Last week, I had another opportunity to volunteer with Tulsa Change Makers. The teenagers in my group attended Hale High School and were the most brilliant kids I have run into in a very long time. All the kids had a case study, which was to get the history of Tulsa 1921 Race Massacre into Oklahoma’s school curriculum. The object was to create organizing framework then apply political advocacy to accomplish the goal.
There was a young man in my group who lives near Booker T. Washington High School who stated that because he didn’t get into Booker T. Washington High School, he will not receive a good education because he attends Hale High School, which is on the other side of town. Now, this was a child who came prepared with a spiral that listed the Oklahoma state budget and specifically had the budget for education and solutions on how to produce extra funding for education. I had to remind him that he was brilliant, amazing and that just because he didn’t get into Booker T. Washington Magnet High School, that doesn’t invalidate who he is or who he will become. The stigma our children place on themselves for not being accepted to Booker T. Washington has to change.
North Tulsa has some of the brightest kids, and not all of them can get into Booker T. Washington High School because they will only take a certain number of children who live in the area. Once that number is reached, kids in that area are bused to other High Schools on the other side of town, or attend one of the two failing high schools in North Tulsa. Ironically, white children from South Tulsa are being bused to Booker T. High School to seek a better education. There was a time that Booker T. Washington was predominantly an African-American high school, but through time and gentrification, the make-up of the student body has changed drastically.
I know so many stories of kids who live in North Tulsa that meet the requirements to get into Booker T. Washington Magnet High School, but do not get in. My daughter was one of those students. She was an Honor Roll student, never had a suspension, had high test scores and could not get into Booker T. High School. She had to be bused to Memorial High School, where she was able to take AP classes and did so well that she was inducted into the National Honor Society, accepted to Tulsa University and is now in the United States Air Force.
People will think that this article is racist, or that I am seeking Booker T. Washington to be segregated, and that is not the case. I would like to see more opportunities for children who live in the area and who meet the requirements to attend Booker T. Washington Magnet High School. If you attend the school and live on the other side of town, invest your time and money in the community. Most of the kids and parents who live in South Tulsa that attend Booker T. Washington drive to Booker T. Washington and drive right back to their side of town to spend their dollars.
When we think of gentrification, or the new code word for gentrification, “urban revitalization,” we only think of it as referring to residences or businesses. It happens in education as well. Public schools will also see a change in resources, because the quality of the schools will have to be upgraded to satisfy the new residents. As more white citizens move to North Tulsa, you will see more funding go to schools in North Tulsa. Look at Emerson in the Brady Heights area. Gentrification is here. A 2009 Tulsa People magazine article talks about how H. J. Green was offered a job as Principal at Booker T. during the desegregation era. He stated that the goal then was a 50/50 split of whites and blacks. In 2003, a Supreme Court ruling eradicated racial quotas, leaving Booker T. to figure out a way to be racially balanced, so now students are drawn by quadrants within the city of Tulsa. As more white people move into North Tulsa, and African-Americans move out of North Tulsa, the demographics will change and therefore, Booker T. Washington will be a predominately white school. I can’t help but to imagine the thoughts of Booker T. Washington during his famous Atlanta Compromise Speech in 1885. Why did Booker T. feel that Tuskegee was so important to African-Americans? In that speech Booker T. said,
“The wisest of my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremist folly…” In this speech, Washington makes clear his stance on social protest for civil rights. According to him, causing social agitation is foolish. Statements like this garnered support from whites, which helped him increase the endowment at Tuskegee, but also earned him a lifetime of criticism.
Booker T. Washington felt that is was important that instead of fighting for equality, that we had our own schools and economic stability. He explained it in this quote.
“In all things that are purely social we can be separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”
Like it or not, gentrification is here. The only solutions to gentrification are to buy back your communities one block at a time, and instead of moving away, build in your communities. There are some good things about gentrification and there are some not good things that come with gentrification. Sadly, because we do not practice group economics as a people, we have lost to gentrification. However, hope remains.
Orisabiyi Oyin Williams is a mother of two, an author and the Managing Editor here at the Black Wall St. Times. Orisabiyi was born in Philadelphia Pennsylvania and later moved to Tulsa at the age of 10. She graduated from Memorial High School in 1993. She is a Community Activist and believes in leaving her community in a better state than how she found it. Orisabiyi serves as Chair of the Tulsa’s Coalition for Social Justice, a member of The Tulsa African Study Group. Orisabiyi has been involved in initiatives such as bringing awareness and education to the community. Orisabiyi was the Campaign Manager for City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper and helped establish the African American Affairs Commission in Tulsa, with City Councilor and Community Activist Vanessa Hall Harper.