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How Do We Define Reconciliation?

Opinion | By Nehemiah D. Frank

Managing Editor | Liz Frank

After the past week’s festivities…well, that’s the problem; they were all just another festival. A Kum-ba-yah moment that left me concerned about the objective of the entire evening and the goals that surround this word “reconciliation.” “Reconciliation” is a word that seems to mean different things to various groups of people and is often too loosely defined.

A few nights ago I attended a ceremony, which showcased the horrors of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre coupled with a fabulous Black History performance that included two fog machines and a tight schedule of the town’s favorite speakers, musicians, and actors.

However, it was another evening of missed opportunities on the long, agonizing, and treacherous path to reconciling the wrong of 1921; yet, nearly 100 years after the massacre, this ideal of real reconciliation is difficult to understand and even more difficult to pinpoint what it should look like.

The socio-economic problems continue, and by the side-stepping discussion of the root causes, we only feed the germs that caused this disaster of disparity in Tulsa.

The virus can be traced to 1921 and unfortunately, desegregation in the late 1960s and early 1970s; both events playing a significant role in the deconstruction of what Booker T. Washington famously coined “The Negro Wall Street.”

So WE HAVE TO BE HONEST, and we must be willing to answer the tough questions and do the hard work necessary to cure Tulsa of its most detrimental ailment, which could mean spending money on a campaign to eradicate racist thinking and behavior.

So what is reconciliation, and what does it look like? 

From the “Oxford Living Dictionary”:

reconciliation

We are a more diverse city with more of a community, collective mindset compared to our founders and forefathers. Therefore, we must define what reconciliation looks like for today’s generations.

1. Let’s start with the prefix, Re derives from the Latin root word meaning-

A turning backward, withdrawal, or

A restoration of a thing to its original condition, again

2. The next word-part comes from the Latin verb concilio, meaning-

       A uniting feeling, a conciliating, making friendly, a gaining over

After analyzing the roots of this word, it’s clear that we have failed as a city at reconciliation. 

Starting in the 1960s, Tulsa began experiencing white flight. Like most other U.S. cities, white citizens moved from the inner city to the nearby suburbs of Jenks, Owasso, Bixby, and Broken Arrow, which are all homogeneous towns that are majority white.

We, as a city, then made the mistake of hiring Tulsa police officers and teachers who are not culturally competent. Many of the officers and educators have never lived in a diverse community, nor have they had the exposure of a varied college experience, where they may have gained a general understanding and respect of other cultures and perspectives. This has led to failing schools; health disparities comparable to third world countries; a vast food desert that has been in existence since desegregation; furthermore, mass incarceration of African Americans; and little to no economic opportunities. All of these variables have a direct correlation on increased crime.

What does reconciliation look like? Is it just a park built in the heart of a fast-gentrifying area, which hosts a baseball stadium and bars for the white-flight-ers to come and go as they please, using our historic community as an entertainment district?

At what point do we begin the hard work of genuine, working reconciliation? When can we right the disparities in our 21st-century city so that we can pass the quickly-approaching centennial of the Greenwood massacre side-by-side, arm-in-arm to demonstrate to the country what reconciliation truly looks like?

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Photo Credit Black Wall St. Times Staff | John Hope Franklin Park