by Staff Writer Britni Sharde

In the fashion industry, the aspects of style and culture are small pieces to a much larger puzzle. For artists that breathe creativity, like Serae Avance, fashion is more than the opportunity to look good. Fashion is power. “It’s power because it represents self as a form of expression, identity, personality and character. Fashion can have a spiritual or cultural meaning or both, while also speaking through color, texture and/or lighting. Fashion is a force of realness that has the ability to collide with modern or traditional culture. That realness, as basic as it is, impacts us every day.”

We got the opportunity to speak with Ms. Serae Avance, the founder, creative director and fashion photographer for Irie Blue Co., a digital consulting and marketing company. Irie Blue Co. unites companies with local creatives and artists through services including branding and networking events. 

Sharde: What was the starting point of your desire to create opportunities in mass media for Black creatives?

Avance: I got the opportunity to see the art community in Boston. It really made me want to see my people on a different level. I recognized we didn’t really have the networking and necessary platforms for other artists to connect with one another where I come from. I saw those resources in Boston and people working together to create and saw that networking in itself was an opportunity to bring people together. When I look into a room, I think to myself, “How can I get these people to connect?” It’s so easy for people to get cliquish and not branch out. Tulsa can be clicky and, for a while, that’s just the way it was. I’ve become very intentional about connecting with others. 

Sharde: How challenging is it to keep Black women at the forefront of your art and networking initiatives?

Avance: In the artist world, there are no boundaries. It became easy to network with people because people would come up to me and tell me they wanted to work with me. I am constantly remembering that I am still learning so much every day. Just putting myself out there has really helped me to get comfortable with networking. I start to get in my head a lot, but I think it’s easier to network as an artist than as an entrepreneur. I had to use social media as my search engine and all the people that I wanted to work with, I paid attention to their creativity and moved accordingly. Black women are so important to me. I grew up observing and admiring Black women, especially my momma. I believe we gotta be a lot more intentional about putting Black women on because Black women share so many parts of themselves with others and get nothing in return for it.  

Sharde: How do you live out the mission of your brand?

Avance: The motto of my brand is “Be at irie with the blues life brings.” Honestly, this was an experiment for change. I had to ask myself, “How can I live a better life and remain happy?” Then I asked myself, “How can I help others do the same?” I’ve met a lot of people and a lot of people came to me with similar problems trying to figure out how to just live life better, you know. But now that motto is changing since I’ve updated my logo that takes inspiration from the Taijitu symbol, which is the original form of yin and yang, it’s all about obtaining balance between humanity and nature. With that in mind, I’m learning how to not only be at irie, but how to look at the blues as more of a tranquil state instead of a sadden state. It’s about finding the duality in Irie and Blues. With a background in chemistry, I’ve always been experimental. Therefore, my projects, brand and how I live my life are an experiment with living happily and helping others  through my work. The mission of my work is connecting companies with creatives of any realm and industry. I live by this by being a point of contact for creatives and assisting them with reaching their goals. I aim to be that person to help other artists in reaching the goals they have in mind. Communism is the way up. We honestly can’t do this shit alone. Everybody needs help. We were put on this earth to help one another and move together in unison to everlasting life. My brand is spiritual and cultural at its core. Through events like Creative Souls and Empower Her, I build and bridge gaps in the community by making these connections. Everything I do has purpose. I honestly believe in sharing information, sharing what you’ve learned in order to grow. Leave that ladder down for the next to climb up. I’ve learned how to work with what I have to make something beautiful. I believe that all you have is what you need, and so with that being said, don’t feel like you can’t inquire about my services because a blessing may be waiting for you. 

Sharde: What are some projects we can anticipate seeing from you in the near future?

Avance: It’s a lot (laughs)! Some of the current projects that’ll be released soon are “FEMININE = RIGHT,” highlighting hair stylists and female musical artists from Oklahoma. An exhibition of portraits is in the works for the Philbrook Museum called “From The Limitations of Now,” which will premiere in March of this year and go through September. This 6-month exposition will display some more personal projects showcasing my story and where I’m from. There are also three different projects involving Midwest culture and styling with Empower Her and a Creative Souls Winter series with SoBo Co. planned for this month. I am also working on a new project that is scheduled to take place in March with the Oklahoma Fashion District.

Sharde: How can we continue to support your businesses and where can we follow you on social media?

Avance: I am on Twitter and Facebook (@missirieblues). I can also be found by my name, Serae Avance. My business page on Instagram is @iriebluesco and my personal Instagram is @missirieblues. To view my work, check out the website where one can follow up on any upcoming projects and events. 

Photo credit: Ryan Cass

by Staff Writer Britni Sharde

The mainstream usage of phrases like body positivity and mental wellness have challenged the status quo concerning body image and mental health. One of the main drivers of these movements was a demand for freedom from the social stigma of what a beautiful body should look like and the belief that all people should accept themselves as themselves.  

I spoke with artist, designer and entrepreneur Erica Martez-Hicks about her passion around body positivity and how she incorporates this, in concert with her life experiences, into her business and her art.

Britni Sharde: Tell me about what led you to be an entrepreneur? 

Erica Martez Hicks: I believe that herbs help women. Holistic wellness is a health option that many women don’t even really know they can utilize. I believe the importance of selling holistic items to women is to empower women to take responsibility for their own health. That, to me, is wealth. We need to get into the business of escaping the side effects that Western prescription drugs create in our bodies. I hadn’t seen any Black-owned apothecaries in general, but Tulsa is where I live, so I figured I could be that solution. There are so many things that I sell, like waist beads (which have been in our history for centuries), natural soap, yoni steam seats, custom teas, etc. I want to see women winning and doing well. 

Sharde: How do you ensure that the mission of this brand remains relevant for future generations?

Hicks: I am a teacher. I am really heavy on being the representation of integrity for the 6th graders I teach. I believe in teaching body positivity also. I speak about morality in my lessons and the importance of setting healthy boundaries for my little girls. Because 6th grade is so hard so much is changing, I do my best to be present in that with them. Every teacher is teaching more than the curriculum. 

Sharde: What are some things you’re intentional about that helps you to stay grounded in your mission to promote wellness through your business, art and brand?

Hicks: Now? Self-care. Caring for myself and all that that entails. Self care and gratitude. For a long time, I was not taking care of myself. I used to be so empty and hurt, but it was my choice. It was my choice to put others before myself and to focus on giving so much of myself that I had no idea how empty I was. That was until I started being more grateful. I believe that gratefulness is the key to success. It puts so much into perspective, but you have to be consistent with it.

Sharde: What life experiences have influenced your art as it relates to this intersection around  blackness and wellness in your creative endeavors? 

Hicks: As a woman, I have had this body since I was 12. For such a long time, I was taught to believe that I was the problem. [I believed] that these breasts and this ass was the problem instead of men that lacked self control being the problem. I should be able to wear a paper bag, but if you have no self control, I should not be blamed for that. There were countless times that I was scolded for simply existing in this body, especially by church people. I grew up in Colorado before it was cool. I was raised by two Black parents that were raised in the times of segregation. All I knew was being either one of two, or the only, Black person in a room. So when I moved to Tulsa to attend ORU, that space was normal for me. I didn’t know anything about Tulsa or Black Wall Street, but I didn’t see myself as truly different until Obama was elected. Hearing the things people would say really impacted how I saw people and, over time, made me want to speak out as an artist and have the work that I did and products I made  showcase us or heal us.

Sharde: Why do your products speak specifically to Black women? 

Hicks: I am a Black woman. I have needed all the products that I’ve made. So much of a woman’s worth has been measured either by her appearance or by whether or not she is loved by someone else. I find that unacceptable. A woman I know spoke out against someone for inappropriately approaching her and another spoke out against this same man for failing to pay her. They were both silenced by so many of our peers. That is unacceptable. We don’t go hard enough for Black women for me. We go hard for Black Lives Matter, but we need to address this. We need to go harder for women. We don’t go hard for women in any capacity. Women need to know that they are worthy of being protected, being invested in and that it starts with self first. Women need wellness options. Over the decades, Western medicine has proven that it is not the best holistic option. 

Sharde: What are your intentions with the brand? 

Hicks: I’m going to build an empire. My heart is for women. On this journey of healing myself and with all the things I have learned, my intention is to grow and promote the use of herbs and holistic wellness and self-care for women.

Sharde: Where can we continue to watch your art and business grow and thrive?

Hicks: Just stay tuned. You’ll see me. My personal Instagram page is @ohmissericamartez and my business Instagram page is @theeherbalhustle for the Soul Bird Apothecary. 

Photo credit: Britni Sharde

by Staff Writer Kolby Webster

“Plaintiffs, Greenwood and North Tulsa residents and their descendants have experienced and continue to experience insecurity in their lives and property and their sense of comfort, health, and safety has been destroyed” is a recurring phrase in the Justice for Greenwood petition that expresses the generational losses that began with the Tulsa Race Massacre of May 31, 1921, which continues to adversely affect the North Tulsa community today nearly 100 years later. The petition lays out the explicit actions of seven defendants, including the City of Tulsa and Tulsa Regional Chamber, in contributing to the Massacre. The plaintiffs argue throughout that the Tulsa Race Massacre catalyzed 99 years of exclusion and targeted antagonism that manifested in extreme losses for the North Tulsa community. An examination of the Justice for Greenwood lawsuit highlights a myriad of racially and monetarily motivated attacks, policies and conflicts of interests from 1921 to today that have been well documented and corroborated by Tulsa Race Massacre survivors and records of the state. The central argument of this petition is somewhat built on a public nuisance strategy that was successfully used against major pharmaceutical companies that wantonly exacerbated the opioid epidemic in the state.

The Chamber 

The lawsuit implicates the Tulsa Regional Chamber and the City of Tulsa in several dire policies that began in the immediate aftermath of the Massacre that continue to have an effect until this day. These policies began with the captivity and slavery of Black Tulsans. On June 1, 1921, Oklahoma Governor B. A. Robertson declared martial law, bringing in the National Guard to establish some sense of order to the burning city. However, this instead turned into internment camps where thousands of Black citizens were held and subject to inappropriate seizures and processes with which to attend to their losses. Black citizens were held at the McNulty Ballpark, the Convention Hall (now renamed the Tulsa Theater) and the Tulsa Fairgrounds until a white sponsor could vouch for their character or provide proof of current employment from said white sponsor. Once released, the Greenwood residents were given a green card, which they were required to carry at all times or risk being sent back to the camps. These green cards were created and paid for by the Chamber and enforced by the City and the National Guard. The lawsuit notes that, “The ‘paroled’ Greenwood community members were required to wear or carry a green card bearing their sponsor’s name while out of the camp. Many Greenwood community residents were forced to work for their sponsors, or for the City, under threat of violence and without pay. These conditions amounted to a badge of slavery.” It’s also noted that Black citizens were to work their way out of the detainment camps by cleaning up the debris from  the Massacre, a policy set forth by organizations within the Chamber and imposed by the National Guard. On June 2, General Barrett issued Field Order Number 4, which decreed that “All able bodied [N]egro men remaining in detention camp[s] at the Fairgrounds and other places in the City of Tulsa [would] be required to render such service and perform such labor as [was] required by the military commission.”

Public Welfare

A Public Welfare board was created by the Chamber to oversee reconstruction and clean up efforts. References to the Public Welfare board in the lawsuit note that the board was made up of exclusively white members and excluded Greenwood residents, effectively keeping the community from having any input on the reconstruction efforts. Rezoning meetings began just a week after the Massacre with the Public Welfare board, the Chamber and the City attempting to implement an extension of the fire regulations and ordinances to make rebuilding costs prohibitive, take away any agency from the Black property owners and further place reconstruction powers into the hands of the City. Survivors successfully appealed interpretations of the ordinance implementations, but at a great financial cost, which the lawsuit is also seeking restitution for. The Public Welfare board notably denied aid from around the country in the midst of the displacement and ruin Black Tulsans were facing. The squalid conditions many Black Tulsans were left in during the interim are also included in the damages the defendants are seeking restitution for. The lawsuit succinctly outlines how the “defendants’ unlawful actions left survivors of the Massacre to live in makeshift tents as their shelter into the winter, subjecting them to cold, filth and disease for up to a year after the Massacre.”

Reconstruction and Renewal

There were very purposeful efforts to erase North Tulsa, cover up the Massacre and begin rebuilding without the Black community. To ensure the fires continued to burn throughout the night, white mob members threatened a Tulsa Fire Department crew at gunpoint when they arrived on the scene. Insurance agencies refused claims due to the blame being placed squarely on the Black residents of Greenwood by then Tulsa Mayor T.D. Evans. This also led to a halt of any formal talks of reparations. When it came to indictments related to the Massacre, an all-white grand jury exclusively indicted residents of Greenwood for the destruction of their own community. The jury also advocated for more aggressive policing of Black people. The lawsuit notes that this aggressive and unwarranted policing continues to this day. 

