Black Entrepreneurship and its Role in the Future of Greenwood
by Executive Editor Timantha Norman
Black self-sufficiency in the form of entrepreneurship, a sound economic infrastructure, and unyielding courage led to the creation of the most prolific black district that this nation has ever seen. Black entrepreneurs locally and nationwide have taken up the call to carry on this rich legacy.
I spoke with local entrepreneur Trey Thaxton about his love for design, the importance of black entrepreneurship in empowering communities, and his vision for spreading awareness about the history of Greenwood.
Norman: I am curious to know more about your background. What led you to Tulsa, and what ultimately motivated you to establish the Greenwood Ave. and 19&21 platforms?
Thaxton: Moving to Tulsa was 100% not my choice! I moved here with my family when I was 11. We moved here from Decatur, IL to attend Higher Dimensions Family Church. It seemed random to me as a kid. I didn’t know what to expect when it came to life in Oklahoma. That was of course pre-social media, so I had very little context for what was actually happening here. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. After getting cut from my high school basketball team, I stumbled upon a Photoshop class. I had played around with design before, but that’s where I really fell in love with it. We had a portfolio review day where some industry pros came in and a few of them told me I had a good eye. I didn’t know what that meant, but my mom encouraged me to pursue it as a career.
I graduated from OSU-IT in 2008. After working for a small agency here in town, I left to help one of my best friends (who I met at Higher D) lead a thriving youth ministry at Greenwood Christian Center in 2011. He soon transitioned to become lead pastor and I, creative director, was responsible for rebranding what is now Transformation Church. I stepped down from that position in 2016 to begin my creative agency, Goldmill Co. in 2018. A friend invited me to sit in on a meeting for some potential ideas for what would be happening around the centennial in 2021. After leaving that meeting, I was a little disheartened to learn how much discord existed between the different chambers and entities involved in the Greenwood District. However, it did help me understand what a difficult subject it has been for Tulsa residents, descendants, and the people with boots on the ground working tirelessly to protect its legacy.
While the history of what happened was most of their focus, it was important to me to find a way to honor that legacy while showing a way to move forward. That birthed the idea of reimagining the original business logos and putting them on tees during Black History Month this year. I launched the video series soon after as a way to keep the conversation going beyond February and show how other entrepreneurs are honoring that legacy with what they are doing presently.
Norman: It seems as if the tale of the black entrepreneur – past and present – is at the center of your Greenwood Ave. media platform and your 19&21 online shop. What importance does black entrepreneurship hold for you personally?
Thaxton: I am both black and an entrepreneur, so it is extremely important! Dr. Myles Munroe said that the richest place in the world is the graveyard. Unfortunately, it’s so true. I think there are a lot of people with ideas that don’t necessarily have the courage or the resources to pursue those dreams. If we can own our ideas and businesses and teach the next generation how to create and own what they produce, I think it can start to change generations.
Norman: With the national spotlight quickly shifting towards Tulsa as the 100 year anniversary of the Race Massacre of 1921 approaches, what are some of your thoughts on ways that the city of Tulsa (and the state of Oklahoma as a whole) should remember the tragedy that took place as well as honor the legacy of the Historic Greenwood District?
Thaxton: I have heard a few plans and think there will be plenty of recognition. Personally, my hope is that it will not just be a blip on the radar or a “Dang, that was messed up” moment. While it should never take 100 years for something like this to get national attention, I think the biggest thing we can do to honor that legacy is really find a way to work together to make Tulsa flourish for everyone.
Norman: What are some of your future plans in relation to Greenwood Ave. and 19&21?
Thaxton: I plan for the Greenwood Ave. video series to continue monthly. I have gotten a lot of great feedback and messages on how inspiring they have been thus far. I hope to get better every time and shed more light on great entrepreneurs. I think there is an opportunity to branch out into a magazine as well. We’ll see! Through the series and merch, my goal is to make “Greenwood Ave” synonymous with “Black Entrepreneurship.” I really believe that the idea of Black Wall Street shouldn’t be relegated to one place, but, instead, be seen as a mindset. There is potential for 19&21 to become a brick and mortar shop where people can come to get merch while visiting Tulsa, which will allow me to give even more to different organizations doing some amazing things.