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James N. Austin Jr.
Renaissance Cultural Center and National Cowboys of Color Museum & Hall of Fame

Nourishing young minds
BY JIM HATFIELD

“The Cowboys of Color Museum and Hall of Fame is about something that affects everybody—it brings us together as a nation.”

Not long ago, minority children in Fort Worth, Texas, were largely unaware of the role their ancestors played in settling the Old West. Today, they can visit the National Cowboys of Color Museum and Hall of Fame and see their fascinating heritage for themselves.

“At least a third of all working cowboys were African American, Hispanic, or Native American,” says James Austin Jr., broker-owner of Austin Co. Commercial Real Estate and the man who founded the museum. “Minority cowboys weren’t shown in movies or on TV. Youngsters need to know about them and what they did in order to fully appreciate their own history,” he says. “I want to teach people about minorities’ importance to the development of this nation.”

Helping children appreciate their heritage is only part of Jim Austin’s vision, however. He’s also working to help them realize their dreams. To that end, he founded the Renaissance Cultural Center. The center serves a primarily minority, often-neglected section of inner-city Fort Worth and focuses on culture and education. RCC offers career guidance workshops and has awarded more than $220,000 in college scholarships to high school seniors since 1995.

“My scholarship gave me the lift I needed to pursue my dream of one day having my own business,” says Mocha Roberts, who graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in information systems and hopes to open a marketing firm. “A lot of young people would’ve dropped out or never gotten started without the help of the RCC and Jim Austin,” she says. Roberts’ brother Marcus, another scholarship recipient, is completing law school at the University of Texas at Austin.

“My dream is to give away $50,000 a year,” says Jim Austin.

In addition to the scholarships, the RCC provides a safe place for residents in the Evans Avenue neighborhood to enjoy cultural activities including film festivals, ballets, poetry readings, and gospel music competitions.

“Think of the RCC as a swimming pool filled with all kinds of opportunities for young people,” says Jim Parr, president of the Fort Worth REALTORSŪ Association. “Jim Austin gives kids the incentive to get up on the high board and dive in for the experience of their lives.”

Austin and his wife, Gloria, opened the RCC in 1991 in a converted grocery store on Fort Worth’s near South Side. Among the center’s first events was the now annual Black History Month Celebration. To help raise money for RCC activities, the Austins sponsor an all-black rodeo and have helped expand it from an annual event to a six-city tour across Texas and Oklahoma.

The rodeo was the Austins’ inspiration for the Cowboys of Color Museum. Today museum visitors can learn about black cowboys such as Deadwood Dick and Bill Pickett through journals, art, photos, and artifacts from the time period. They can also learn about the famed Buffalo Soldiers, black U.S. Army troopers who helped protect Chinese workers building the transcontinental railroad.

Austin is an Easterner by birth. He arrived in Fort Worth in the early 1980s as manager of a unit of American Express. When the company asked him to return to New York, he declined. “I came to Texas and fell in love with it,” he says. “I was already dabbling in real estate, so I decided to go into it full time.”

For 17 years, his commercial real estate company has been involved in numerous projects across the city and is credited with helping to bring a badly needed full-service bank and supermarket to southeast Fort Worth.

“I’ve been working hard for a long time to make Fort Worth a better place to live,” Austin says. “That’s really the reason behind the RCC and the museum. I just want to keep on being a good neighbor.”

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01/26/2022 08:16 AM11/01/2003