Beck Cultural Center celebrates ‘Ladies of Austin East’ during Women’s History Month

Each of the women talked about their time at Austin East and how their experiences got them into the professions they have today.
"Ladies of Austin East"
"Ladies of Austin East"(WVLT News)
Published: Mar. 19, 2021 at 10:16 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The Beck Cultural Exchange Center held a Town Hall via Zoom Friday celebrating “The Ladies of Austin-East High School” in light of Women’s History Month.

The meeting hosted by Beck President Rev. Reneé Kesler, featured Austin East graduates Tyrisa Burdine, Bianca Belair Blair, Jenaé Easterly, Briana Flanagan, Cashuana Lattimore, Lashaundra Lenoir, Attallah Stout, Tiara Thompson, Dr. Leslie Upton and Leona “Binx” Walton.

Each of the women talked about their time at Austin East and how their experiences got them into the professions they have today.

Tyrisa Burdine shared her past dreams of playing for the WNBA after her time playing basketball for AE.

“My dream was to play for Pat Summitt,” Burdine said.

Burdine talked about her obstacle of becoming pregnant in high school but didn’t let that stop her. She now owns a hair salon in Lithia Springs Georgia.

Bianca Belair Blair talked about how her time playing sports at Austin East led her to becoming a WWE pro wrestler. She also owns a business and is a social justice advocate.

Jenae Easterly reflected on how her running track at AE landed her a track scholarship at Georgia Tech, which allowed her to have an affordable education. She used her athletic skills to achieve her academic goals and became one of the few Black lawyers in East Tennessee.

“You’re constantly breaking barriers whether you know it or not,” said Easterly.

The first question of the evening was “what is racial justice”.

Dr. Upton was the first to answer the question, “When I think of racial justice I think of the systems that have gotten us in the place where we are- we can’t just have business as usual. We have to reimagine how to do these systems.”

All of the women chimed in expressing what they think of when they hear the words “racial justice”.

“Racial justice is repairing racial injustice to me,” Stout said.

“I believe everyone no matter their identity should be able to do what everyone else can do... everyone deserves a chance,” Flanagan said.

Lattimore and Easterly both described how Black people should be able to be themselves when they are the minority in spaces.

“That’s what racial justice is to me- making the comfortable uncomfortable,” said Easterly.

Burdine spoke about her experience being a hair stylist and brought up the Crown Act. She highlighted cultural differences that Black people have and how the hairstyles Black people wear should be more accepted.

“Racial justice is teaching and reteaching and understanding that everyone deserves a a fair chance. I think if we understand each other and our different cultures we can be more equal,” said Burdine.

Rev. Kesler then moved the discussion to the recent gun violence AE students have been facing.

Lattimore reflected on systemic racism and how it is rooted in violence in certain communities.

“We stop the violence by instilling self-worth into our children. We give parents a livable wage so they don’t have to overwork and can be home to be with their children,” said Lattimore.

She also dove into her legal expertise, harping on “broken window policing” a system where officers patrol areas that have homes with broken windows assuming that is where crime is.

Lattimore spoke about her personal experience living in the East Knoxville area.

“When we talk about stopping the violence we need a partnership with law enforcement in the community,” said Lattimore.

Belair spoke about children and teens having something constructive to do and parent involvement with youth.

“I know for me growling up I had a summer job and it kept me from getting in trouble and gave me something to do,” Belair said.

The women concluded the Town Hall offering advice to people who want to help the youth.

“I think if there were just more people who could step up and try to be a positive force in their life,” said Flanagan.

“If more people are reaching out and trying to help uplift kids I think that would make a difference,” said Burdine.

Thompson said she feels community allies could help by checking in on the youth and reaching out more, “Don’t just wait until something happens.”

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