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Creative Zai Sadler is a slam poet, photographer, filmmaker, and hip-hop artist born and raised in Austin. She reflects on the ways she’s seen the city change and move forward into the future in her poem, “Like I Do”.

NPR LIVE SESSIONS/KUTX – Produced by Julia Reihs –  Shot at Mueller Lake Park July 2020
Zai Sadler

“What I want Austin to do is just fulfill its promise,” Sadler says in reference to the poem. She sees Austin as a city that promises hope for artists, acceptance of all backgrounds, and the freedom for Austinites to choose to live the lifestyle they want to live. However, that ideal is changing. “Austin is one of the few cities with a growing population but a declining black and brown population,” Sadler emphasizes. “If you run all of that diversity off, if it declines so rapidly that it’s no longer here, then you’re not fulfilling all the promise that you put out there. So what I want people to take from that is that in everything that you do every day here in Austin, try to remember that legacy and honor it. That’s what I try to do.”

Zai Sadler



Zai Sadler –  “Like I Do”

Most people don’t know Austin like I do.
Being born and raised in the same place has a special effect on a person.
For people
And places
And things
To trigger memories, both good and bad.

How everybody lines up at Franklin’s after Obama tried it and said he liked it
But my dad swung us by Sam’s Bar-B-Que after basketball tournaments.
To this day –  I’ll tell you – taste just as good and the sauce is sweeter.

How spotting Leslie downtown was like a real life ‘Where’s Waldo?’
Some kids would snicker and some would sneer
But I always saw him as a superhero.
A real life Austin weird tall tale come to life
Always with a smile on their face.

Similar to the Austin Rundberg running man
Now, first time I saw this dude sprinting up and down Rundberg while waiting at the North Lamar intersection I thought to myself
He’s got to be in training for something.
A boxer, I bet.
Only to see him a year later on the news
He said sprinting up and down Rundberg and waving at the passers by was keeping him out of trouble.
With nowhere else to turn to, he turned to the city for a savior seat.

That is the unspoken stuff that Austin is made of.

How my parents met at an HBCU few people even know sits at the center of a downtown dedicated to UT.
I have a picture of my dad with Earl Campbell – Heisman night – but I’ll never tell you why.
How both my parents’ degrees read Houston Tillotson University
And they used to drop me off at my brother’s dorm to watch and practice basketball
HT’s campus seemed so big back then.

Remembering Givens.

It all seems so different.

It’s hard to save all the history if it keeps disappearing.

To this day, I miss Dot’s chicken and dumplings.

I miss the community of Mitchie’s Fine Black Art.

I still eat at Dirty’s, but miss the bust of his face sitting in the front window.
One of Austin’s first black owned businesses
And inventor of the OT special (just a burger with bacon y’all)
But it still tastes as good because the people that bought it, kept the same guy at the grill.

Jalapeño Joe’s is now Tyson’s Tacos
But the orange juice still taste sweet from those same humble hands.

How I may have never had the opportunity to spit this poem if I wasn’t invited to a slam at Ruta Mya
A cafe and artist oasis
A saving grace for a 19 year-old kid with something to say but it felt like nobody to say it to.
And the Exposé strip club that used to tell me to turn
Are both gone now.

Its interestingly ironic what has to stay and what has to go for growth.

A line from a movie I heard once stuck out to me, it said, “You can’t hate anything unless you’ve loved it first”
On my way walking to work, I hate to hear people talk about Austin
But have to remember
They don’t know Austin like I do.

Producer: Julia Reihs
Audio Assist: Evan Rosenblum
Poem Editorial Interpretation: Deidre Gott

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