UT student creates app to support Black community in Austin during Black Lives Matter protests

Katya Bandouil

When protests against police brutality and racism began to erupt nationwide, Earl Potts Jr. said he immediately knew he needed to take action. 

A few months back, the computer science and African and African diaspora studies junior  began creating a Black business directory app to help other Black students find a sense of community. Now, he’s reopened production on the app.

“I’m not really able to go out and protest in the streets, so I wanted to find a way I could contribute,” Potts Jr. said. “I figured I could go back to my idea of providing a Black business directory.”

“Keep Austin Black” is a collection of business listings that range from hairdressers to legal services. When Potts Jr. moved from Lancaster to Austin, he said he often had trouble finding Black-owned businesses in a city that is predominately white. 

“It just feels different when you go into a Black-owned restaurant and you see people that look like you, especially because there are so many people that don’t,” Potts Jr. said.

Another important aspect of the app, Potts Jr. said, is to help combat gentrification. 

"Especially with gentrification becoming an increasing problem in Austin, a lot of Black businesses are the first to go," Potts Jr. said. 

Potts Jr. said he’s begun working 5-6 hours a day to individually code nearly 200 Black businesses and make the app accessible as soon as possible since reopening the app.

After seeing Potts Jr.’s tweet about the app, multiple students shared his post and offered to help. Psychology senior Yay McKee sent Potts Jr. Twitter threads of information about Black-owned businesses she felt other students were unaware of.

“A lot of times, my friends on campus don’t really know where the beauty supply stores are,” McKee said. “They don’t even know that there is one so close to campus, right on MLK. They’ll just settle with going to Sally’s or going to Target and get something that they can barely use.”

Potts Jr. said other directories like his exist, but the lists are very limited and receiving information from other students helped make his more extensive. 

“(The existing directories) have like 10, 15 businesses, and there are a lot more out there,” Potts Jr. said. 

Biology junior Amanda Piamonte, who helped design the app’s logo, said students should use their unique skills and talents to have a meaningful impact on the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Along with donating and signing petitions, it’s also who you are and what you’re good at,” Piamonte said. “I think that finding ways to help is very important.” 

Later, Potts Jr. realized he would not be able to put “Keep Austin Black” on the app store until his next paycheck, so he decided to tweet informing people that there would be a delay. He didn’t ask for monetary support, but said he was glad to receive a donation from a stranger to help expedite the $100 process.

Potts Jr. is currently awaiting approval from iOS and Android, but anticipates the app will be available for download by the end of the week.

From the initial blueprints to the fully programmed directory, Potts Jr. said the ultimate goal of the app has always been to support the Black community.

"(Potts Jr.) is just doing the work of the people, honestly, the people of the Black community of UT,” McKee said. “(He’s) finally giving them something so they don’t have to go to Google and type in ‘urban’ or ‘Black-owned.’"