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Nonprofit aims to reverse Austin's 1928 master plan and get SXSW money to the BIPOC community

Jonathan "Chaka" Mahone founded DAWA, a nonprofit that provides financial assistance to musicians, artists and frontline workers of color in Austin.
Julia Reihs
Jonathan "Chaka" Mahone founded DAWA, a nonprofit that provides financial assistance to musicians, artists and frontline workers of color in Austin.

SXSW brings in millions each year, but Black and brown Austinites don’t always benefit from the influx of money. DAWA, a local nonprofit, has put together a series of music shows and panels during the festival to elevate and direct resources to Austin’s BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of color) community.

The event, Vision:8291, is a response to the city’s 1928 master plan, which broke up freedom colonies and forced the Black population to move across I-35 to East Austin, denying services to those who refused to relocate.

“It’s 1928 in reverse and also having a vision,” DAWA founder Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone said. “A lot of times if you are African-American, you're Black – whatever you call yourself – we start our history with slavery and that’s starting with trauma. So we're starting our vision with reversing that.”

The free event, which runs Tuesday through Saturday, will feature three nights of music and a day of panel discussions. The first night kicks off at Stubbs and features a lineup of all Austin artists: J Soulja, Eimaral Sol, The Tiarras, Urban Heat, Caramelo Haze and CP Loony.

Loony, who grew up on the Eastside, said he’s excited to be part of the event for the exposure that it provides – exposure hip-hop artists don’t historically get in Austin.

“As a Black artist in Austin, it's like we rap and stuff in a community and they like it, but how far can we really go?” he said. “Chaka’s one of the persons that's bringing awareness to us. He’s like, ‘We can really do something with this and make it far.’ And so that gives us the courage to keep going and go harder.”

Thursday night’s show at the Speakeasy is dance-oriented and features acts like DJ Shani, Black Tourmaline and Body Rock ATX.

Artists Samm Henshaw, JessB, Latasha Lee and more will perform at Saturday’s show, which is also at the Speakeasy.

On Thursday, DAWA is hosting a full day of community panel discussions. The day starts with a conversation around elevating community voices. One of the panelists is Sileasha Brewster, co-owner of Starlit Candles and a descendant of a family affected by the 1928 plan.

“My grandmother, my great grandmother, they resided in Clarksville,” she said, referring to the West Austin neighborhood where formerly enslaved people had built a community. “I've seen the skyline change. So I feel like just being from here and being a business owner, I feel like I could add a little bit of input.”

There are also panels on drag culture and the new generation of Black farmers.

The day ends with a discussion between inventor Moses West and Mahone about water sustainability. West invented the atmospheric water generator, which can pull thousands of gallons of water from the air in days, and has been used in Flint, Mich., and Jackson, Miss.

While the events are free, Mahone says it was a priority that everyone involved – from bands to panelists to crew – gets paid.

There will also be fundraising efforts to help out Black-led organizations, including groups like Dream Out Loud Experience, which provides support to Austin’s BIPOC youth.

Mahone says the Black community doesn’t benefit from all the money flowing through Austin during SXSW.

“The money moves around us,” he said. “Vision:8291 is about having a vision, about playing into those resources and … leaving some amount of those resources here in the city so that we can benefit.”

Find more information about everything happening during Vision:8291 here.
Copyright 2023 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

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