When I visited Tulsa, Oklahoma in November 2018, it was my first time ever going on a trip solely as a member of the press. I had no expectations except excitement because I felt very official! Tulsa was a city I knew little about and where I knew no one. I was invited by Breakout, a dope conference/gathering that convenes conscious entrepreneurs, social justice badasses and innovative thinkers from all over the country in different cities. We spent about 2.5 days together, exploring the city and connecting with locals and learning about their community.
The only thing I really knew about Tulsa is that it is the home of Black Wall Street, which was a thriving neighborhood in the early 1900s. The Greenwood District was full of Black businesses, churches and families; it is an ancestral example of for us, by us. But in 1921, a violent mob of white supremacists found a convenient excuse to burn it all down: they accused a Black man touching a white woman in an elevator. So the national response was to bomb the community, slaughter people and families, and destroy all the property. We spent time listening to local elders and historians, as well as building with local artists, business owners and organizers who are resurrecting the spirit of Black Wall Street. The Black Moon Collective of fierce artists using their art to be explicit about racial justice definitely felt like family and was honored to write about their movement for The Root.
The city is undergoing a reckoning with the generational impacts and aftermath of this racialized trauma. It is initiating a “reconciliation” period, for example, removing the names of the streets and neighborhoods named after known Klansman. They are working on issues of racial inequity and segregation amongst the diverse immigrant communities as well. For my first piece for The Daily Beast Travel, I wrote about Tulsa’s new park designed to bring folks from across the city together to play together: Tulsa Builds A Park It Hopes Will Restore Historic Wounds.
There was a wealth of unexpected inspiration in Tulsa. I learned more about how Black and Indigenous folks (of the Osage Nation) in the area faced similar oppression but remain in community together and maintain cultural traditions. Also as a long time reproductive justice activist, I was nerding out with Youth Service of Tulsa over their brilliant programming that supports teens with unbiased sexual health information, and young parents with resources to stay in school and parenting skills. (Read more via Teen Vogue: For Teen Parents in Tulsa, Respect in School is the Key to Success). And I checked my inner judge by going to a line dancing club and did the Cupid Shuffle with a more diverse crew of people that I could have imagined.
Last year (2020), in honor of the 99th anniversary of the Black Wall Street Massacre, I was able to check in with some of the folks continuing to rebuild a more vibrant and equitable community in Tulsa. I bonded with Onikah Asamota-Caesar, owner of Fulton Street Books and Coffee, currently in the Greenwood District where the original Black Wall Street stood. You can read the interview I need for Colorlines (99 Years Later, Black Wall Street’s Legacy of Resilience) or hear us kiki and connect (below!) about the importance of Black women’s storytelling, Billie Holiday as an activism idol, and why folks should visit Tulsa.