In 1923, a reconstruction committee attempted to double down on the efforts of the Public Welfare board by rezoning the Greenwood neighborhood for industrial use, further blighting the area and decreasing property values. Defendants note that the City of Tulsa and Tulsa Regional Chamber have a long history of excluding the Black community:

During the 1930s, the City, with the support of the Chamber, engaged in more extensive racial segregation in public employment than any other southern and southwestern city. For example, unlike other Southern cities, Tulsa did not hire African Americans for public service jobs, with the exception of those hired as police for the Greenwood community or teachers in the segregated school system. Similarly, in the 1920s through the 1960s, the City and the Chamber unlawfully excluded the few African American businesses run by members of the Greenwood and North Tulsa communities from participating in business opportunities. The Chamber excluded North Tulsa Black-owned businesses in its publicity materials commemorating Oklahoma’s fiftieth anniversary as well.

In the 1950s through to the 1970s, the City of Tulsa, Tulsa County and the Tulsa Regional Chamber used severe urban renewal development practices that in almost every way worked against North Tulsa’s social and economic interests by demolishing community-owned developments and taking valuable land via eminent domain. The first urban renewal projects in the state used eminent domain to take land in North Tulsa to create Highway 244 in 1965 and the Seminole Hills development, which completely transformed the landscape of North Tulsa from a walkable community of local businesses to what is now mostly parking lots for chain restaurants. In the mid-1980s, much of the original bustling hub of Greenwood was cleared out to make room for the University Center at Tulsa, now known as Oklahoma State University-Tulsa. The university initially asked the Tulsa Urban Renewal Authority for nearly 200 acres of North Tulsa land, but only 80 acres actually developed into the university by 1990. Here again, the plaintiffs note a total neglect by city entities where community members were purposely  excluded from having a say in how their community was rebuilt or even who it was rebuilt for. The petition notes that the highway and the sprawling Oklahoma State University-Tulsa development negatively impacted businesses, residents and schools in the North Tulsa community. 

The lawsuit tackles concerns for future developments in the North Tulsa community by stating that, “The defendants are working to bring business to Tulsa using the Massacre and Black

Wall Street as a cultural tourism draw. The problem is that they are doing so on the backs of those they destroyed without ensuring that the community and descendants of those subjected to the nuisance they created are significantly represented in the decision-making process  and are the direct beneficiaries of these efforts.” The plaintiffs have grievances not only with the last century of problematic policies, unlawful activities, avoidable death and property loss, but also with developments today which claim to be to their benefit that are to the contrary. Attitudes appear to be changing within leadership at the City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Regional Chamber. However, residents still feel a lack of agency, which has been in place since the Massacre ravaged the community 99 years ago. 

The North Tulsa community to this day struggles to have community issues solved with community solutions. The descendants of these racially motivated events have been asking for restitution for decades without the support and care of organizations like the City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Regional Chamber. The community today is severely split by costly infrastructure projects that simply do not serve the community’s best interests. Health outcomes are lower than anywhere else in the city. Policing has become so aggressive that murder is justified in everyday situations such as car problems. Children are beaten for jaywalking and charged while our state hovers near the highest incarceration rates in the world, with Black Tulsans making up a disproportionate percentage. Even with the extremely alarming data regarding policing solutions to these problems, input from the community most affected is still excluded.

When reading about the Tulsa Regional Chamber today on their Mission, Vision, & Values page, it could be assumed that the organization is ethically and financially equipped for addressing concerns such as these. It could be inferred that having positive conversations centering an important prosperous community and finding innovative solutions to rectifying a disastrous history would be seen as paramount. Yet, this does not appear to be the case. The Tulsa Regional Chamber’s actions over the past 99 years against the plaintiffs are described in brief spurts in the petition, but the pervasive nature and harrowing details of the Chamber’s actions can be found in North Tulsans’ everyday challenges. 

The plaintiffs assert that even future developments present problematic practices not unlike those of the past: “It is inequitable for the Defendants to retain the benefits they receive from marketing Black Wall Street rather than providing those benefits to the Black residents and businesses in the Greenwood District and North Tulsa, with top priority placed on those who are descendants of the Black residents who resided in the Greenwood District at the time of the Massacre.” It is unfortunate that there appears to be such a disconnect between the community and the institutions meant to bring them prosperity, with the Tulsa Regional Chamber’s responsibilities described on their site as, “the principal business-driven leadership organization improving the quality of community life through the development of regional economic prosperity.” Therefore, it is no surprise that North Tulsans are legally seeking what they are owed. 

Photo credit: Joseph Rushmore

by Staff Writer Torrel Miles

Wilma Mankiller, the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, was once quoted as saying that “an Indian is an Indian regardless of the degree of Indian blood or which little government card they do or do not possess.” The Creek Freedmen, who have been fighting for Creek tribal recognition and acceptance for generations, would be inclined to agree. Possessing a legacy deeply ingrained with Oklahoma lands alongside the Five Civilized Indigenous Tribes, the Creek Freedmen are descendants of the thousands of Africans that the Creeks held in chattel slavery.

When President Andrew Jackson and the U.S. government forced Indigenous Americans westward in a fit of ethnic cleansing, Creek Freedmen descendants embarked upon the perilous journey of the Trail of Tears to the newly earmarked Indian Territory with their captors. The American Civil War erupted soon after their landing and Union battalions immediately fled the Indian Territories, which left the newly arrived tribes at the mercy of attacks by the already established Plains Indians. Although during the Civil War they had served as soldiers on both sides, all of the Five Civilized Tribes signed treaties with the Confederacy. When the Union claimed victory, Congress set about  changing the way of life of the tribes yet again, this time to the benefit of the Black slaves they held. 

A slew of new treaties were drawn up to replace invalid treaties the Five Civilized Tribes had signed with the Confederacy and the previous incarnation of the U.S. government. One treaty in particular was the 1866 U.S. treaty with the Creek Nation on which the Creek Freedmen base their argument. Article 2 of the 1866 treaty explicitly mentions the abolishment of slavery within the Creek tribe and gives tribal citizenship to the formerly enslaved Africans and their descendants. The Creek Freedmen are these descendants and still have not been fully recognized by the Creek tribal government as citizens.

In early September of this year, the New York Times covered Ron Graham’s fight for tribal citizenship at length. In the article, Graham, out of Okmulgee, Oklahoma, has spent the past 30 years “haunting tribal offices and genealogical archives, fighting for recognition that he is also a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.” Eli Grayson, a Muscogee Creek citizen who was interviewed for  VOA News in an article dated August 2019, explained the nature of the Creek constitution coming into conflict with the theory  of blood quantum. Historically, Blacks are no stranger to the negative societal effects of blood quantum. The “one drop rule” concept only required one Black ancestor for someone to be considered Black, which led to a litany of external and internal racial tensions that persist  to this day. The Creek government drafted a new constitution in 1979, giving only those with one-quarter Muscogee Creek blood or more the ability to hold a political office within the tribe. As many generations of interracial marriages have diluted the once concentrated Creek racial bloodlines, this effectively cuts a majority of Creek and Creek Freedmen out of any political races and, therefore, any political power. In  the VOA News article, Grayson notes that “more than 85 percent of the tribe has less than one-quarter blood.” 

The true dilemma that the Creek Freedmen seem to face is the perception of blood quantum making a Creek citizen versus the perception of Creek tribal sovereignty. The Dawes Act of 1887 gave allotments of land to the citizens of the Five Civilized Tribes. To give easier allotment accessibility, the Dawes Rolls were created to document individual Indigenous citizens and their lineages. Blood quantums were noted in the Rolls and from the Rolls many tribes confirm the legitimacy of descendants applying for tribal citizenship. To some tribal leaders, these treaties are external nuisances that infringe on tribal sovereignty and self-governance.

After George Floyd’s murder in late May of 2020, Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation drafted a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi opposing Chairwoman Maxine Waters’ proposed provision to allow tribal citizenship to descendants of Choctaw Freedmen. If allowed, the U.S. government would have a hand in altering the Choctaw constitution. “The Freedman issue is a problem caused by the United States, not the Choctaw Nation… Congress should not be permitted to abuse its power by forcing the Choctaw Nation to fix America’s longstanding problems of systemic racism rooted in America’s enslavement of African Americans.” Chief Batton stated. Notably, the Choctaw tribe was not exempt from slave ownership and also owned thousands of Black slaves before and during their forced migration. Despite opposition, the Creek Freedmen’s fight is far from over. Creek Freedmen representatives, such as Ron Graham and Eli Grayson, continue to educate and rally support throughout Oklahoma and nationwide. For the Creek Freedmen, it is not when they will find their home, but when their home will find them.     

Photo credit: Sam DeVenny/Smithsonian Magazine

As COVID-19 continues to spread, imprisoned people and those who work in correctional facilities continue to be particularly vulnerable. Running parallel to the devastation of a global pandemic unlike anything this country has seen in a century, the disproportionate over-policing and mass imprisonment of Black people locally has led to a troubling disparity in COVID transmission rates in our state’s correctional facilities. Prison overcrowding and other conditions make it virtually impossible to practice social distancing and maintain an adequate level of sanitization. This has led to a public safety and public health catastrophe in our local prisons that is affecting poor and marginalized people at an alarming rate.

Statistics released by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections show that imprisoned people have far higher positive rates for COVID-19 than the state average. According to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ COVID-19 statistics report that was released last month, more than a quarter (25.3%) of the imprisoned population has tested positive for COVID-19 over the last nine months, leading to 33 deaths (including 11 in November alone). The Department of Corrections (DOC) announced in March that they would work with local sheriffs to stop new admissions from county jails across the state. However, a new analysis of the most recent prison admissions data shows that more than 300 people were taken into DOC custody in June. According to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ own report, Black Oklahomans were sent to prison at even higher rates of disproportionality than usual, all as COVID-19 cases behind bars began to rise.

According to the US Census Bureau’s statistics, Black Oklahomans make up 8% of the state population but 27% of the current prison population, imprisoned at a rate of 19.83 per 1,000 residents (more than 4 times the white imprisonment rate in Oklahoma) and Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of Black imprisonment in the US.

In 2018 and 2019, Black people accounted for approximately 20% of all prison admissions in Oklahoma. However,  Black people made up 30% of prison admissions in June 2020, a 50% increase from the prior period.

The majority (66%) of Black people admitted to prison in June 2020 were sent for nonviolent offenses such as possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute or unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

A disproportionate number of people admitted to DOC custody in June 2020 came from Tulsa County, 53.5% compared to 14% in a typical month. Though Black people make up 11% of Tulsa’s population, they made up 38% of Tulsa’s prison admissions during this time. 

The racial disparities in June 2020 prison admissions in Oklahoma are a cause for serious concern. Prison and jail COVID-19 outbreaks are compounding racial inequalities. According to a recent report from the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, Black people are disproportionately more likely to contract COVID-19 and die of it, as are people in prisons and jails across the country. Oklahoma also has the second-highest imprisonment rate and the second-highest Black imprisonment rate in the country.

Public safety and public health experts have identified decarceration – the practice of lowering prison populations – as a crucial tool in preventing the transmission of COVID-19 in prison facilities, according to the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice. Continuing to disregard the humanity of those behind prison bars not only put them and individuals they may inevitably come in contact with at risk, but also perpetuates a cycle of systemic racism and classism that will have adverse generational effects. It would be in the best interest of Oklahoma lawmakers to follow the lead of states like Arkansas, Kentucky, and New Jersey in further reducing incarceration by taking a proactive approach to lowering prison admissions as the virus continues to spread and imprisoned people continue to die. 

You can read FWD.us and the Terence Crutcher Foundation’s full joint report here.

Photo credit: Joseph Rushmore

by Staff Writer Britni Sharde

Since March of 2020, from the murder of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, the social climate of nation produced protests against police brutality in every state. Rage and tears accompanied chants of “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” while strangers walked shoulder to shoulder surrounded by the terror of a global pandemic. On June 4, 2020, as two teenage Black boys walked down the 1300 block of North Osage Drive, two white police officers approached them for jaywalking. In the body cam footage of the encounter, police officers are seen approaching the youngest of the two teens by physically grabbing him and, ultimately, arresting him while handcuffing and releasing the other. According to Tulsa Police Department Chief Wendell Franklin, neither officer will be receiving disciplinary action due to the department’s policies. When community members inquired about the severity of the treatment of the two teenagers, police officials assured Tulsans that the officers were following protocol. The use of force was believed to be excessive and unnecessary by the public and by the Mayor himself. Although the protests we have seen nationally are often a result of unarmed individuals dying at the hands of police officers, the antiquated policies that allowed for these teenagers to be treated like criminals for jaywalking on a street without sidewalks is the reason why people are protesting. 

