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(Photo courtesy of Pamela Stukenborg)
By Ray Pearcey
TULSA – Ricco Wright, educator, poet and writer, will become the managing editor of The Black Wall Street Times (BWST), effective June 1, Nehemiah D. Frank, the founder and executive editor, announced today.
Wright, 36, is a Tulsa native and a graduate of Langston University, where he studied mathematics as a Bill Gates scholar and was a contributing editor for its student newspaper, The LU Gazette. After obtaining his doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University, Wright returned to Langston University as assistant professor of mathematics. He also taught statistics at LU-Tulsa. But after two years, he was laid off due to state budget cuts.
Eventually, Wright found his way back home. He had a brief stint last year as Director of Finance and Operations at Tulsa Legacy Charter Schools before becoming a contributing editor of Calliope Crashes. Since December, he has published a poem every Friday on the literary website. According to Shawn Crawford, its editor in chief, Wright “roughly doubled our readership” in his first six months. Crawford then named him poetry editor, a position Wright said he plans to keep while overseeing all aspects of BWST.
“I enjoy working with other poets because poetry heals. Writing is a poor man’s therapy. So is listening to music. I’m not anti-therapists. I just know that I’ve got a friend in a song. And every song is a poem. And every poem is a therapy session. And so, being a poetry editor is the best cheap therapy around.”
When asked whether he’ll continue publishing his own poetry on the literary website, Wright said, “Absolutely. Calliope is my poetry’s first home, and Shawn is the coolest midwife I know. We’ve established the kind of rapport that all writers wish to have with other writers.” Wright also said he’s already in talks with Crawford about collaborating on a project, because “traditional journalism could use the innovation.”
And he’s right. As many of our readers know, American journalism is in the midst of convulsive change.
Many metro daily papers and a bevy of weekly operations are falling by the wayside. Part of the problem is the declining volume of regular print advertising. It’s spawned, in part, by the dramatic rollout of online ads. Even Facebook and Google are battling mightily to gobble up every ad dollar ― including online pieces and items that they think ought to go there.
And the saga of black owned/managed publications is sadder still. There may be fewer than 150 printed black regular newspapers in America at the moment. Oklahoma is fortunate enough to have two within our borders, namely, Oklahoma City’s Black Chronicle and Tulsa’s Oklahoma Eagle. And while both publications soldier on, they suffer from the same hard times, revenue declines, readership drops and technological disruptions that are ravaging their mainstream counterparts.
“You, Too” by Ricco Wright (Photo courtesy of Unsplash)
That’s why the establishment of BWST ― a wholly online publication in Tulsa, a media project that doesn’t carry the legacy costs and overhead associated with a conventional printed publication ― is an outsized development. And it’s a great venture to have around ― one with a singular point of view in our strange times ― this is true locally of course.
But also when stuff like Roseanne Barr’s latest explosive racist eruption needs to be covered fully by every publication worth the name, outlets like BWST is better tuned than most media outfits to tightly appraise the implications of Barr’s departure from ABC ― and the tortured logic that led to her return to American national television in the first place. And BWST is a press organ likely to have a more intimate, authentic conception of the impact of Barr’s attack on former presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett than many.
It’s refreshing, then, to know that Wright, an academic star and an emerging literary talent, will be joining the BWST editorial board to helm daily operations and ensure that that singular point of view is effectively communicated to an engaged audience. He’s a multi-talented creature that I’ve known for a while now. He’s also a radiant cosmopolitan who doesn’t confine himself to a handful of topics and venues. Wright uses his sense of humor and his facility with popular culture to convey issues in a unique way. He’s already been a featured commentator on NPR, CNN Live and CNN International ― and he’s still under 40.
In addition, Wright is already acting like a proper media mogul. In a short interview we had recently, he told me that he had decided against moving the publication immediately to weekly operations. He said that some sections, like featured op-eds, however, will in fact be weekly. He went on to say that things are happening too fast these days to move in the direction of a regular weekly.
“Dear America” by Ricco Wright (Photo courtesy of Unsplash)
“I very much like the idea of increased audience engagement,” Wright said. That’s definitely one of the goals that will animate him. Another is establishing a community advisory board of at least 20 members to help guide the publication. “The members of the community advisory board,” he explained, “would be required to attend two meetings per year ― one in January and one in June ― to assist the editorial board with key topics to publish and emphasize throughout the year. They’d also be asked to write at least two opinion pieces each year on a topic of their choice. My goal is for this board to be a mirror of our diverse readership.”
His other new ideas include a revamped website, more high-quality content, and a renewed focus on integrity and accurate journalism.
“The Black Wall Street Times is to Tulsa today what The Crisis was to Harlem a century ago. But our eyes are gazing at the future as much as our minds are reflecting on the past. The Black Wall Street Times is a global enterprise. Technology these days affords those who can access it the opportunity to make the global community local. What a powerful reality! That’s why we’ll never charge our readers. Access is the new civil right.”
Finally, he talked about instituting a literary section called The Fauset, in honor of Jessie Redmon Fauset of the Harlem Renaissance; a children’s lit element; and episodic features on financial literacy ― all with a qualified editor to oversee these additions.
Wright is certainly ambitious, but his ideas aren’t far-fetched. BWST already has readers around the nation and in several different countries. And over a dozen people have already agreed to serve on the community advisory board this year ― including his eldest daughter, Raquel, 18, our reigning Miss Black Tulsa. His other daughter, Raya, 16 months, lives in Oklahoma City.
Just last week, Wright was named a 2018 Woody Guthrie Poet for his poems “Free Lunch” and “Justice”. And given his other poems like “You, Too” and “Dear America” (see above), many locals are dubbing him the 21st century Langston Hughes. Only time will tell how far his poetry will reach. But what’s undeniable up to this point is that Wright, like Hughes, is a genius child. Lucky for us, he’s back home where he belongs ― and where he’s needed.
Get ready for a reanimated Black Wall Street Times. Frank has chosen wisely.
RAY PEARCEY is a management consulting / technology practitioner and a media professional; he has been engaged by private firms, public agencies, and non-profits. Strategic planning, computer modeling, statistical methods and 3-D visualization have been center to his portfolio. Currently, he is a partner in DroneWerks, a new remote sensing, digital modeling and unmanned aerial vehicles firm. He has been a planner at Tulsa City Hall, a business strategist and a graphic arts / creatives services executive. He is past managing editor for the Oklahoma Eagle, a senior contributor for Urban Tulsa Weekly, general manger for La Semana / Tulsa and a contributing writer for the Oklahoma Observer, Current Land, and The Tulsa Voice. Pearcey is a long time Tulsan, a former student body president at the University of Tulsa, a past member of Tulsa’s Circle Cinema board, and an amateur astronomer.