Tulsa, OK – Black Excellence Revisited

Shereem Herndon-Brown and I have had the honor of traveling around this great country for the past few years to share our book. During that time, we have spoken at schools, churches, libraries, community-based organizations, airports, Jack and Jill of America Foundation, Inc. chapters, virtual events, and other venues. While each event was an excellent opportunity to share our work, speaking at Fulton Street Books & Coffee in Tulsa which was highlighted by Oprah Winfrey and owned by Onikah Asamoa-Caesar a few weeks ago may have been the most meaningful to date.

To be honest, Tulsa was not on either of our bucket lists. There was some hesitation when we initially received the invitation, given the time of the year and the size of the market. At first glance, the opportunity seemed less appealing than others in bigger cities. However, as we reflected upon the trip, we both had to deal with our preconceived ideas about smaller cities, with me being raised in Dallas and him in New York. The visit turned out to be nothing short of life-changing.

From the moment we got off the plane, there was a can-do spirit about the people and the city that could easily be felt, along with a sense of pride. While many would attribute that to the city’s history with Black Wall Street and the tragedies that followed, it was so much bigger. Although we were only there for 36 hours, we could see many great things going on, from economic development and entrepreneurial incubators to educational foundations with very generous philanthropic arms such as the George Kaiser Family Foundation and Tulsa Community Foundation that both reverberate through the city. While there are many things we learned about Tulsa, we wanted to learn more about the Greenwood District, where Black Wall Street was located, and the events that led up to and followed the massacre of what historians agree was almost 300 Black people.

As we toured the Black Wall Street History Center, we experienced a range of emotions, from pride to awe, from rage to disbelief, and ultimately ended up reflecting. The prosperity and promise at the beginning of the 20th century, with the rise of multiple Black millionaires and oil tycoons, along with the deep relationships that were formed with the Muscogee (Creek) Indians who had been removed from their homeland of Georgia and Alabama through the “Trail of Tears,” was incredible. We finally had our own. However, the strained relationship between the white and Black communities, the heightened jealousy of the success of the Black Wall Street area, and the elevator encounter led to the Tulsa Race Riot.

This unfortunate tragedy was sparked by a young white woman falsely accusing a black man of touching her in an elevator, a story she later admitted was untrue. This led to his jailing, a white lynch mob, and Black World War I veterans protecting an innocent man. With tempers flaring, those in power annihilated 600+ businesses including 30 grocery stores, 21 churches, 21 restaurants, two movie theaters, schools, libraries, law offices, a hospital, a bank, a post office, and a bus system. Community members also owned six private airplanes. All because of a white woman whose privilege was deemed sacrosanct. Fast forward 30 years, and you have Emmitt Till. Give it another 100, and we have the perpetual “Karen,” such as the woman accusing a birdwatcher of assault in Central Park a few years ago. It’s sad to know that “white fragility,” described as the defensiveness, discomfort, or resistance that some white people exhibit when confronted with issues of race and racism, is still alive and well today.  During the summer of 2020, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, the Central Park liar, and the overall “racial reawakening” of America prompted us to write our book, The Black Family’s Guide to College Admissions: A Conversation About Education, Parenting, and Race.

Our tour of the Black Wall Street History Center was our last stop before we headed home, which made a lasting impression. There is so much to love about Tulsa. Beyond what has been shared, there is great food, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, a thriving nightlife, and just about anything you would want to do.

During our visit, we got caught up in the rich history and warm hospitality and momentarily lost sight of the book event that brought us there. However, as we explored, it became clear that our visit held deeper significance, serving as a reminder of the crucial work that lies ahead. Our company, Understanding the Choices is steadfast in its mission to bridge the information gap in college admissions, with the overarching goal of fostering Black wealth. This visit confirmed the importance of the work we and many other professionals in the college admissions profession are trying to do!

We want more people to experience what we did in Tulsa. History cannot be understood by simply reading Wikipedia. We know we will be back because when so many are trying to erase or mute generations of our ancestors’ accomplishments, this landmark community is using its cultural capital as a source of inspiration. We felt it and hope you will do the same.

Fun Fact – Charlie Wilson is from Tulsa and his famed group “GAP Band” is named after Greenwood, Archer, and Pine, all streets in the Greenwood District!

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