Best in the Citi: Chas Moore

Chas Mooer Austin Justice Coalition
Chas Moore, Executive Director of the Austin Justice Coalition
Chas Moore knows first-hand the long tail of injustice. Now he's working to fight for change across the city of Austin.

A 17-year-old Moore decided to take a drive to a rival high school just outside of Houston with some friends. Moore thought they were going to pick up some girls, but others in the group had other plans. 

“We get there, park, they get out, they beat up this dude, and they take his (band) instruments,” Moore remembers. “Everybody gets back in the car, we go back to our own campus, and they pawn these instruments.” 

Suddenly, Moore and two others were facing second-degree robbery charges — a felony. “They said I was the mastermind behind it,” he said. “Granted, there were about 15 of us, and somehow, out of the 15, only three of us got in trouble. I think the reason the other kids pinned it on me is because they thought, ‘oh, Chas is a good kid. This is his first time getting in trouble,’ so they thought I wouldn’t get as harsh a sentence.”

He got eight years’ probation and a felony conviction. 

“The judge literally told me, ‘I know you’re a good kid, and you probably didn’t do this, but you were with the wrong people at the wrong time, and I do want to teach you a lesson,’” Moore recalled. 

praise Black women who trusted me a little bit

“At the time, I accepted that. Eight years probation is still a better deal than a lot of 17-18-year-old Black men get in Fort Bend County,” he said. But over time, he came to realize how difficult it was to do even basic things as a felon. It would be difficult for him to find employment, for example. That’s why he’d come to find he had to create his own spaces to make a living. He wouldn’t be able to rent an apartment — “praise Black women who trusted me a little bit, or enough to put the apartments in their name and trust me to pay the bills,” he said. 

“Me being a part of this pool of people now and really understanding from experience what it’s like to be impacted by the justice system, it was eye-opening,” said Moore. “Even if I did do the things that I was accused of, you’re making it extremely difficult for a person to be a part of society. They might as well had just sent me to prison.”

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Moore said he has always been aware that people who look like him are treated differently in this country. His mom died when he was very young, and he was raised by his grandparents, who often told him stories of their own upbringings in rural Louisiana and the neighborhoods of East Texas. His grandmother’s admonitions about not stopping in Vidor, Texas for any reason, for example, sticks with him to this day. 

The felony conviction did not stop him from going to college — Moore said he chose the University of Texas at Austin, because he saw it listed as the number one party school in the country — but it did get in the way of graduation. 

“I wasn’t able to focus on school as much as I wanted to,” he said. “I was already the one black person in a lot of my classes. Then I’m dealing with the fact that this probation is making it very difficult for me to wrap my head around school.”

He would eventually leave the university, but not before seeing his passion for activism ignited. There were several incidents of blackface and other racist incidents on campus. Moore and other Black students were denied entry into certain clubs around town, even in the mid-and late-2000s. There were police shootings almost every summer, he recalled, which Moore said “really sparked something” in him.  

I always felt the need for us younger folks to pick up the pieces and do something

Moore had started a party promoting company, and was making good money at the time. Simultaneously, he was leading marches and organizing Black people on campus and around the city around some of the atrocities he was witnessing. 

“I always felt the need for us younger folks to pick up the pieces and do something,” Moore said. Whether that was at UT, or in East Austin, which was battling rapid gentrification and displacement of Black families, Moore wanted to get more involved. 

But he came to realize that he might have to choose between passions. “At this particular point in time, you couldn’t be both. You couldn’t be an activist and a person; you had to choose one,” he said. And then Trayvon Martin was killed while walking home from a convenience store in 2012, and the choice was made for him. 

“I’ve been Trayvon Martin in my neighborhood. I’ve done it in my aunt’s neighborhood, who stayed in a white neighborhood. That was just an eerie reflection of me,” he said. “When Trayvon Martin happened, I just, kind of like how people dedicate their lives to Jesus, I dedicated my life to the cause.”

The Austin Justice Coalition was born in 2015, and along with his team, Moore has been committed to improving the quality of life for Black people in the city since then.

“For me, if the work we do, or the work we’ve done, empowers people or enables people to empower themselves to speak up and become an agent of change, I think that’s invaluable. If we’re just able to improve the quality of life for Black folks in the city, that’s also invaluable. And then also — and I understand this very much more intimately than most people — change doesn’t come overnight, and I didn’t really understand that until I became a leader,” he said. 

“These systems and these institutions of racism are so very well constructed that it is going to take some time to undo it. And I think people think the easy thing to do is just go away and set up this little Black utopia, and I’m totally down for that, however, the way this system is set up, it’s ingrained in us,” Moore said. “So even if we go and try to set up Black utopia and Wakanda, chances are we’re bringing in systemic racism and white supremacy and colorism, so it’s not like we’re going to recreate the wheel, it’s just going to look different.” 

Unless the Black community in Austin and beyond comes together to do the work on themselves, as they’re doing it externally. 

“I would hope that people — if people don’t get anything else from me, I want them to understand that yes, we have to collectively come together to fight the powers that be, but we also have to come together and sit down and fight with the systems of internal oppression that we’ve internalized,” he said.

You can join in the good fight with Moore and his team via their website. To see the full list of 2021 Innovative Leaders — click here.

 

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