Alternative Breaks Austin launches to share stories from marginalized voices

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Junior Maria Mendez, left, Susana Almanza, middle, and freshman Sarah Hudson. Almanza’s experience with gentrification was the subject of Mendez and Hudson’s video.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jasmine Barnes | Daily Texan Staff

Through the power of storytelling, the Alternative Breaks Austin program has given minority voices a chance to be heard and recognized for their role in the history and future of Austin.

Alternative Breaks is run by the Longhorn Center for Community Engagement, where groups of UT students learn and immerse themselves in social issues taking place across the country. This is the first year AB has had a program based in Austin.

Selected from an application process in the fall, 10 participants lived in East Austin over spring break and created documentary-style videos about a community member whose experience highlighted issues happening in Austin.

Linguistics freshman Kyler McGehee said participating showed him many problems students may not know of, as he himself — an Austin native — was not aware.

“A lot of people come thinking Austin is this oasis, like there’s no racism, and it’s so liberal,” McGehee said. “I think to some aspects that’s true … but there are so many problems. Being enclosed in this tiny space of UT campus, (students) may not realize these issues are going on.”

Videos focused on issues, such as problems in the criminal justice system, gentrification of historically black communities and youth gang prevention.

Jasmine Barnes is a sociology and journalism junior who acted as a leader for the Austin trip. By telling these stories, Barnes said AB was able to give these disenfranchised voices a way to feel affirmed.

“Having that story documented, like in a short film or on a media platform, gives legitimacy to your experience,” Barnes said. “It says that you’re important and that you deserve to be represented and to exist, really for the rest of time with YouTube videos that are going to exist for years.”

AB focuses on service that helps to continue empowering those in need to find sustainable solutions, said Hali Hoyt, assistant director in the Longhorn Center.

“In no way shape or form are we going there to be saviors,” Hoyt said. “We’re going there to do what that community needs and really learn how to listen a community and be their ally.”

For McGehee, the trip left him appreciative of all the different communities within Austin.

“Being able to get a more accurate view of the city that I live in makes me feel like I’m not living in a lie anymore,” McGehee said. “My eyes are open to everything going on around me.”