At the 0:23 second mark of the video of the encounter, both young men are seen walking on the left side of the street, where there are no sidewalks, while both officers get out of the squad car and begin walking behind them. At this point, there was no audible sound provided on the video until the 0:31 mark, where one of the officers is seen getting into the squad car to catch up to both young men while the other officer is seen walking ahead of him. The public has no insight into what was said by the officers upon their initial contact with the teens. At the 1:32 mark, the officer that was walking on foot is then seen running up behind the younger male, wearing a dark-colored hoodie, and asking the teen, ”What are you on?” According to TPD’s policies around juvenile arrest and detention (procedure 31-121B), “Tulsa officers are to use the least coercive [force] among reasonable alternatives that are consistent with state and federal law.” At 1:37, we hear the young man wearing the blue hoodie calmly say to the officers, “Let me go man. I ain’t got nothing on me.” The officer’s restraint of the teenager with the hoodie was not in line with the policy of how to handle a non-serious offense.

According to TPD’s policies and procedures handbook, officers are only able to “use force which is objectively reasonable” (procedure #31-101A under their Use of Force policy). In a 1989 United States Supreme Court case (Graham v. Connor), the courts defined “objectively reasonable” as an officer’s actions being reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting him without regard to his underlying intent or motivation. In a post written on the TPD Facebook page, the officers were “members of the Tulsa Police Department Organized Gang Unit.” The post informed the public that this unit “relies on data-driven intelligence reports to guide their investigations and determine geographical areas of greatest need… utilizing consensual encounters as well as probable cause stops to contact citizens in the residential neighborhoods.” These encounters in residential neighborhoods are supposed to be “very brief but provide the officers a chance to build rapport and discuss the reason for the stop and why they are in the area.” However, The severity of the force used for the crime committed was seen by community members as harsh and excessive, especially considering the state of the nation. 

The young man who was grabbed by the officer from behind becomes visibly agitated at the 1:42 mark of the video. The officers involved in the incident later argued that the reason they grabbed him is because he was jaywalking. However, according to the TPD’s policy around juvenile arrest and detention (procedure 31-121B), jaywalking is considered a non-serious offense. According to this procedure, an alternative to how the young man was handled could have been to “release [him] without further enforcement action or a simple citation.” At the 2:17 mark, the other young man asked the officers about their handling of his cousin, who was at that point laying face down on the ground. He asked why they were putting handcuffs on him; one of the officers responded, “Because he was jaywalking. We just want to talk with him. He didn’t have to act a fool like that.” To forcibly grab someone for jaywalking is an infringement of the right to be approached in a respectable manner, especially for such a minor offense. 

Two minutes and thirty seconds into the video, the officer that initially grabbed the young man wearing the dark hoodie from behind, walks up to the young man who was still standing and, without asking, warning or probable cause, begins to search him. In TPD’s public policy manual, when it comes to personal searches, officers may conduct a preliminary search for weapons or frisk, which is to pass hands over their bodies in search of weapons or drugs, whenever circumstances warrant such a search (procedure # 31-107). The Supreme Court states that a frisk or search is lawful when there is reason to believe the suspect is armed, the search is limited to weapons or suspicious activity has been observed and the officer is able to fully document the particular activity and explain why it is suspicious. The minor stood calmly asking questions in an effort to seek answers as to why the officers were treating them in the manner that they were. At the three minute mark, after continued frustration and no answers as to why the officers were harassing them, the officer placed the eldest young man in handcuffs and directed him to have a seat on the ground. There is no policy that speaks to why this was necessary. 

One of the teenagers is seen lying on the ground at the 3:51 mark asking repeatedly, “What y’all following me for?” The officer standing next to him acknowledged that they were being followed because they were jaywalking: “You broke the law, that’s why.” The younger minor then asked, “Why you punch me?” It is unclear which officer responded by saying, “You just want to keep talking. You don’t want to listen.” At the 11:36 mark, the youngest says, “Y’all want to see us dead. No, I hate y’all.”Although this behavior may be seen as unacceptable, it must be mentioned that the officer did not do his due diligence in implementing de-escalation tactics with an obviously agitated teenage boy. In TPD’s policy manual, there are no policies or procedures concerning de-escalation, something that could have changed the outcome of the encounter. According to the Open Journal to Social Sciences article titled “Conflict De-Escalation: Workforce Training,” de-escalation tactics are used to “… to stabilize the situation and reduce the immediacy of the threat so that more time, options, and resources are available to resolve the situation. The goal of de-escalation is to gain the voluntary compliance of subjects, when feasible, and thereby reduce or eliminate the necessity to use physical force.”

Community members asked the police department about the altercation because they felt as though the officers incriminated the teen boys before engaging with them. Mayor GT Bynum stated in a Facebook post that he watched the video “as a parent rather than a mayor” and noted that “we as a city can do better.” TPD Chief Wendell Franklin advised community members that the use of force regarding the teens had gone through the proper chain of command. “The force utilized is within our policy,” he stated. The issue community members demand policy makers address, aside from the incident, is the obsolescent and even general disregard for the humanity that these policies tend to render. The idea of force being used within police policies is vague, unreasonable and antiquated, which can lead to biased policing. Biased policing can make it easy for police officers to possibly make rash, and at times, inaccurate decisions based on generalized observations while also making it difficult for them to be held accountable for those decisions. This leads to the perpetuation of mistrust between police officers and the communities they are sworn to protect.

Photo credit: Joseph Rushmore

by Staff Writer Torrel Miles

The global pandemic has decimated the mirage of normalcy we have become accustomed to. Businesses have floundered and careers have been cut short. Social interaction has become taboo. Sneezing and coughing have become a public offense punishable by scowls and open hostility. Coupled with assaults on human rights, impending economic collapse and vicious political polarity, many people are feeling the weight of this year and wonder if there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The working class is especially feeling the pinch as they watch their working hours, and consequently their paychecks, dwindle into nothing due to cutbacks to meet the abnormal demands the pandemic has ordered. To help workers who rent housing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have ordered a national moratorium on evictions. The moratorium only delays the eviction, however, and many experts fear that January will see an unprecedented eviction crisis. 

Tulsa Housing Authority has attempted to answer this dilemma with a deadline extension to their Emergency Rental Assistance program. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program was generously funded to the tune of $15 million by Tulsa County as part of the CARES Funds Act created to provide emergency rental assistance payments to the citizens of Tulsa County affected by the pandemic. The deadline extension gives residents until September 30th to apply. Tulsa residents that need assistance with paying their rent after a job loss or wage reduction due to the pandemic are eligible for up to $3,000 while funds last. Tulsa residents who are over 18 years old, haven’t been able to pay their rent since April 1st, have their name on the lease and saw their wages reduced or lost their job due to the pandemic are eligible. 

Tulsa residents who are receiving federal rent subsidies, such as Section 8 and the Housing Choice Voucher program, are not eligible as well as those who are under 18 years old or paying mortgages. Upon eligibility and approval, the assistance funds are funneled to the owner of the property. A tenant desiring to apply should notify the property owner as the property owner is responsible for sending the required documentation. A copy of the lease, a copy of a utility bill and, if applicable, a copy of the unemployment letter is needed for the application. The utility bill must be in the lease holder’s name. Acceptance is not guaranteed as there are limited funds. 

As a bonus, Restore Hope Ministries has partnered with the State of Oklahoma for the eviction mitigation program for all of Tulsa County, providing similar relief as the Emergency Rental Assistance program. The requirements for eligibility consist of an actual eviction having been filed after March 27th, 2020. While eligible for $600 more than the Emergency Rental Assistance program, the yearly income of the household must be below 80% of the average median income for Tulsa County. As of 2018 the average median income for Tulsa County sits at $53,902. These stipulations are aimed at tenants in the more severe stages of eviction. Nonetheless, the program wants to ensure that as many individuals who are suffering from the pandemic are able to receive some kind of assistance.  For further information, call the call center at 918-236-0949 Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm or visit the Tulsa Housing Authority’s program website at https://tulsahousing.nanmckay.com/.

Photo credit: Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman

by Managing Editor Raynell Joseph

Creatives have historically used their chosen medium in powerful ways. Often illuminating the margins and highlighting the need for societal changes.  It was creatives that shaped the Black Power Movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Many choose to be intentional with their craft and “reflect the times,” in the words of the great Nina Simone. These individuals look at the world through different lenses, they color outside of the lines and break the rules. While creatives are artists and may be painting pictures or writing songs, it is their ability to do so with an outcome in mind that separates them from the rest. I had the great honor of speaking with our dear friend and local creative Ebony Easiley on how she is using her platform to drive change in Tulsa. 

Joseph: Many of us have seen you perform around Tulsa, but there is a whole brand behind what you do. Can you expound on what your intentions are with the brand?  

Easiley: A.R.T. stands for Ambition Reveals Truth. It’s a brand based on my personal experience and my passion for the arts. Whatever people are passionate about really reveals and shows who they are at their core. You can meet the person and truly understand more about them and learn what drives them and what they are passionate about. People are at their best when they are living out their passions. This brand is a movement for people who love the arts and my desire to see people living in freedom.

Joseph: Can you speak to the personal experiences that have shaped your brand? 

Easiley: I came up during the time where they were stripping the arts out of the schools. It wasn’t until college that I started getting exposed to art talks, fairs and shows. As a student at TU, I felt like I had to overcome various obstacles compared to my white peers who had been exposed to art already while also trying to improve my discipline. Often being the only African-American woman in those white spaces, I felt like I had double the obstacles. I couldn’t help but wonder what my experience would have been if I had been exposed to art early on.

Joseph: How are you intentional about providing access and representation for the next generation?  

Easiley: My brand is the product of my LLC, Artograph Collective, whose mission is to dismantle and disrupt historical barriers placed on disadvantaged communities of color through the arts. My first project was back in January 2019 where I was able to partner with a local artist and put on a benefit concert to raise funds to go towards art programming and supplies to inspire the next generation of artists. We were able to donate money to African-American girls at the Tulsa Girls’ Art School. My second project was my commercial, which aired in May 2019. The purpose was to debunk the negative stereotypes placed on African-American women. It’s a shame that the negative stereotypes placed on Black women often overshadow the positive. How have we become the bottom of society when we have made such a large contribution to society? I was able to bring some pillars of the community together for the shoot. They were largely women who have impacted the city that I live in. 

Joseph: I know the pandemic has affected many of these projects and initiatives. How have you identified ways to still carry out your mission and vision? 

Easiley: Yes! I’m excited to be working on two initiatives. As I spoke to my personal experience of growing up during a time where the art programs were the first thing being cut from schools, that is still the case today. Studies have shown that art builds confidence, contributes to students mastering core subjects and decreases dropout rates. My initiative, Art 4orms, is intended to be a free online space to introduce elementary students to some of the basics and fundamentals of visual art. We also seek to introduce students to Black artists in each session of Art 4orms. I’m also launching a podcast called My Life Mattered Before It Was Trending or a Hashtag to address the systematic racial issues that Black and brown people face. We will have a therapist on each episode to provide solutions and tangible applications for listeners who are working in corporate and non-profit spaces dealing with racism. It’s educational, relatable and healing-based. 

Joseph: How can we stay updated on your initiatives? 

Easiley: You can check out my music site (www.ebonyasemusic.com). I’ll be updating it pretty soon to include my various projects and initiatives. Also, follow the Art 4orms Instagram page (@art4ormkids) for updates on the online program for students. 

Photo credit: Keonte Carter

by Staff Writer Torrel Miles

Early February of this year, when questioned by a reporter from the Tulsa World on whether  the Equality Indicators were an “accurate representation of police use-of-force incidents within the department,” Major Wendell Franklin, Tulsa’s first Black police chief, responded: “I don’t want to get into whether or not the data is legitimate or not.  I will just say this: There is room for us to improve. We have to take what is given to us and try to redirect, refocus to ensure that we are equally policing in all of our communities.” To the ordinary citizen taking a first glance at the Equality Indicators reports, Franklin’s hesitation to verify the legitimacy of the data on the spot could be understandable. 

The annual reports are each roughly 50 pages long with sprawling graphs, categories and percentiles measured against a scoring system that were all developed by the City University of New York’s Institute for State and Local Governance. There are 54 indicators that serve as representation, rather than actual composite data, of social and economic inequalities experienced by many racial groups in Tulsa. The majority of the 54 indicators each denote a comparison between the least and most advantaged of these groups with special mention of Black people and residents of North Tulsa being in the former. Six themes (Economic Opportunity, Education, Housing, Justice, Public Health and Services) unite the indicators under six different umbrellas where they are divided into three topics per theme. Each topic has three  indicators that it covers. For example, the theme of Housing has three topics, one of those  being Homelessness, and one of that topic’s indicators is Race and Homeless Youth. These themes, topics and indicators are measured against a scoring system that reports disparities between the most advantaged and disadvantaged groups by use of ratios. A ratio of 1:1 shows that an indicator shows promise of equality,while a ratio of 3:1 tells us that a group is three times more likely to experience whichever outcome the indicator represents, such as the rates of homelessness for Black and minority youth. 

