one of the oldest in East Austin, and there is so much to say about what has happened in this community over the years. We want to unpack all of these stories with our community and campus partners.

Why are you passionate about this work?

I have so much personal history with Austin, a city that means so much to me and my childhood. I can’t express how surreal my work sometimes seems, and I’m grateful for this story and for the people who are committed to keeping their story alive. One of the first interviews I conducted was with a man who had just turned 101. I am so grateful to have had the chance to not only speak with him, but to learn so much of his story. Once these people are gone, their stories go with them, and I want to miss no opportunity to capture their oral histories and contribute to their legacy.

What is the best advice you can give to aspiring community activists?

Before embarking on a project, I encourage people to read and learn about what is happening in the community. It’s also important to attend events, meet people, and learn about the opportunities available to you. When doing community service, make sure you’re doing things for the right reasons, look at what others are doing, and find ways to amplify their efforts. It’s about building relationships and showing that you want to get involved.

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