Black Excellence Historic Greenwood 1930s
Society & Culture, Practice & Voice

Walking in Purpose and Black Excellence in Tulsa

A few years ago, I moved back to Tulsa, Oklahoma; although, my intention wasn’t to stay.

I had planned to save money and move to Washington DC so I could attend Howard University, a historically black college.

Grandma knows best

My goals changed when I noticed how much my family and community needed me.

My grandmother had grown old from decades of caring for her children and grandchildren. She had been widowed for ten years.

I remember my grandmother inquiring as to why I had moved back to Tulsa. I told her that I missed my family. She smiled, joyfully, at what I had uttered.

Over the years, I had been warned by the elders that young black professionals need not move back to Tulsa. They often told me that Tulsa is no place for a young black educated person and that we had a low chance of finding a good job because we’re black and Tulsa is a racist city.

I couldn’t help to think that the psychological trauma, from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and the adverse effects from the fall of Jim Crow, seemingly created a social environment of hopelessness and bewilderment for most black Tulsans.

Pushing past adversity & staying home

I was, however, too well-traveled to believe that racism could prevent doors from opening for me and was empowered by merely witnessing a black man reach the highest office of the land — the presidency of the United States.

The election of our nation’s first black president was enough for me to push past whatever adverse issues I’d face and on forward towards my highest ambitions.

After working a few jobs, I found myself teaching at a local public charter school with an African centered theme and empowering focus for its students, which was right up my lane.

I also started a local media company, The Black Wall Street Times, to fill the vacuum from the lack of black media representation in the city.

Restoration of Greenwood

My highest ambitions have always remained constant, to see the restoration of Greenwood — my community, famously coined Black Wall Street by Booker T. Washington himself.

During those days, black people in my community were among the wealthiest blacks in all the world.

Tulsa was as Abu Dhabi is today — bustling, from the black oil that Americans extracted from the grounds below.

Black Americans, two generations out of slavery, benefited from the oil wells, too. They were affluent business-people, doctors, lawyers, dentist, educators, pilots, and more. They were Black Wall Street.

Remnants of our golden era

Unfortunately, the remnants of our golden era are difficult to find when I look at my community today.

The second fire, metaphorically, ended the last wave of black economic power in Tulsa and was destroyed by the harmful effects of racial integration.

The seeds of racism continued to blossom even after Brown v. Board of Education.

Black teachers were fired, black children were bussed from the safety-net of their community.

The stigma that black children couldn’t learn seemingly became a truth when test scores declared us inferior on paper.

Yesterday’s black excellence is absent from the classrooms.

Even the horrifying race massacre that destroyed my community killing over 400 black inhabitants, with 36 lynchings, was untaught for nearly 90 years.

Tulsans, from the white politicians to the white teachers, desired to erase the sinful errors of their ancestors from the history books.

Black Tulsans are Black Excellence today

But the dry bones cried out to their people. Black Tulsans living today remind the city daily that reparations are still due and that the massacre must be taught to today’s children so racial terror will never revisit this land.

Today, mass graves are set to be excavated so our ancestors may have a proper burial.

Today, school children are beginning to learn about our golden era, the destruction of our community, the rebuilding, and resilience.

We still have a long way to go

Nevertheless, we still have a long way to go when black children continue to lag academically when yesterday, a healthy black ecosystem existed to ensure they would attain success.

Tulsa, we still have a long way to go when the life expectancy gap is 11 years between black and white citizens.

We still have a long way to go when blacks are disproportionately affected by police brutality.

We still have a long way to go when black Tulsans are paid less than white Tulsans.

We still have a long way to go when black Tulsans are less likely to reach the middle class than white Tulsans.

We have a long way to go to become oneTulsa.

Walking In Purpose was originally posted as an editorial on The Black Wall Street Times. Cover photo courtesy of BWST.

Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and executive editor of The Black Wall Street Times. He graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Oklahoma State University. A rising voice in America and an emerging leader in the education reform movement, Nehemiah frequently travels for speaking engagements around the country, is a blogger for Education Post, and has been featured on NBC as well as in Blavity and Tulsa People. Nehemiah is also a teacher at Sankofa School of the Performing Arts in Tulsa, OK, a 2017 Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, and a 2018 Oluko Fellow. He gave a TED Talk at The University of Tulsa titled Discovering the Excellence Within in the spring of 2018. 
Nehemiah is a member of All Souls church and was interviewed in the documentary, American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel. The film features two progressive churches in the heartland; Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City and All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa.  American Heretics will premiere at the deadCenter Film Festival on June 8 & 9, 2019 and in Tulsa at the Circle Cinema Film Festival, July 11-15.


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