Launched in June 2018, the Equality Indicator report was headlined by Resilient Tulsa, a grand event that unveiled the strategy of the newly minted Office of Resiliency and Equity. City  officials at the event acknowledged the value of the campaign and the Equality Indicator report as a tool for identifying and addressing Tulsa’s various racial, economic and social disparities. Promises were made about confronting the fallout from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre by pursuing four visions that focused on an inclusive future, the ability to overcome barriers and thrive, the advancement for economic opportunity and the transformation of regional and city systems to improve outcomes for all Tulsans. Tulsans were eager to see the outcome of the Resilient Tulsa project and packed the McKeon Center for Creativity from wall to wall.

The Equality Indicator report goes into detail about the validity of the reports with the disclaimer that “they only measure disparities between two comparison groups for each indicator – they do not measure outcomes for all Tulsans overall.” This means that only the comparison groups are measured, giving the city leeway to provide a scattergun approach to addressing inequalities and claim they’ve hit the target. Wendell Franklin’s answer may have been enough if he was an ordinary citizen but he is the chief of police for the city of Tulsa, a position that demands far more than broad answers. It  demands that he utilize the information gathered from these reports to better direct the officers under his charge. In fact, the 2019 report reads that one of the themes, Justice, has taken a negative hit of -1.44 overall since 2018, with indicators such as those concerning racial balance of the police force and arrests of minority juveniles showing worse results than the previous year. 

Since its inception, the City’s actions have been reflective of the same show and spectacle used to introduce Resilient Tulsa and the Equality Indicators to the public rather than focused on the work needed for actual structural systematic change behind closed doors. The upcoming Equity Dialogues scheduled from August 18th to September 4th invites everyone  to “continue the dialogue on normalizing conversations about race, racism, and racial equity,” while “fostering dialogue and engagement with government.” January of this year, Mayor G.T. Bynum sat in a town hall meeting at Rudisill Regional Library with citizens and publicly refused to end the city’s Live PD contract. The television show offered voyeurism into the lives of Tulsa citizens, usually impoverished Blacks and minorities who came from a lineage marked by systemic oppression, facing an entire camera crew on what arguably could be considered the worst day of their lives. It showcased the worst parts of Tulsa as poverty pornography to the rest of the nation and, yet, the mayor endorsed it in the faces of his citizens who pleaded he do otherwise, some of them openly sobbing out of frustration. 

In June, after Tulsa and the rest of the nation saw an outbreak of protests and civil unrest in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the mayor finally relented and called for the cancellation of Live PD. If the catalyst of a change of heart for our mayor involves the disproportionate murders of Black men by police brutality and the uprising of Blacks, other historically marginalized groups and their allies showing up to his doorstep in Tulsa and on streets throughout the country, then what exactly would an Equity Dialogue accomplish? DeVon Douglass, who served as Chief Resilience Officer during the unveiling of Resilient Tulsa, departed from the position around February 2019 and was replaced by Krystal Reyes that following May. Reyes was hired for the Resilient Tulsa project to the tune of $100k per year through funding  from the Rockefeller Foundation. A month before Reyes’ hiring, 100 Resilient Cities, the organization that helmed Tulsa’s involvement with the Resiliency strategy, dissolved into two different organizations and had its funding pulled by the Rockefeller Foundation. The funding was supposed to supplement Reyes’ income until the eventual incorporation of her job into an official position within the mayor’s office, which would be paid for with tax dollars. The meltdown of the 100 Resilient Cities initiative calls into question if Reyes will keep her job whenever the Rockefeller Foundation pulls the plug completely on the project and if Tulsa taxpayers will have to pay for a Resilient strategy that delivers no discernible results. Thankfully for Reyes, Rockefeller is still funding her position. Sadly for us, the city no longer has any incentive to continue with actual work concerning racial equity and equality, instead opting for open forums, such as the Equity Dialogues.

Perhaps the mayor would be open to attending his own Equity Dialogues. Bynum’s recent inability during Donald Trump’s presidential rally to invoke his power in accordance with Title 8, Tulsa Revised Ordinances, Section 200 and the Oklahoma Emergency Management Act, 63 O.S. § 683.3, which allows him to temporarily prohibit large gatherings, was seen by many as pandering to his conservative voter base. It was also seen as a disregard for lives during a worldwide pandemic. Bynum’s campaign as mayor often saw him referencing the eleven-year life differential between communities in the northern and southern areas of Tulsa. This life differential is addressed by the Equality Indicators with hard data but with no concrete resolutions from the administration. 

Promises to increase the lifespan of North Tulsans mean nothing if those remaining eleven years are of insufficient quality. Resilience Tulsa’s focus on conversations reads much like a Diversity and Inclusion initiative that speaks of racial dialogue and direction but lacks actual racial diversity amongst its leaders and action outside of planning conversations about race. Bynum and city officials refuse to take an actual stance on uprooting the fruits of systemic oppression sown in Tulsa almost a century ago, instead opting for performative actions, such as Resilient Tulsa, effectively dangling a carrot that the descendants of victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre may never capture.   

Photo credit: Joseph Rushmore

by Staff Writer Lindsay Myers

We often celebrate when large businesses and corporations are willing to establish roots in Tulsa. Of course, the benefits should not be overlooked because more business generates revenue for our local economy and creates job opportunities. Such an opportunity is why our city fought hard for an Amazon fulfillment center last year and, most recently, why we attempted to woo Elon Musk into housing his latest Tesla project here. However, it is time to think critically about the implications of this sort of economic development. While these things may be an overall positive for Tulsa, they impact certain demographic areas in different ways, emphasizing inequities between communities.

In the past few years, Tulsa has focused more energy on the Greenwood District. The upcoming centennial of the 1921 Race Massacre has drawn nationwide attention to local historical atrocities but Tulsa’s recognition of Greenwood’s historical significance lacks true restitution. Recent city development uses the Greenwood name as a prop to expand the downtown metro area but ignores North Tulsa as a whole. WPX Energy, an oil and gas company, is “developing a new home in historic Greenwood.” The company references Greenwood’s history throughout its design plan, with its front door facing Reconciliation Park and boasts of connecting Greenwood to the Arts District. This design plan would be nicely paired with a recruitment strategy that focuses on employing Greenwood residents but such a plan does not exist. The Vast Bank Building is a similar story, touting proximity to the Drillers Stadium and housing businesses like In the Raw and Topeca Coffee. New construction that does not actively seek reparations on historic Greenwood land is erasure. When it comes to the Greenwood neighborhood north of the highway, Tulsa again prioritizes white companies, white growth and white feelings over Black resilience, Black history and Black businesses. 

The fight for economic development in North Tulsa echoes these trends. City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper worked her entire term for a single grocery store in her district. Meanwhile, Bricktown and South Tulsa most recently gained a Trader Joe’s and a CostCo to join their Reasor’s, Aldi, Sam’s, Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, Sprouts, Whole Foods and Natural Grocers stores. TYPros easily petitioned for a Trader Joe’s on Brookside while North Tulsa had to fight for basic necessities. The city’s complicated relationship with North Tulsa goes beyond new businesses. The city also encourages North Tulsans to compete for good jobs, while pushing them toward low-paying jobs where they will receive unfair treatment. Tulsa Community WorkAdvance launched a new program in 2019 specifically geared toward equipping North Tulsans with the job skills to become more competitive in the workforce. The press conference emphasized that these workforce-ready community members would be accessible to employers in North Tulsa specifically. Free access to this program is expected to decrease unemployment and poverty in the community. It will be interesting to see if large employers like WPX Energy and Vast Bank recruit directly from the Due North pool or if their association with Greenwood is in name only. Such job opportunities with a living wage are the bare minimum. When Tulsa welcomed the Amazon fulfillment center with open arms, there were no conversations about the ethical treatment of the workforce. There are countless stories of the poor treatment Amazon warehouse employees have experienced. The warmth that the city holds toward Amazon could be a possible sign that it views lower-income Tulsans who will be filling these jobs as disposable and merely robots to generate money for the economy. Similarly, the state as a whole pushed for Tesla to build its Cybertruck plant in Tulsa. While the factory would certainly mean more jobs for Tulsans and more money for the local economy, it would threaten the livelihood of the thousands of Tulsans working these jobs. 

Economic development in Tulsa tends to only benefit the communities north of I-244 but it doesn’t have to be that way. Jobs with good working conditions and a living wage throughout Tulsa will improve the quality of life of our citizens. When businesses turn their public-facing love for racial reconciliation into true, action-oriented equity, Tulsa will thrive. It is time that we think critically about new employers beyond the dollars they will bring and ensure that they will fit our citizens’ needs.

Photo credit: Joseph Rushmore

by Staff Writer Lindsay Myers

Under Mayor Dewey Bartlett, Tulsa adopted the Open and Accessible Data Resolution in 2013. This set the stage to make data transparency a city-wide priority. Three years later, the citizens of Tulsa were promised four years of policy decisions based on data and facts. To make this happen, city officials would need to engage community voices with local experts. What was in Tulsa’s best interest would not just be a matter of opinion but would be backed by data and evidence. Most of the time, the city kept its promise. However, it appears that the City is only comfortable using and sharing data when it is comfortable and convenient. 

The first cohort of the Urban Data Pioneers (UDP) program launched in Spring 2017. In this program, cohorts made up of city employees and community members work together to “identify a problem, ask questions, analyze data” and present their results, which are posted publicly on the City of Tulsa website (with a few exceptions). However, not all groups include the data they used in their analysis as part of their recommendations. While this program’s goal emphasizes data, it is unclear how the City ensures clear methods and statistical analysis are taking place. Some of the presentations did not include what type of data was used, how it was collected, and how it was analyzed. Without this information, the identification of problems and recommended solutions read as opinion. It is unclear whether groups identify problems on their own or whether a topic is assigned to them. 

To be truly community-engaged, however, it is crucial that groups identify issues that are important to the community. Cohorts have worked on projects addressing crime mapping, population growth and 311/911 call center efficiency. A couple of the reports lack presentation links altogether, making them entirely inaccessible to the community. One such report addresses eviction rates and, based on the title, “Rising Eviction Rates: The Path to Stabilizing Tulsa’s Tenancy Crisis,” the report appears to blame evictions entirely on tenants. Eviction is a lot more complicated than that and often is the result of a systemic, inequitable housing issue. Community members who might be interested in learning more about these reports would likely care to know about the cohort members, what community members were engaged in said project and what experts were part of the analysis. Apart from the names of group members on a fraction of the reports, this information is largely unavailable. While this program appears well-intentioned and might increase the efficiency of city procedures, UDP’s stated value of transparency is lacking, making it impossible for average citizens to review progress.

Other attempts to increase government efficiency through the use of data seem to fall under the Office of Performance Strategy and Innovation, which oversees data governance for the City. Many of the listed programs appear to align with what you would typically expect of a city government. This includes TulStat, which aimed to be a regularly scheduled forum for citizens to engage in discussions on set topics, such as community policing and city budgets. The program’s website has not been updated since 2018. The Civic Innovation Fellowship was a project through which six Tulsans would collaborate on problem-solving a municipal issue for six months. The first group of fellows were assigned to work on “dilapidated or unmaintained properties” in 2018. The fellows proposed solutions that would make it easier for code violators to become aware of any such issue with maintaining their property, such as through text messages and courtesy notices that would clarify city codes. This project appears to be the inspiration for UDP’s “Nuisance Abatement” presentation from its most recent cohort which would utilize image data to quickly identify code violations and text property owners. Rather than skipping straight to citations, volunteers would work with property owners to resolve any violations. The city’s website for the fellowship includes a call for 2019 applications. However, it is unclear whether 2019 fellows were selected. 

Then, the pandemic happened and the data that used to be so precious to us was disregarded by Mayor Bynum when the community needed it most. The first COVID-19 case in Tulsa was confirmed on March 6. Ahead of this news, the Tulsa Health Department announced its close monitoring of the coronavirus as early as March 3. When Dr. Bruce Dart, Tulsa Health Department director, urged a delay of President Trump’s Tulsa rally in order to limit community spread, Mayor Bynum chose avoidance. A mayor who ignores the advice of experts cannot claim to be data-driven. 

Generally, data is more accessible now than it was four years ago with tools such as the Open Data Portal and the Equality Indicators report. Data transparency is an important first step in creating a more equitable city. However, it must be followed by action. It is not enough to just show-and-tell facts and figures. We must ask what the data is telling us and respond accordingly. It is now clear that data will be used only if the mayor can remain comfortable. He has no problem using data to make the government more efficient.  Unfortunately, when it comes to the health of his citizens, he would rather not be inconvenienced. Data isn’t always convenient or kind. However, that is what makes it all the more vital in times of uncertainty.

