A Place in the Sun
Raasin in the Sun shines bright with urban beautification in East Austin
by Hannah J Phillips
Photographs by Holly Cowart
Through her nonprofit, Raasin in the Sun, Olympic and collegiate athlete Raasin McIntosh lives her motto “Rise and shine” every single day. She was first inspired to create a community-beautification project while traveling through western Africa for local track meets, preparing to run the 400-meter hurdles for Liberia at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
“You see the people over there, and sure, there’s poverty,” she says, “but there’s also people dedicated to uplifting the community and making it better. So I wanted to do everything in my power to give back and shine light.”
McIntosh returned to her native Texas after competing in the Olympics, settling in Austin and starting a few community projects around 2014. She founded Raasin in the Sun in 2015, establishing it as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2017. At first, the organization focused on community cleanups (Project Clean), later adding community gardens (Project Green) to help teach the importance of gardening.
Launched in the fall of 2018, one of the group’s latest initiatives brings community together around the arts and urban beautification through creative murals like the Unity Mural at 12th and Chicon.
“My dad was an artist, and he told me that art is in everything,” says McIntosh, “which I thought was an awesome way to shine light and beautify our community.”
Beyond beautifying neglected spaces, the mural project is about uniting people through a common goal. Raasin in the Sun worked with local high schools to nominate a student artist for a contest to transform the brick wall with an original design. The winner, Jewel Salazar, created a design that embodies Raasin’s heart and mission, with a “skyline” of East Austin icons and a row of hands spelling “Unity” in sign language.
The mural was unveiled in March, and McIntosh hopes it will instill confidence in others to affect their own communities through beautification.
“When you’re driving through an area that’s not physically appealing or appeasing, I want people to know that you can change that and impact your community,” she says. “Beautification is about more than restoration; it’s about rising and shining in the lives of others.”
This summer, Raasin in the Sun starts work on three more initiatives: restoring vacant lots, repairing homes in the community and renovating an alleyway at 12th and Chicon. Much like the Unity Mural, the vacant-lot restorations transform concrete jungles into beautiful community spaces like urban soccer fields (“Kind of like the Hope Gallery, but surrounding the entire field,” McIntosh says). Through its Curb Appeal project, Raasin in the Sun works with local sponsors to give back to specific members of the East Austin community by repairing homes: On June 6, the group will partner with LGI Homes to restore the home of Exalton Delco, the former vice president for academic affairs at Huston-Tillotson University.
And last but not least, the Chicon Alley Social on July 20 will revitalize an urban alley, kicking off with a street cleanup and then following with an afternoon open-mic session hosted by Austin Black Pride and other local organizations. With all this in the works, the former Olympian already has the next hurdle in sight, hoping to someday bring similar projects back to the communities that first inspired her in west Africa.
“There are so many ways you can beautify,” she says, “so I want Raasin in the Sun to be a symbol of that. I hope it will inspire people everywhere to rise up and shine.”