Race massacre commission’s lack of transparency and inclusion causes concern in community

by Staff Writer Deon Griggs

In July of 2016, Senator Kevin Matthews announced the Tulsa Race Massacre Commission’s proposal. This commission’s primary goal was to educate the public at large about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, as well as the impact it had on the state and the nation. The commission also wished to establish the Greenwood district as a sought-after tourist destination. All of this would be made possible through a $25 million dollar investment, partly funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation. Initially, the goal was set at $16 million, but additional needs were identified throughout the process. The investment was partly meant for projects that have remained unspecified, which include a 100 day series of city-wide events counting down to the centennial in 2021. “That may mean we have a day where we ask every church to do a certain thing. We may have a film screening of all of the different documentaries on the massacre all over the city… We may ask the ballet to participate. There will be so many different things, and that is all based on budget,” says Monica Basu, the senior program officer at the George Kaiser Family Foundation. The other portion has been allocated to revamping the current Greenwood Cultural Center, as well as the construction of a new building.

The commission is made up of three different parts: the leadership team, the advisory board, and the steering committee. While Matthews has stated that the steering committee is the decision-making body, he has also stated that the leadership team are the ones ultimately responsible for what and how the commission utilizes the investment. While it is clear who is on the steering committee, the specific members of the leadership team is still shrouded in mystery. Coupled with the fact that practically all of the meetings of the commission have been close- door, concerns regarding the lack of transparency and exclusion of voices from the community have been made clear.

On May 9th, 2019, the commission hosted their very first community meeting at which they shared what they had been working on with the community. This drew concern from many due to the fact that this was the first time most in attendance had heard about these committees, of which they were not asked to be a part. It appeared they had been making decisions on behalf of the community without the community. Others were worried about the rushed timeline.

After announcing one of their projects titled “Pathway to Hope”, a symbolic walk extending from John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park to the Greenwood Cultural Center, Phil Armstrong, Chair of the Greenwood Cultural Center, revealed that the groundbreaking would be slated for May 30th, 2019, giving the community just 3 weeks to deliberate until the next community meeting on May 28th. Key community leaders including Tulsa City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper, Kristi Williams and State Representative Regina Goodwin refused to attend the groundbreaking in protest. Attempts to find out what steps the commission has taken to utilize the voice of the community have been met with deflection and stonewalling. Which raises the question: If the community is not included in the conversation, who really benefits from this investment?  

Illustration: Patrick Norman