Photo credit: Joseph Rushmore

by Contributing Writer Kolby Webster

“Good streets are more than a convenience – they are an economic necessity,” reads Bynum’s re-election site. However, in a city as sprawled as Tulsa, the attitude of entitlement to our vast and expensive street network and the hubris to expand it creates a false sense of due diligence and comes at the cost of our city’s collective well-being and a balanced budget. Tulsa is over 200 square miles and barely has a 400,000 resident tax base with 4,348 lane miles of city streets. We have a problematically massive city with so few people to chip in to maintain and support the existing infrastructure. We are literally building a city that we can not afford to maintain.

Back in November 2019, Tulsans voted on ‘Improve Our Tulsa,’ an infrastructure package of $639 million that gave due consideration to our outdated infrastructure by using property taxes, sales taxes, and bonds. Unfortunately, the bulk of the consideration and funding was given to fixing our sprawling and unsustainable street network as opposed to projects that have an actual return on investment and better our lives and those of our neighbors. Yet, Bynum spearheaded these improvements, which are slated to spend hundreds of millions to maintain, rehabilitate, and widen streets across the city over the next 6 ½ years.

A few notable projects being the Gilcrease Museum Rd. – Pine St. to Admiral Blvd. expansion at $12 million, 81st St. S. – Harvard Ave. to Yale Ave. at $15 million, 91st St. S – Memorial Dr. to Mingo Rd. at $10.7 million, and the ongoing botched Yale expansion between 81st and 91st, which has reached nearly $50 million on its own. However, the Yale disaster is another investigation entirely but goes to show that these are just upfront costs which continue to multiply with maintenance and rehabilitation as they degrade over the years. 

Bynum himself explained how street widening is an expensive and often neglected investment in this presentation while expressing the scale and numbers to residents across the city as a part of the Improve Our Tulsa community input meetings:

Today the geographic footprint of the city of Tulsa is larger than San Francisco, Boston, D.C. and Miami combined! And to have the population base…the number of people per square mile to support the kind of infrastructure they have in those cities we would need 2.3 million people in Tulsa. We have 400,000. And so that’s one of the great challenges we face. We have so much infrastructure spaced over such a broad range and we don’t have as many people per square mile to pay for it.

With his emphasis on data as part of his initial platform, it is odd Bynum pushed residents to make the decision to invest in these economically unsound infrastructure projects. Notably, no community members were actually allowed to voice their input at the meetings. Comment cards were handed out and select cards were chosen to be read onstage by the mayor, council or city staff on stage. Those  3 miles worth of widening projects to alleviate the commute times for a very small sum of Tulsans even though it is all residents of Tulsa that paid the taxes for these so-called “improvements come to a total of $37 million.  In all actuality, street widening does not actually alleviate commute times. Street widening seems like the no-brainer solution to traffic when in reality it is a false assumption to operate from that all traffic problems can, or need, to be solved by adding more roadway. In reality, solving traffic problems makes little sense when it takes 20-30 minutes to get across Tulsa no matter where or when, excluding a few hours in the day. There are also some exceptions where the city has allowed ridiculously unsustainable and dense developments to happen where the streets were never going to be able to withstand the resident capacity.  

We have real issues that need to be solved in this city that could certainly use between $37 million and $427 million to fix. Our city is struggling to get out of a funding structure that only permits the use of property and sales taxes to improve our city. Oddly, we are not facilitating more small businesses that pay taxes and prop up our community with entrepreneurs and, instead, are giving tax breaks to companies that don’t even pay taxes. Leadership as it is in Tulsa is financing the type of infrastructure that literally separates communities, makes them less safe, and drains economies to the tune of nearly $300 million for an extension to the Gilcrease highway. This extension, which was proposed over 50 years ago, has been criticized for decades. Yet, work continues when data is hardly available to justify its expense. The City of Tulsa has $22 million of backlogged sidewalk repairs and plenty more needed in sidewalk connections. Tulsa has continuously spent money on infrastructure that increases traffic and costs to maintain traffic when instead it could be creating infrastructure that increases foot traffic to local businesses that truly provide for our communities.

Over $50 million is going to the police for new police vehicles and a new police helicopter. More entrepreneurship opportunities and less blighted neighborhood infrastructure would be a better investment for our community at large. All of Bynum’s street projects he seems to boast about on his re-election site invariably hurt Tulsa more than it helps with one exception: Tulsa’s revamped Bus Rapid transit service route. Instead of increasing the cost of living in Tulsa by necessitating that Tulsans own a car to live here and exacerbating our already dire inequities, we’ve begun investing in a robust public transit system. However, the BRT and Tulsa Transit still need major updates and a complete network to fully encompass such an auto-developed city. Tulsans of all walks of life desperately need a functional and inclusive public transit system, as any world class city would need to effectively serve its citizens.

Bynum’s plan is misleading the population of Tulsa when it comes to their understandably misguided beliefs in street widening and the economic sustainability of spending on this type of car-centric infrastructure. The viable alternative is having what looks and feels like a truly accessible, vibrant, and thriving world-class city. A city built for people. However, as it stands, Bynum’s streets policy seems to be more geared towards financially subsidizing our suburban neighbors’ lifestyles and relieving their commute times. Unfortunately, these developments have been happening so long that drivers feel entitled to this spending being attached to their car ownership and could care less about their neighbors, the local economy, or safety as long as their commute is seemingly shortened .

In fact, this neglect, or willful ignorance, to utilize best practices when it comes to the built environment of the city itself makes a majority of his platform, especially around “Tulsa’s streets,” fall flat and wholly ineffective. With Bynum allowing this type of highway development and road expansion to take top spending priority without dutiful public engagement or consulting knowledgeable individuals in his office, he is exacerbating our city’s inequities around segregation, access, and health outcomes at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars and the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens.  

Photo credit: Joseph Rushmore

by Executive Editor Timantha Norman

Tulsa has been thrust into the national spotlight in recent years on the heels of the 100-year anniversary of the worst instance of racial terror to ever take place on American soil during one of the most unique times in our nation’s contemporary history. With this as the backdrop, the citizens of Tulsa will be entering voting booths citywide on August 25th to select the person who will lead the city during these tumultuous times. The varied field of candidates vying for the top position in the city has made for one of the most fascinating mayoral races in recent history.

We asked all of the candidates running for the position of Tulsa’s next mayor to give their thoughts on a variety of issues related to the state of Black affairs in the city:

G. T. Bynum

G. T. Bynum’s campaign did not return a questionnaire.

Craig Immel

The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 had a massive impact on the Black community not only when it comes to the devastating loss of life but also as it relates to the financial loss. Do you support financial reparations being made to the descendents of the 1921 Race Massacre?

Yes, because it is the right thing to do. As Mayor of Tulsa, an early order of business would be to initiate discussions with the Black community, including, ideally, direct descendants of the original claimants to mutually determine what financial reparations could and should look like. 

What are your plans around addressing the educational inequities that currently exist for Black, Brown, and indigenous children in our city’s public school system?

I am of the belief that much of the inequality in educational outcomes is a result of the income and wealth disparities that exist in Tulsa’s Black communities. It is (or should be) common knowledge in Tulsa that decades of racial segregation, redlining, and underinvestment in predominantly Black communities has resulted in entire areas of Tulsa being left out of Tulsa’s occasional spurts of economic growth. The levels of economic activity, values of residential and commercial properties, and the ability to attract and retain teachers in various parts of town all play an important role in school funding and educational outcomes. I believe that Tulsa needs to significantly increase investments in neighborhoods that are experiencing the greatest wealth and income inequities. We need to be doing everything in our power to increase access to affordable capital to provide the Black community, and others around Tulsa, with more and better opportunities to become homeowners, commercial property owners and developers, and business owners. We need to invest in making sure that our Black friends and neighbors have every opportunity to acquire the valuable job and trade skills, business and financial acumen, and reliable and just public safety. We need to help build and improve our most vulnerable communities from the ground up while assisting them with earning truly middle-class incomes and building equity in their homes, businesses, and neighborhoods. As the wealth of the communities around our schools increases, I believe that the current educational inequities will begin to subside, creating more and better opportunities over time. 

Do you support community-led independent oversight for the city’s police department? If so, what steps would your administration take to make this a reality?

Yes. TPD should have a healthy level of citizen oversight just as any other taxpayer funded municipal service should. I would encourage the Black community to continue to lead all Tulsans in calling for more and higher levels of accountability of TPD. As Mayor, I would prioritize meaningful, independent citizen oversight of TPD in the next, and all subsequent, contract negotiations with the FOP.

How will your administration bring meaningful economic opportunity and empowerment to historically marginalized communities in Tulsa?

I will start by striving to create a new homeownership program for Tulsa’s Black residents who have historically been shut out of the opportunity to build generational wealth due to formerly legal, institutional practices of mortgage redlining and racially restrictive zoning and covenants. This would be structured as a privately funded, but publicly backed, mortgage loan guarantee. It would include making additional funds available for any required and cost-effective renovations. This type of program would tap into the available capital of community-minded local banks and the City guarantee would allow the private lenders the confidence and ability to lend funds with lower down payments and lower interest rates. This would be similar to the type of access to mortgage and other financial products that white Tulsans have enjoyed while our Black friends and neighbors struggled to access preferable mortgage terms. In addition, my administration would spearhead a jobs and skills training program focused on building trades, construction management, property development principles, and real estate project finance to help empower marginalized communities to reimagine, improve, build, and develop the type of neighborhoods they want to live, work, and play in.

The Black Lives Matter movement has been brought into the public spotlight once again on the heels of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd in addition to the continued fight around unresolved justice when it comes to the death of Terence Crutcher locally. What are your thoughts on the BLM movement and the struggle against police brutality?

I am personally inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement has done a fantastic job of keeping matters of racial injustice in the spotlight nationwide by enlisting the support of millions of Americans from all backgrounds, and, perhaps most importantly, doing all of this while remaining non-violent and clearly disavowing those who might discredit BLM’s peaceful movement by engaging in violence. When struggling against something as terrible as police brutality, it must be all the more difficult to remain peaceful at all times. BLM’s non-violence stance has been one of the key factors in its success, in my opinion. I hope the BLM movement eventually works its way out of a job, so to speak. Not because I disagree with BLM but because I am looking forward to a time when people of color are treated with equality in all areas of the law, policing, and society in general. 

What are your plans around providing food security in areas of our city, such as North Tulsa, that have experienced what amounts to food apartheid for decades?

Food security is an important issue to me, especially in these times of pandemic as the vulnerabilities in our traditional food production and distribution systems have been further exposed and exacerbated. I currently see Tulsa’s food deserts as a three part problem with a three part solution: 

First, similar to the economic conditions I described regarding schools, the underlying economics of Tulsa’s predominantly Black neighborhoods are not healthy, mostly due to lower than average individual and household incomes. It is really difficult to attract retailers to lower-income neighborhoods. I think this has been evidenced by all the grocers that have moved out of the poorer neighborhoods over the years. This is as true for West Tulsa and parts of East Tulsa as it is for North Tulsa. Margins for grocers are some of the lowest of any retail sector and the current costs of land and commercial construction simply make development of new grocery stores too difficult to pencil out. Part of this underlying income and wealth disparity can be reduced over time by making improvements to the economic fundamentals in these areas of town. 

Second, I have come to believe that we need to focus on getting back to local, neighborhood scale development patterns. I believe our society is shifting back toward a preference for smaller neighborhood retailers that can sell fresh, healthy, locally produced foods within a short walk of home. Smaller stores can be developed within our existing urban development patterns and can be achieved much more cost-effectively than through the development of new, large stores. 

Finally, in many areas of Tulsa, we have a lot of excess land that is currently underutilized. I would like to implement a new strategy of developing urban farms to produce healthy local foods that can nourish Tulsans that need it the most, as well as create jobs and business opportunities for people in the community wanting to get into the growing industry of urban agriculture. 

As highlighted in the Tulsa Equality Indicators report, there is a significant gap in life expectancy for Black Tulsans when compared to the rest of the city’s residents. What are your plans around improving our health outcomes?

As with our disparities in educational outcomes and food security, I see the disparities in health and wellness as a result of the underlying bad economic conditions of our most vulnerable communities. We have to do more to invest in building the economy of North Tulsa, as well as the forgotten areas of West Tulsa and East Tulsa that have been left behind. Frankly, Tulsa’s challenges with education, food security, housing, and health are all related. We need to take a holistic, comprehensive approach to addressing them all at once. We must be smarter about developing the economic development strategies we need to move Tulsa forward. It is not enough, as the current Mayor likes to brag, to pass tens of millions of dollars worth of investments in Gilcrease Museum and Amazon and claim to be making a meaningful investment in growing the economy of North Tulsa. My mayoral administration would be focused on prioritizing the needs of people and providing a level playing field for equality of economic opportunity for all Tulsans.  

