Community is Key: The Journey of Billie Parker

by Executive Editor Timantha Norman

The holiday of Kwanzaa was founded by Pan-African college professor and political activist Maulana Karenga in 1966. Regardless of criticisms of the man himself in subsequent years, the holiday continues to stand as a beacon of hope amongst a mostly white-oriented holiday scene for African-Americans of the diaspora and Africans as well nationally and globally, highlighting the triumphs of our collective culture. According to Dr. Karenga’s Kwanzaa website, the core seven principles at the center of Kwanzaa are Umoja/Unity (to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race), Kujichagulia/Self-Determination (to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves), Ujima/Collective Work and Responsibility (to build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together), Ujamaa/Cooperative Economics (to build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together), Nia/Purpose (to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness), Kuumba/Creativity (to do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it), and Imani/Faith (to believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle). 

Local businesswoman, community advocate, and North Tulsa native Billie Parker is an excellent example of someone who has been maintaining these principles consistently throughout her decades-long quest to empower the community she holds dear. I spoke with her about what led her to become an entrepreneur with a passion for her community at the core of it, her deeper motivations around what inspires her to continue her work in the community, and her current and future plans around programming that will inspire North Tulsa to continue stepping into its greatness.

Norman: What sparked your interest in entrepreneurship with a community focus?

Parker: Growing up, I started selling different items in the 4th grade. I sold popcorn balls until the 7th grade. I grew up in a family of folks that had their own businesses. One day when I was 12 years old, I went to a TG&Y (“five-and-dime” variety) store that was in our neighborhood. I asked my mom why there was nothing in there for black folks. From that point on, I decided that when I get big, I am going to have my own store and cater to our people. I used to take white ceramics and paint them black. I made black dolls. I searched for things that were of my culture and sold them at events that were in our community.

Norman: What’s your personal philosophy behind the work that you have been doing in the community all these years?

Parker: I feel as though building our community builds us as a community. My main focus is on teaching our children how to survive in this day and time. It’s always in the back of my head. It takes a village to raise a child. That is the environment I was raised in. I love my North Tulsa and have been living in it all my life.

Norman: Your main business endeavor seems to be the Black Wall Street Market. What do you feel sets the store apart from your “run-of-the-mill” local retail establishment?

Parker: I’m interested in teaching the community about our culture so it will not be lost. Every retail store have their culture in them somewhere. But we don’t have many stores that teach us about us. We have been taught to not love us and so I am here to teach the knowledge and history to our African Black people. Teaching our history and having things in the store that look like us, think like us, and are us is very important to me. 

Norman: You’ve also been carrying out the Black Wall Street Heritage and History Festival for the past seven years. What led you to create it and what is the overall purpose of the festival?

Parker: When I first started this, there were no programs or events for Black History Month happening. We as black people have so much talent in Oklahoma. I started this to showcase the many talents we have in our community. Also, to recognize people in our community that were working hard to make our community a better place. The unsung heroes that were doing something and not being put in the limelight.

Norman: What are some other programs/initiatives/events that you have taking place soon or that you plan to create in the future?

Parker: I have purchased a 3-acre farm in North Tulsa with the goal of teaching our children how to grow their own food. My future plans are to host fresh food to table classes, having families coming out to help grow their own vegetables with the children, and having them sell their produce at the Community Pride Farmers Market. In the summer, we have a flea market where community members can come and sell their items as well. We also have a Dashiki Festival planned for every other Saturday starting in May and going through August where families can just come out, listen to music, play dominoes, cards, help plant seeds in the garden, play old-school games with kids (jacks, marbles, red light-green light, etc.), dance contests, coloring, arts and crafts, having them make their own bracelets or necklace, and much more. It’s all about community involvement, having a good time, being in community with one another.

In the future, we plan to have tours out here where people can come and see a museum of African artifacts, participate in classes to teach our children sewing, ceramics, jewelry making, learn how to play chess, etc. It’s all about our children. We will also have seminars in different subjects about our history and culture. On February 14, we will be holding our first Annual Nubian Sweetheart Dinner Dance and the next day (Feb. 20th), the 7th Annual Black Wall Street Heritage & History Festival will be taking place. All the events I’m involved in are to raise money to keep this farm going. I just want the community to get involved and help support their community, have somewhere to go, relax, feel at home by helping each other build our community up one day at a time. We will also be the home of various Kwanzaa celebrations throughout the community where we plan to educate folks about our history from our past to our future.

Photo credit: Nosamyrag