Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy Increases the Ability to Advocate for its Historic Community

The Greater Houston area is known for its diversity and vibrant BIPOC communities. One way to see this cultural diversity is through the multiple art movements that are active in the region. The independent BIPOC Arts Network and Fund, or BANF, was established to provide Greater Houston’s BIPOC communities with support networks and resources. Houston Endowment, the Ford Foundation, The Brown Foundation, Inc., The Cullen Foundation, Kinder Foundation, and The Powell Foundation are just a few of the national and local foundations that have generously contributed to BANF’s funding. BANF wants to highlight and empower the BIPOC art communities and encourage everyone to know and learn about them. One of BIPOC community members is Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy, a 2022 recipient of a BANF awardgrant.
Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy

The African American population in the Houston metro area is over a million, making it a very important part of the city’s diverse culture. Many Houstonians can appreciate and experience the richness and history of this community when its members can express and share their creative expression.

In Houston, the Fourth Ward is home to Freedmen’s Town, a neighborhood recognized as the first Black community in the city after emancipation. Zion Escobar is the Executive Director of Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy (HFTC), an organization that strives to protect and preserve Freedmen’s Town, by educating and engaging the public about the unique and revelatory history of the African American community in Houston and America through curated arts and culture programming.

When asked what is the contribution of Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy to the community? And why should everybody know about it? Zion talks about the organization’s origin in 2018 and how the organization aims to “Tell the Story of Freedom” by protecting and preserving Freedmen’s Town, and by educating and engaging the public about the unique and revelatory history of this largely untold chapter of Houston’s and America’s past through curated arts and culture programming. T

When looking to the future, Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy has a clear goal and a path: Have Freedmen’s Town be recognized as a heritage district that changes how we think about emancipation and becomes the center of the Story of Freedom. Freedmen’s Town Conservancy believes in the transformative power of art to protect the legacy, preserve the past, educate the city, and engage the rest of the world. They also believe that engaging and educating the community and focusing on the development of heritage tourism will trigger investment to make Freedmen’s Town into a center of commerce and a tourist destination, and to expand the recognition of its legacy to a global scale.

How the BANF Grant Transformed Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy

The BANF grant is aimed at community art organizations with a purpose. This independent initiative strives to provide resources so that the diversity around us enriches our community.

Back in 2022, Zion remembers receiving an email with a grant announcement. She read it and thought about how the funds could benefit her organization. Zion and her team at Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy decided to apply. She remembers how the application process was very simple and intuitive, with almost no barriers. 

Today, Zion believes that the grant provided essential support to Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy by allowing them to grow from one full-time employee to a team of 6 BIPOC professionals.  Zion mentions: “With the team’s expansion, we realized they needed a workspace for team members to focus on mission impact. This grant made that possible and led to several subsequent catalyzing awards.” She adds, “We have increased our ability to organize and advocate for policy changes benefiting the community, secured additional funding for affordable housing efforts, and amplified our community engagement efforts with additional capacity!”

Zion explains that this type of grant has been transformative for Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy. The impact that the organization has doesn’t fit into any existing traditional grant criteria structure. The BANF grant facilitated the operational support that organizations so critically needed to not just survive but start to thrive after the impact of the pandemic. Zion thinks that the needs of BIPOC organizations are so numerous and diverse that other grants are categorically inappropriate for the complex system of oppression that BIPOC communities must overcome.

By receiving the BANF grant, Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy has seen a change in their ability to believe in themselves individually and organizationally, which gives them hope that the philanthropic/foundation landscape is evolving to match its intended beneficiaries and reminds the communities to never give up hope that their mission is worthy of funding and amplification. “We are fired up and inspired to do all we can to heal Freedmen’s Town!” Zion concluded.