Tulsa has had a very tumultuous history as it relates to race relations. What are your thoughts on the racial divide in the city and what are some ways that your administration plans to tackle this issue?

When I was much younger, I used to see the racial divide as simply unfortunate. However, with experience and greater understanding of how our city came to be this way, I became very unhappy about how it happened, but also angry that the systems that caused the racial divide have been allowed to perpetuate into 2020. It is simply unacceptable to continue down this path, especially for an up-and-coming city that is striving to put its best foot forward on the global stage. But, worst of all, it is simply wrong, unfair, and unjust. We have to correct our course immediately. 

First of all, the City of Tulsa needs to adopt, as official policy, that Black Lives Matter. The concept, the words, all of it. 

Second, we must demand that our police force serve and protect all Tulsans equally and understand that Tulsa’s citizens will have independent oversight over TPD.

Third, and at risk of sounding like a broken record, we must make meaningful, immediate, and long-term investments in the Black community to make real progress toward economic growth and equality. I believe this will accrue to lessening disparities in education, food security, health and wellness. 

Ken Reddick

Ken Reddick’s campaign did not return a questionnaire.

Greg Robinson II

The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 had a massive impact on the Black community not only when it comes to the devastating loss of life but also as it relates to the financial loss. Do you support financial reparations being made to the descendents of the 1921 Race Massacre?

Yes, I support financial reparations for the survivors and descendants of the Massacre. Although I deeply regret that the City of Tulsa is nearly 100 years late,  I am grateful that we live in a time and have the will to repair the harm inflicted upon our community a century ago.

What are your plans around addressing the educational inequities that currently exist for Black, Brown, and indigenous children in our city’s public school system?

There is no silver bullet to solving inequities in education. These intractable problems require innovative solutions. While the municipal government does not have the direct role of funding or governing public schools, an active approach by the mayor’s office will create additional opportunities to level the playing field for every Tulsan that walks through the education system. Chronic absenteeism is one area where I as mayor will work with schools and nonprofits to ensure students in the region are fully prepared to learn in the classroom. We will remedy chronic absenteeism through authentic relationship-building with families rather than utilizing punitive measures. Instead of further stigmatizing families dealing with various socioeconomic barriers, the mayor’s office will work to strengthen the relationship between students, their families, and the schools they attend. By encouraging school systems to utilize a wraparound approach to parent outreach that will include home visits, additional academic support, and proactive safety planning with highly trained counselors for families with exceptional needs.

Do you support community-led independent oversight for the city’s police department? If so, what steps would your administration take to make this a reality?

I do support community-led independent oversight. We know the data proves that oversight works to build faith in law enforcement and deepen positive relationships between our dedicated public servants and everyday Tulsans. 

How will your administration bring meaningful economic opportunity and empowerment to historically marginalized communities in Tulsa?

At the community level, we must invest in community wealth building through implementing a model of local development with community development corporations (CDCs), community development financial institutions (CDFIs), and community land trusts (CLTs) at the core. Gone are the days of only developing with “Golden Corridors” in mind. In its place will be community-driven development that ensures every corner of Tulsa, whether West, North, East, or South, is an attractive place to thrive. At the individual level, we must invest in our people. Whether that is through providing strong college and career-ready education or investing in local entrepreneurs, the way to grow economic success in Tulsa is by supporting our neighbors. 

The Black Lives Matter movement has been brought into the public spotlight once again on the heels of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd in addition to the continued fight around unresolved justice when it comes to the death of Terence Crutcher locally. What are your thoughts on the BLM movement and the struggle against police brutality?

The Black Lives Matter movement is one organization in a long line fighting for justice. They stand on the shoulders of organizations like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Groups of citizens dedicating themselves to the cause of justice for all helps us create a more perfect union. 

What are your plans around providing food security in areas of our city, such as North Tulsa, that have experienced what amounts to food apartheid for decades?

One of the social determinants of health is access to quality food. It is unacceptable that families across Tulsa do not have access to a grocery store. Through aggressive financial incentive packages, local sourcing and public-private partnerships, I will continue working with community leaders to bring oases to our food deserts.

As highlighted in the Tulsa Equality Indicators report, there is a significant gap in life expectancy for Black Tulsans when compared to the rest of the city’s residents. What are your plans around improving our health outcomes?

Thanks to the hard work of the Tulsa Health Department and other leaders in medicine in Tulsa, the life expectancy gap is shrinking. However, any advancement we can make to lengthen the number of weeks a grandmother can dance with her granddaughter or an uncle can shoot free throws with his nephew is a top priority for my administration. We can magnify the positive effects of the medical trials and case studies by bringing those best practices to scale. 

Tulsa has had a very tumultuous history as it relates to race relations. What are your thoughts on the racial divide in the city and what are some ways that your administration plans to tackle this issue?

For years, anecdotal experiences have pointed to a “Tale of Two Cities.” Data from Resilient Tulsa and the Equality Indicators show in black and white that we are indeed a divided city. Indigenous children are more likely to experience chronic absenteeism. Black children are more likely to be suspended from school. Latinx families are least likely to have health insurance. This cannot stand. A person’s race or geography should not be a determinant of their success. As mayor, I will go beyond studying these problems–I will employ the resources at my disposal to close these disparities.

Paul Tay

The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 had a massive impact on the Black community not only when it comes to the devastating loss of life but also as it relates to the financial loss. Do you support financial reparations being made to the descendents of the 1921 Race Massacre?

Yes. As the only candidate trained as a US Marine Corps officer at Quantico Base, VA, my inclination is to establish the strategic vision based on community input, make decisions, and delegate details to operational task forces. I have already prepared the executive order to establish the Mayor’s Reparations Task Force to work out details for my approval.

What are your plans around addressing the educational inequities that currently exist for Black, Brown, and indigenous children in our city’s public school system?

As a person of color, Chinese, I understand what it is like to be left out and denied opportunities. I have already prepared the executive order to establish the Mayor’s Interns and Mentors Program to provide real-life, supervised working experiences within various City departments for school-aged kids.

Do you support community-led independent oversight for the city’s police department? If so, what steps would your administration take to make this a reality?

Yes. From personal experience, heavily armed police officers on the scene far too often simply escalate tense situations. They have little moral authority beyond the use of force, fear, and intimidation. I see the real need for the community to develop policies on how police are deployed, which officers will be deployed, and how to hold individual officers accountable. The manner in which police officers are deployed shouldn’t be determined by union contracts. I am the only candidate independent enough to execute the executive order to establish the Mayor’s Task Force on Independent Oversight.

With a much broader policy perspective, I intend to use the enormous legal resources to challenge the constitutionality of the Controlled Substances Act. The War on Drugs corrupted police and was a colossal failure. Drug abuse should be considered a public health issue, not a criminal one.

How will your administration bring meaningful economic opportunity and empowerment to historically marginalized communities in Tulsa?

For such a large undertaking, the mayor’s role is to establish baseline strategic vision with community input. Far too often, Tulsa mayors have only historically shown up in marginalized communities once every four years to solicit votes without the requisite, innate understanding of marginalized communities. They spend far too much time chasing pipe dreams of landing some big, disconnected, out-of-state corporations, only to land yet another dud. The strategy to engage with big corporations is a colossal failure, paid for by marginalized communities.

Since 2002, I have been committed to marginalized communities, as I am from a third world country myself, Burma. My family invested in North Tulsa. Everyday, I am completely immersed in the differences between 36th/S. Florence and 36th St. N./Peoria. I am already understanding the very real needs.  I just need the proper platform to address issues of inequality, of which I have been routinely blocked from.

The Black Lives Matter movement has been brought into the public spotlight once again on the heels of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd in addition to the continued fight around unresolved justice when it comes to the death of Terence Crutcher locally. What are your thoughts on the BLM movement and the struggle against police brutality?

In the aftermath of Trayvon Martin, I organized the movement to rename Brady.  During City Council discussions, I remarked that there will be a day of reckoning.  

What are your plans around providing food security in areas of our city, such as North Tulsa, that have experienced what amounts to food apartheid for decades?

Executive order prepared directing Director of Parks Department to grow food, not lawn, at all City parks as urban farm food forests. $20 million is currently budgeted to grow bermuda grass, not corn, squash, or beans. Another executive order would be prepared to compost food waste for individual urban farmers.

As highlighted in the Tulsa Equality Indicators report, there is a significant gap in life expectancy for Black Tulsans when compared to the rest of the city’s residents. What are your plans around improving our health outcomes?

Executive order to encourage and support urban farming, where landscapers are retrained to grow food as foodscapers, not lawn. Encourage more Black people to eat healthier foods and overcome the historical slavery stigma of farming.

Tulsa has had a very tumultuous history as it relates to race relations. What are your thoughts on the racial divide in the city and what are some ways that your administration plans to tackle this issue?

As a person of color, I am highly invested. Recently, I filed a lawsuit in the Oklahoma Supreme Court to stop removal of the Black Lives Matter street mural. They’ve agreed to hear the case and make a ruling:  https://www.oscn.net/dockets/GetCaseInformation.aspx?db=appellate&number=O-118960&cmid=128589&fbclid=IwAR1aG-w0-LHeC-llzgOyuSEfoftnhn-fK_V4EI2WmgEC8pO1cHjbeAnPHBM

Consistent with the Marine Corps organizational doctrine, I intend to hire three Deputy Mayors (one Black, one white, and one Latino) to make very real executive decisions on all policy matters of the City. Different individuals from different racial groups bring vastly different perspectives to the very necessary conversations needed to close the racial divide. Those conversations need to happen everyday on every policy matter.  #RaceMatters #RealTalk

Ty Walker

The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 had a massive impact on the Black community not only when it comes to the devastating loss of life but also as it relates to the financial loss. Do you support financial reparations being made to the descendents of the 1921 Race Massacre?

No. However, if anything should be done, it should be done on the federal level.

What are your plans around addressing the educational inequities that currently exist for Black, Brown, and indigenous children in our city’s public school system?

Education is the center-point of any community. When you have strong, quality schools, it is appealing to those looking to move into a new community. I want to work with the local and state educational systems to ensure a success network and collaborative effort between the City, K-12 public and private educational institutions, and post-secondary educational institutions. My education plan includes:

  • City-wide education taskforce that would include leadership from the public schools, private schools, charter schools, virtual schools, and post-secondary schools that operate in the City of Tulsa.
  • An administration staffer to serve as a liaison dedicated to educational success within the city. 
  • Expand the City-public school partnership moving beyond literacy.
  • Have representation at all TPS Board of Education meetings.

Do you support community-led independent oversight for the city’s police department? If so, what steps would your administration take to make this a reality?

No, I do not. Why would we want to put new oversight over the same system? The system needs to be changed. The system needs to be changed to allow the mayor and Chief of Police to have full capabilities to fire and reprimand officers, as well as enact new policies and procedures without litigation from the union. We need to free the City’s hands from the strong-hold of the police union.

How will your administration bring meaningful economic opportunity and empowerment to historically marginalized communities in Tulsa?

As we look to make Tulsa an essential hub for business and economic growth, it is imperative that we have a plan that starts with the backbone of this city: local, small business owners. I will take a smart, conservative approach to create an environment in Tulsa conducive to growth and prosperity that includes citizen participation.

No Side of Tulsa Left Behind Initiative: Tulsa’s Economic Empowerment Plan

Economic Development

I plan to increase city growth through strategic economic development. This means providing development opportunities in underserved and underpopulated areas of our community. Because certain areas of our city have been neglected, it has caused financial strains on the rest of the city. By strategically focusing on developing the neglected areas of Tulsa, we will empower all of Tulsa to thrive economically:

  • Diversifying development opportunities
  • Establish flexible development participation opportunities in underdeveloped areas of Tulsa
  • Ensure communities are active participants in their community’s development

Small Business Support

Local, small businesses are vital to Tulsa as they are the fundamental building block of our economy. That is why it is crucial that Tulsa has a robust support system for its small business owners and entrepreneurs. We want a city that provides beneficial support to small businesses as equally as it does to large corporations and tech giants:

  • Create and disperse small business tax incentives, credits, and exemptions
  • Expand opportunities to service-based businesses
  • Cut unnecessary city licenses and business requirements
  • Create a local, small business grant

Working to put citizens back to work

When citizens are working, our economy thrives. Working citizens directly support businesses and indirectly support our education system. When citizens are gainfully employed, they are economically empowered:

  • Expand workforce development opportunities for individuals by increasing partnerships with the City
  • Provide economic incentives to business owners for workforce development

Advocate to diversify municipal funding

When cities are able to have multiple revenue stream options, cities are able to reduce costs and operate efficiently. This allows for better funding for our public safety agencies, infrastructure, and transportation, which in turn strengthens our economic empowerment in the state and regionally.

