HOUSTON (KIAH) — Once a thriving community of newly freed slaves, Freedmen’s Town in Houston had fallen into disrepair and neglect over 20 years ago. But the Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy (HFTC) was determined to change that. As an African American resident of Houston, Zion Escobar, had heard stories of the town’s rich history and the struggles of its people. When she learned about the HFTC’s vision to convert Freedmen’s Town into a heritage district, she knew she heard her own story and felt she had to get involved.
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Escobar spent more than 13 years of her lift transforming ideas into action as a civil engineer and green infrastructure advocate. She is now Executive Director of Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy (HFTC) and has long been involved in efforts to bring attention and support to to the struggles of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities in Houston. The BANF grant awarded to HFTC in 2022 was a game-changer. It allowed the organization to not only educate and engage the public about the unique and revelatory history of the African American community in Houston but also to organize and advocate for policy changes benefiting the community.
“We are protecting our legacy, preserving our past, educating our city and engaging our world in the incredible story of freedom. many Houstonians don’t know that the story of freedom the Juneteenth holiday is their birth right. It’s a local story and we encourage everyone to know about that story because it’s Texas history and it’s American history.”Zion Escobar, Executive Director of Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy (HFTC)
The Community Artists’ Collective, is an organization that also believed in the power of art to inspire and transform communities and could certainly relate to the Conservancy experience. Through her dedicated work in the Houston community through her environmental efforts, Escobar had long been involved in efforts to bring attention to the struggles and overcoming power of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities in Houston. The BANF grant awarded to HFTC in 2022 was a game-changer. It allowed the organization to not only educate and engage the public about the unique and revelatory history of the African American community in Houston but also to organize and advocate for policy changes benefiting the community.
Escobar knew from experience that the needs of BIPOC organizations were numerous and diverse. Grants that were not specifically tailored to their unique challenges were often categorically inappropriate. But with the BANF grant, HFTC was able to secure additional funding for affordable housing efforts, which was desperately needed in Freedmen’s Town. The grant also amplified their community engagement efforts with additional capacity, which was key to their success.
Escobar was also familiar with another organization that shared the same experiences and goals as HFTC – The TRUTH Project, Inc. The TRUTH Project was a community-led effort to address the lack of representation and resources for African American communities in Houston. The organization believed that the transformative power of art could be used to protect the legacy, preserve the past, educate the city, and engage the rest of the world. Escobar admired their work and hoped that the BANF grant would inspire other organizations to support BIPOC communities in their own unique ways.
Thanks to the HFTC and the BANF grant, Freedmen’s Town was and is slowly but surely being transformed into a place that changed how Houston thought about emancipation and became the center of the Story of Freedom. Escobar is proud to be a part of this effort and looks forward to a brighter future for all BIPOC communities in Houston.