One of the findings of the City of Austin’s African American Quality of Life Initiative was that black Austinites lacked several of the social opportunities African Americans enjoy in bigger cities like Washington D.C. or Atlanta. But the following op-ed from Natalie Madeira Cofield, President & CEO of the Capital City African American Chamber of Commerce, argues that more young African American professionals should consider making Austin – and cities like it – their home. You can read Cofield’s thoughts below.
‘Are there any black people there?’
That’s a question I am too often confronted with by my African American peers when speaking about the growing number of professional opportunities that exist in Austin, Texas. Contrarily, I have no problem finding smiling faces of non-African Americans to cheer me on while I am spreading the business gospel of ‘Austin Awesomeness’ around the country. Austin has successfully captured the hearts of hippies and techies alike.
Phoenix, Denver, San Diego and San Jose, are other examples of cities with significantly low black populations but that, according to the US Census 2011 report, are also among the top 15 for fastest growing populations in the US. Furthermore, these cities are home to some of the hottest industries (technology, green, bio-tech), ranked among the best for entrepreneurship and innovation in the country, and often considered the ‘coolest’ cities for young professionals.
Although these cities are known for/branded by their economic successes, these same cities have found themselves in a perplexing situation. Amidst a growing population, educated African American candidates are often fleeing for more established minority markets (Chicago, Atlanta, D.C., Houston, etc).
This trend makes it difficult for any community to stabilize a ‘critical’ mass of professional African Americans and oversaturates historically large and established black markets. Not to mention this trending exodus decreases the succession pool and talent pipeline for small business ownership and upper level corporate and civic leadership opportunities.
Why is this happening? More often than not, one of the primary reasons is the quality of social life and, for singles, ability to find a spouse. While I completely understand the importance and value of connecting with your culture (and finding a man, or woman), I challenge those who make their decisions to move or stay exclusively based on social factors.
Economically, these cities (and I can only authentically speak for the Austin experience) have an amazing quality of life, job and career prospects, and wealth-building potential for anyone who is willing to get ‘over the hump’ of culture shock. Further, in a day and age where jobs are becoming scarcer, can we really afford to limit ourselves to just three or four cities when making a career move?
Socially, one of the most critical skills that Gen Y minority leaders must master is that of building social capital (relationships) across racial lines. As the world gets flatter, communities get more diverse and global, those who are in cities where they are challenged everyday with more than just ‘getting along with your non-black co-worker’ may have a greater chance of faring better in corporate America and non African American social atmospheres (aka: a good chunk of the rest of world).
These social patterns have become even more relevant and apt for discussion as marriage rates for the approximately 40-and-under demographic hover below 50 percent. Which begs the question, can we really ‘guarantee’ that the chances of finding that special one are any higher just because the raw numbers are?
Lastly, many industries are shifting from more metropolitan markets like New York to North Carolina in the case of financial services industry, and from California to Texas in the technology realm. Not to mention that most of these cities are growing because they are hiring!
All these facts – and opinions – make a compelling case for why up-and-coming young African Americans should not shy away from living in cities that don’t commonly appear in the latest hip-hop songs.
Don’t get me wrong; I love D.C. (home of my alma mater Howard University), Chicago and Atlanta. But Austin, like its aforementioned counterparts, can probably never and sure isn’t trying to be just like them.
‘Keep Austin Weird’ is the slogan of this town, and maybe by moving to a city, embracing it and building relationships outside of your comfort zone (and ethnicity), you just might be doing the same.