The Black Lives Matter movement has been brought into the public spotlight once again on the heels of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd in addition to the continued fight around unresolved justice when it comes to the death of Terence Crutcher locally. What are your thoughts on the BLM movement and the struggle against police brutality?

I do not support nor agree with the organization. The fight for police brutality has been around from the start. I think this will continue to be an issue because hatred is a heart issue and you cannot legislate hate. The issue is accountability and responsibility, which is why we have to change the policing system so that accountability can be back in the control of the citizens via the mayor and the Chief of Police.

What are your plans around providing food security in areas of our city, such as North Tulsa, that have experienced what amounts to food apartheid for decades?

That is done through economic development and enabling the community to empower themselves. We empower the community through self-employment, business ownership, and entrepreneurship. My economic empowerment plan includes that. Once we are empowered economically, the food insecurities will be taken care of naturally through the financial growth of the community.

As highlighted in the Tulsa Equality Indicators report, there is a significant gap in life expectancy for Black Tulsans when compared to the rest of the city’s residents. What are your plans around improving our health outcomes?

Continue to foster working relationships with our local health system. I want to empower citizens to take control of their health.

Tulsa has had a very tumultuous history as it relates to race relations. What are your thoughts on the racial divide in the city and what are some ways that your administration plans to tackle this issue?

I am the only candidate in this race that has lived on both sides of the tracks. Therefore, I have the experience of dealing with multiple races and people from all walks of life, have a fundamental understanding of various races, and, through our family-owned restaurants, created an environment that welcomes everyone. Before any candidate talks about bridging racial gaps, they need to have walked the walk. I am the only candidate that has.

Zachri Whitlow

The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 had a massive impact on the Black community not only when it comes to the devastating loss of life but also as it relates to the financial loss. Do you support financial reparations being made to the descendents of the 1921 Race Massacre?

Yes, I do. I believe that financial assistance is imperative to indemnifying the Black community that lost their businesses, homes, and stolen personal property.

What are your plans around addressing the educational inequities that currently exist for Black, Brown, and indigenous children in our city’s public school system?

I plan on implementing neighborhood indoor food grow operations that will teach kids how to manage a farm that is indoors in a controlled environment that will produce food 24/7.  Teach a kid to grow indoors and feed them forever.  I plan on making it a priority that all kids around the Food Desert Zone are not deprived of food or technology. Raspberry Pi micro computers and Blockchain technology are the future and Tulsa’s kids need to be focused on this type of curriculum. Any child without healthy food, a mold-free shelter, Raspberry Pi, or internet connection is quite frankly an abused child. 

Do you support community-led independent oversight for the city’s police department? If so, what steps would your administration take to make this a reality?

I support accountability and transparency while respecting human dignity. As I read the title “Building Trust & Legitimacy,” I thought, good lord, we need a serious paradigm shift on the entire word “police.” If I had to relate the 77 recommendations under six pillars to a beverage, I would have to call it “watered down lemonade.”  To be frank, the Tulsa Police department dropped the ball back during the 1921 Race Riots and still, 99 years later, they are still trying to “build trust & legitimacy.” The Tulsa police system broke down when those white officers did not pursue any investigations for the Massacre in 1921. It’s obvious as the sun shines from the sky everyday why: because it was racist cops who participated.  

Let’s label the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre as a “crisis” for innocent Black citizens and they say don’t let a crisis go to waste. Learn from the mistakes, move on, and find the wisdom or lesson to be learned so we don’t have to endure the experience again. Good ideas come from bad situations. However, through all of this, part of the process of forgiveness is to repair the damage done. When the Tulsa Police Department never pursued justice for the murders and arsen, including aerial bombings from airplanes from some real racist idiots, then that was their way of saying certain people are above the law and then decades and decades compounded the disillusionment of “good cops.”

So looking forward we need a mayor that can bring all Tulsans together that has not only book smarts, but also street smarts.  My father taught me many lessons and my stepfather taught me how to live with a man who was 100% disabled due to PTSD from his 2 Vietnam combat tours. So, yeah, I was raised with two very different types of men, which made me the person I am today. Seasoned enough that my hair is turning silverish and the water behind my ears is not so wet.

I would propose a new name: the Tulsa Public Protection Bureau. The strategic plan for the Bureau would go as follows:

  • 911 service is really the OG “on-demand” service we as 2020 humans have grown accustomed to and we should not go backwards and “defund” this portion of city service
  • We could entertain ideas such as contracting out retired and/or out-of-service trained military high-level grade soldiers to fulfill the “on-demand” need for emergency situations
  • Modern-day military trained special forces for special intense situations from locals, not flown in from other places. This would be similar to how colonial minutemen protected their local areas over 200 years ago

How will your administration bring meaningful economic opportunity and empowerment to historically marginalized communities in Tulsa?

I will bring the resources needed to teach the children how to use technology to create and manage a homeostasis that is not present at the moment. This training would include learning how to make a climate-controlled, self-sustaining ecosystem that eradicates the need or trust of everyone “up the line” to “show up for work” or, in case something like an epidemic was to strike, then we would be ok. 

The Black Lives Matter movement has been brought into the public spotlight once again on the heels of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd in addition to the continued fight around unresolved justice when it comes to the death of Terence Crutcher locally. What are your thoughts on the BLM movement and the struggle against police brutality?

I believe that the best practice for creating change is through the nonviolent protests and the exercise of assembly to exhibit “the fourth branch of government aka the people.”  The struggle is real and we need a paradigm shift mindset to resolve this issue. Blacks built our country from their blood, sweat, and tears. I believe we have a lot of reconciliation to do over the next 4 years and I am prepared and look forward to making Tulsa better than it is now.

What are your plans around providing food security in areas of our city, such as North Tulsa, that have experienced what amounts to food apartheid for decades?

I am going to make certain that we implement indoor food grow operations that will produce fresh fruits and vegetables. The kids will learn to grow food and manage the farming process inside a controlled environment that will be self- sufficient/ self-sustaining. There will be a control room next to the grow room and this is where kids will manage the homeostasis of the grow lab. The system of “trusting people up chain” to do their job is history. We have to be self-sustaining in the neighborhoods we live in because trust is not free and when we trust 100% in our supply chains, then it will just set us up for failure. We have to be proactive and not waste $6,000,000 on a stupid obsolete mindset. I find it insulting and a gross negligence of funds to waste on dinosaur stores. 

As highlighted in the Tulsa Equality Indicators report, there is a significant gap in life expectancy for Black Tulsans when compared to the rest of the city’s residents. What are your plans around improving our health outcomes?

That is my main priority, which is making certain we have food for all residents within the Food Desert area. Once that is completed, I plan on the copy/paste method to install them for all Tulsa residents within their home while teaching the children how to farm and how to utilize Raspberry Pi technology ($65 micro computer).

Tulsa has had a very tumultuous history as it relates to race relations. What are your thoughts on the racial divide in the city and what are some ways that your administration plans to tackle this issue?

It makes me sick when I sit and close my eyes and try to get in the mindset of each side. It breaks my heart. It is disgusting when I think about how there were fathers out there with the “Come on son! I am going to make a man out of you!” type of talk.  The white men were all hopped up on war vibes and just went “Black people hunting.” Absolutely a disgrace to humanity. 99 years later, we are still very stubborn and there seems to be a “Well, it wasn’t me” type of attitude regarding white people in the air.  

I can understand not wanting to accept responsibility for someone else’s actions and, really, that is not the biggest issue. The BIGGEST ISSUE (today) seems to be the lack of empathy for acts that were swept under the rug. There was never any accountability that arose from the lawless evilness. Therefore, in order to regain TRUST in our FUTURE then we must, as a city, reconcile the acts done to innocent people. Since it’s so difficult to really get forensic evidence, we should take the homes into consideration and public records and begin to give back to those who lost what they lost, etc. We must raise up North Tulsa not just to a level that matches South Tulsa. I am talking about surpassing South Tulsa and then we will invoke the reciprocal. During Phase 2, we can focus on raising the bar for South Tulsa. However, for now, it’s North that will be the example set forth for West, East, then South for the self-sustaining food grow ops and 2020 Tech Centers, which will manage the grow ops. 

Photo credit: Joseph Rushmore

by Staff Writer Britni Sharde

Tulsa’s Greenwood District, also known as Historic Black Wall Street, was the most influential hub of Black entrepreneurship and free enterprise in the history of the United States. In May of 1921, this preeminent community was brutally attacked, burned, and left in ruins with more than 10,000 businesses destroyed, including movie theatres, barber shops, restaurants, and hotels. Over the past nine decades, hundreds of thousands of people have pushed forth efforts to see the progression of this important community. And now, in 2020, we get the privilege to partake in the development of an inspirational space. 

From May 1st 2020 – May 31st of this year, the Tulsa Community Remembrance Coalition will host a month-long “10,000 Brick Campaign.” This movement will allow any community member and those around the world to make a personal contribution to a powerful grassroots, community-driven fundraiser to build the Black Wall Street Memorial at the Historic Vernon AME Church in Tulsa, OK. This project is intended to assist with the building of a memorial in honor of the countless lives lost during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Since 2019, the Tulsa Community Remembrance Coalition has worked in conjunction with the Equal Justice Initiative to further the mission of honoring the history and lives of our ancestors that have been lost to racial terror nationally through a series of soil collections. Participants that purchase one of the commemorative bricks will have that brick added to the 10,000 slated to surround the Black Wall Street Memorial upon its completion with the option of having an engraving on said brick in commemoration of Historic Greenwood’s storied legacy.

“Tulsa has a legacy that we have been silent about for too long and it is time to end the silence,” said Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, the founder of the Black Wall Street Memorial committee. “Our coalition is committed to ensuring that the legacies of hundreds of African-Americans murdered at the hands of racial violence is permanently woven into the scrolls of American history.” The Tulsa Community Remembrance Coalition thanks all those who have participated in the establishment of bringing this memorial into fruition. Now is the time to build something admirable and innovative that will honor former generations and inform and inspire those to come.

Please visit the Tulsa Community Remembrance Coalition’s website for more information about this important project.

Photo courtesy of the Tulsa Community Remembrance Coalition

by Staff Writer Britni Sharde

“There appears to be a disconnect between the people that run Tulsa’s education system and the people that work for them,” said community advocate Kelsey Royce. According to several sources, support staff have experienced unfair working conditions while being unappreciated and underpaid for years. In April of 2018, teachers in school districts across the state met at the state capital to advocate for a raise and increased funding for public education. After a six-day strike, teachers received a raise of at least $1,200, while support staff (as of late December of 2019) only received a $0.30 per hour pay increase. Before the agreed-upon pay increase, TPS offered a pay increase to support staff of about 1.5%, according to the Tulsa World, while the initial request was for 6%. The eventual pay raise settlement of $0.30 was only a 2% increase. 

An organization called Working People Lead Tulsa assists with organizing support staff under the American Federation of Teachers Tulsa, also known as AFT 6049 Tulsa. In October of 2019, WPLT published an article about this issue, stating that “nickel-and-diming the support staff evidences what many of us see as hypocrisy because it reinforces and furthers the socio-economic disadvantages and inequities that take up space in this city and in far too many of our communities.” Social scientist Scott Carter explained that many of the support staff feel unheard despite having elected leadership within TPS that are tasked with hearing and responding to their needs. He proceeded to suggest that “A healthy and vibrant democracy equals a healthy and vibrant workforce.”   

The TPS Board of Education, during their State of the District address in September of 2019, prided themselves on the work being done to create a healthy public school system. However, the Board of Education did not address how the school community of North Tulsa specifically could have a healthy public school system when it’s internal employees are disenfranchised. Staff have reported incidents around a variety of ongoing issues, from carbon monoxide poisoning from unkempt equipment to outdated bathrooms, which have caused injury to some staff members and that get little to no attention from those tasked with remedying these concerns.

TPS has, however, proven its willingness to invest in organizations like Sodexo. Sodexo is a multinational, Fortune 500 food service and facility management  organization based in France that services TPS by providing management and operation services. According to their website, they offer options from receptionists and groundskeepers to vendor management and meal delivery. The issue with organizations like Sodexo is that every TPS food service worker answers to this outsourced company. Over the last decade, Sodexo has been the target of  multiple protests and criticism from several colleges, including the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Washington, for their mistreatment of employees. A common issue with outsourcing is that a company contractually hires another organization to execute tasks that could reasonably be done in-house. Money invested in outsourced organizations is viewed by some community members as offensive because those funds could be utilized within the institutions instead of creating another layer of bureaucracy. 

As our local economy has reportedly improved over the years for some sectors, the receptionist, the janitor, the cafeteria personnel, and all of the people that work diligently to service North Tulsa schools are often plagued with obligations that people in other jobs would not be expected to tolerate. A custodian employed at a TPS high school expressed concern around unsatisfactory working conditions, such as the shortage of custodians working in the high school in the evenings. There are currently only 4 custodians to cover the 266,000 square footage of the entire building. This source stated that oftentimes when concerns are made to management, they are rarely addressed. 

Ideally, the work done by school support staff should be compensated at a reasonable and economically sound rate. This would mean considering the current state of the economy and being sure to fully consider the wages for all employees acknowledging that the current wage does not suffice. Over the years, support staff members’ appeals to be taken seriously by Tulsa Public Schools as an integral part of the success of any student’s education have come up short. TPS has not, as of late, fulfilled its duties in the eyes of its essential workforce to maintain a satisfactory work environment and in adequately providing a livable wage. According to Scott Carter, it appears that “exploitation of labor is greater than remuneration.”

Photo credit: Mike Simons/Tulsa World

by Managing Editor Raynell Joseph

Since 1790, the U.S. government has counted its population every 10 years through what’s known as the Census. It counts the population in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories. The Decennial Census is said to be the most inclusive activity in our country and is considered essential to our democracy. Black communities across the U.S. have historically been undercounted in the Census, with poverty and housing insecurity being among the top reasons why African-Americans are disproportionately undercounted. When Black communities are undercounted, they end up being underrepresented and resources are distributed to wealthier white neighborhoods. 

Underfunding for census outreach efforts have also contributed to low participation over the past decade. States have had to drive local outreach and mobilization efforts to increase involvement. Kyle Ofori, Director of Community Partnerships for the City of Tulsa, is focusing his efforts on educating communities of color in Tulsa on the importance of filling out the Census. “It’s about building relationships and making sure that we are bringing people along and making sure they know the Census is important to them specifically and not just how it is generally important to all Americans.” While the Census determines how many seats in Congress each state gets, few are aware that it also impacts Title 1 grants, Medicaid funding, the Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers Program, the Federal Transit Formula grant, and the National School Lunch Program.  

The amount of people in communities that are counted also increases their representation in political districts. “From the city council district all the way to the House of the Representative district that they are in,” shared Ofori. The boundaries for Congressional District 1 are drawn based on the population that is counted and how that population is divided across Oklahoma. An accurate count would lead to an even split among districts and a tighter boundary around the people who are reported as living in Tulsa. A precise count leads to lines being drawn accurately around the people in each community. Ofori explained the process in more detail:  “One example that comes to mind is a predominantly Asian-American community in New York that had a strong census turnout. As a result, the community was able to get a district drawn for it where they could have a better chance at electing another Asian-American to represent them rather than having their political power diluted.”

Lack of trust for the government may also be a factor when it comes to Census participation. “Not everyone will automatically think ‘Oh, here is a form from the government this is something that’s important to respond to’,” shared Ofori. Personal information shared on the Census is kept confidential and the data is used for statistical purposes. The penalty for any Census Bureau employee who shares that information is a $250,000 fine and/or 5 years in prison.

Many people are unclear on who is counted in the Census and who isn’t. For example, children under 5 were undercounted in the 2010 Census. “Your brand new baby born on March 31, 2020 [should be] counted on the Census,” explained Ofori. Counting them results in more funds for their future education. Due to President Trump’s efforts to add a citizenship question, some immigrant communities may be worried that the Census may be used to target undocumented people. Ofori shared that, “The Census isn’t asking for detailed information. It asks about your name, age, sex, racial/ethnic background, and how you’re related to other people in the household. It also asks for your phone number and information about the household that you’re living in.”

Ofori explained that in this time of COVID-19, healthcare resources are the strongest in communities that have the highest response rate. Funding for Medicaid and Medicare both depend on an accurate Census count. “I believe, in the fiscal year 2016, the Medical Assistance Program distributed about $301 billion around the country. Out of the 55 programs they distributed money to based on the Census, that’s the largest by far. So when we are not getting counted, we are underfunding our own medical systems and our residents’ ability to receive the healthcare that they need.” The Census takes 10-15 minutes to complete. To learn more about the Census and to find helpful graphics, interviews, and information, follow Tulsa Counts on all social media platforms. “The thing I’m most passionate about with the Census is that it’s such an easy way to make sure that your voice is heard in our society. I would like for people to do everything they can to be counted,” shared Ofori. 

Photo courtesy of Kyle Ofori

by Executive Editor Timantha Norman

On the heels of the US government finally passing legislation to classify lynching as a federal crime in the form of a bill named the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act in recognition of the heinous slaying of the young Black teen at the hands of white supremacists in 1955, North Tulsa-based theatre company Theatre North plan to shine a renewed spotlight on the horrendous event through the play The Face of Emmett Till. Although it has been over 65 years since Till’s death, this issue continues to sadly echo out in countless acts of racial violence and terror that have permeated the DNA of our nation from the decades immediately following throughout decades up to the present day.  As US Representative Bobby Rush stated upon the passage of the act, “You only need to look at the events in Charlottesville to be reminded that not too long ago rallies such as those resulted in the lynching of innocent African Americans.”

I spoke with playwright David Barr III about his love for theatre, his thoughts on the lack of diversity in available roles for Black thespians, the importance of bringing Emmett Till’s story to a new generation locally, and Till’s mother’s vision for the future of our society.

Norman: What led to your love for theatre?

Barr: I started my artistic career as a character actor in The Street at Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia. I was studying Mass Media/Journalism and Speech Communication with an emphasis in Theater Arts at Hampton Institute at the time. It was thought those three years at Colonial Williamsburg where I developed an obsession for researching, preserving, and protecting the legacy of my African ancestry, especially during our time here in North America. Embodying real life Black characters, men who actually lived, worked, and somehow survived their degrading enslavement in Colonial Virginia was magical. I realized that I didn’t need a fancy soundtrack, theme music, phony baloney special effects, or to make a dramatic statement to elicit a desired reaction from a perfect stranger. I discovered that there was great power in making a crowd, strangers who often came to me with misconceptions about what Black life was, totally rethink their presumptions about an entire race of people they only thought they knew. I realized that I certainly could make them laugh and cry, but more importantly, I could make them think. If I stayed true and forthright in telling our history as it was, I could solicit sympathy and an empathy that could touch their hearts and envelop their spirits. Dr. Ellis taught me to do that, all of that. He was and still is deeply passionate about African and African American history and how we are all interconnected.  

Norman: Do you feel as though diversity in theatre representation has improved over the years?

Barr: I think we’re getting there, even though at times it seems for every one giant leap forward we take, we often get yanked two “Mother May I?” steps backwards. I believe the myriad of socially challenging and boundary-breaking works that have come about the past 30+ years from the likes of the legendary August Wilson, to Kia Corthron, Katori Hall, Lynn Nottage, and Tarell Alvin McCraney have been thrilling and inspiring to see them explode into our collective consciousness. I’d just like to see more of these wonderfully written stage works transferred over toward the film side and more opportunities afforded to the wonderfully talented theatrical African American actors, designers, and, of course, the directors. That said, I absolutely love how artists like Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom, Ava DuVernay, and Anna Deavere Smith have been able to vacillate between the stage and screen. We need to see more of that. 

Norman: What led you to write this play about such an important but difficult topic?

Barr: Not to sound too presumptuous, but I think every young Black man or woman in America of a certain age can tell you where they were the first time they saw the picture of 14-year-old Emmett Till’s mangled face in JET magazine. Meeting, working with, and traveling alongside his courageous and devoted mother, Mrs. Mamie Till-Mobley, inspired me to dedicate the best of what I have to bringing the story of her little boy, her only child, justice. As Mother Mobley left the tiny, backwoods courtroom in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, she accurately predicted that if the confessed kidnappers and killers of her son were not convicted, it would be open season on Black children. Sadly, she had no idea how prescient she would be. Ask the mothers of Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Philando Castille, Oscar Grant III, Freddie Gray, LaTanya Haggerty, Trayvon Martin, LaQuan McDonald, and Tamir Rice what I mean by that. I want the audience to see, up close and personal, just how destructive and brutal mindless violence can be against our children, the most vulnerable of us all.

Norman: What do you all hope to achieve by showcasing this play in Tulsa at this particular time in our nation’s history?

Barr: I simply want what Mrs. Mobley wanted. If seeing this can prevent one more tragedy similar to what happened to her precious son from occurring, then we’ve done our job. If it makes one person in the audience stop and think—if just for a split second-what the human cost and the subsequent collateral damage that would be caused by continuing the kind of hatred that caused this senseless brutality, I feel the play and the production will have been successful.    

To learn more about the programming offered through Theatre North, please visit their Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of history.com

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

by Managing Editor Raynell Joseph

In 2017, Aaron Darden joined the Tulsa Housing Authority (THA) as their new CEO. After the change in leadership, the organization asked themselves this question: “How do we make sure we’re doing the best for our families?” The organization came to the conclusion that the current state of public housing in Tulsa was not at its best. THA begin to pull from a model similar to the work Darden had been apart of in Nashville, where the goal was to deconcentrate poverty. Similar to the Nashville approach, THA has opted to use Rental Assistance Demonstration  (RAD) to create mixed-income communities. Along with redeveloping the aging sites around the city, RAD will allow THA to own its own properties and stabilize its funding. Comanche Park, one of nine North Tulsa THA sites, is first in line to be redeveloped. 

According to THA’s website, the purpose of the Envision Comanche project is to transform the identified portion of the 36th Street North corridor into a mixed-use, mixed-income community while ensuring a strict one-on-one replacement of all existing apartments with an end goal of highlighting, enhancing, and improving economic and cultural diversity of that area of Tulsa. The project will include 10,000 square feet of commercial space as well.  

When it comes to deconcentrating poverty, one of the main criticisms has been the ability for residents to build social capital in order to keep up with the potentially higher housing costs, deconstruction of existing communities, and the potential elimination of social safety nets. Similar to the Unity Heritage plan, when it comes to development in North Tulsa, community members are often left out of the important conversations that shape plans such as these. 

The project, which kicked off in late 2018, seeks to use a community-driven planning approach. THA has engaged the community through a professional planning committee comprised of Comanche residents, community members, and  other stakeholders. Terry McGee, North Tulsa developer and owner of McGee Enterprise, participated in a few of those meetings. He believes the project makes sense and is happening during a perfect time for redevelopment in North Tulsa. “With the Kaiser and Muncie projects taking place across the street, Tulsa Technology in the area, and the new Rapid Transportation System on Peoria, this is an ideal location.” He would like to see Comanche residents get priority over others in opening up businesses in the commercial spaces. He would also like to see THA define what affordable housing will look like when it meets the intersection of mixed income. “Is there a threshold for affordable housing to be in mixed-income residential areas? Or is it just talk and there’s no real definition that says it’s included? What does it mean for someone with a lower income to be able to afford the affordable housing? Does this idea work for renters and owners alike?”

Jeff Hall, THA’s Vice President of Strategic Planning & Intergovernmental Affairs, has been leading the project and engaging with community members around the gaps in healthcare, ideas around redevelopment (with the non-negotiables being maintaining affordability for existing units and mixed income housing). “We also hired five resident advocates to conduct outreach,” stated Hall. Referred to as Community Engagement Assistants, these resident advocates are tasked with going door to door to gather community input. Mix of housing types, multiple entrances in and out of the complex, transportation, lack of food options, lack of daycare and pre-k spaces, lack of parks, and lack of access to workforce training and employment were at the top of residents’ minds. 

With 271 units at Comanche Park being incapable of rehabilitation, THA will conduct new construction while attempting to minimize disruption for residents. Hall shared that the project will not result in any rent increases for current residents and that there will be no new screenings. “We don’t think we will have to move families off-site during construction,” says Hall. He shared that THA plans to keep residents informed of any potential obstacles, but only foresees construction as the biggest inconvenience to residents. 

Sherry Lynn Pressnell, one of the five Community Engagement Assistants (CEA) , has lived in Comanche Park for six years. She feels THA has done a great job of keeping residents engaged and informed. Pressnell visited Dallas with fellow CEAs to observe redevelopment efforts there. Her favorite part of the trip was Boton Farms. “It’s a farmers market that hires residents. I would love to see this in the Comanche Park area.” Her time as a CEA will soon be coming to an end. Pressnell would like to see the position extended throughout the full length of the project. “I would like to be able to tell my kids that I started it and finished it,” says Pressnell. 

The $100 million dollar project is projected to be completed in five years and will require additional state and federal funding. Additional units will be added to bring the total from 271 low-income units to 560 units, which will include workforce and market rate housing. Two blocks will be dedicated to single-family homes with the goal of providing opportunities for homeownership. The project, slated to start in 2021, will be broken up into four phases with one hundred units being constructed during each phase.

Photo courtesy of Tulsa Housing Authority

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. 


To find out more about Greenwood Ave. and 19&21, please visit these links.

Photo credit: Josh Reis