Opinion

Renaming Robert E. Lee Elementary School after John Hope Franklin would be monumental for America

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Photo Credit BWSTimes

The Tulsa Public School Board could help heal a city and inspire a nation.

Are they willing to be courageous? 


OPINION By Nehemiah D. Frank 

What if Robert E. Lee Elementary School was named after Tulsa’s distinguished American historian, John Hope Franklin? It is not a far-fetched idea if you think about it. It is a thought that reinforces the need for reconciliation after the worst massacre involving black citizens in our nation’s history, a shameful event that many Tulsans would like to forget.

However, despite this painful history and the hesitation to forgive and mend the old wounds, I remain optimistic about our future because my eyes and heart are fixated on hope.

I believe that the possibility of a genuine friendship between our tale of two cities can, in fact, become a brotherhood, a sisterhood, a family of oneness.

I see Tulsa becoming a city that takes care of its neighbors and considers all of its youth, irrespective of color, religious beliefs or citizenship status, to be its own children.

Hope remains in me because of people like Nate Morris, a young man who has recognized his responsibility as a human being rather than as a white guy or a college graduate or even a person who some may consider privileged. He is a human being who was taught to love and care for all.

Hope remains in me because of people like Brandon Oldham. Oldham is an individual who understands the complexities of this fragile society but is blessed with the gift of charming the darkness out of the most negative situations.

Hope remains in me because of people like Cindy Decker, a person who recognizes that true reconciliation takes hard work. She acknowledges that sometimes going forward means looking in the mirror and seeing our own reflection and then asking the difficult question: Is this indeed who God wants me to be?

Hope remains in me because of people like Vanessa Hall-Harper, who continues to advocate for her community despite decades of negative stigma that the media have bestowed upon her district, which is home to the historical and famous Black Wall Street.

Hope remains in me because of people like D’marria Monday. Because of her and State Representative Regina Goodwin, incarcerated women don’t have to give birth while shackled in chains.

Hope remains in me because of people like Rosa Hernadez, who stands up like David (justice) stood up against Goliath (injustice). She advocates for the DREAMERS, who belong in this country just as much as any other citizen does. And like Nate, she advocates for humanity.

Hope remains in me because of people like DeVon Douglas, a transplant from another city who has made Tulsa her home. She continues to be optimistic about our future despite the horrid realities of a situation that would break many of our spirits.

Hope remains in me because of people like Patrice James, a lawyer at Still She Rises, a young intellect who fights for justice in the shadows. She fights on behalf of disenfranchised women who are judged and are trying to survive in impossible situations. She pushes for them to have a second chance. She is a woman advocating for other women in what is historically considered a man’s profession.

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Photo Courtesy of Because Of Them We Can

Hope remains in me because of citizens like: 

Greg Robinson, Popsey Floyd, Angela Graham, Tiffany Crutcher, Ray Owens, Richard Baxter, Haley Rey, Marlin Lavanhar, Damario Simmons, Charles Wilkes, Gerald Davis, Deborah Gist, Heather Wimberly, Katelyn Kramer, Onikah Asamoa-Caesar, Jose Emmanuel Vega, Jerica D. Wortham, Omaley B., Risha Grant, Shay White, Ricco Wright, Jerrica Worthom, Joel Wade, Coach Reed, Anissia West, David  Kojo Asamoa-Caesar, Carlton Pearson, Orisabiyi Oyin Williams, Joy Miller Davis, Sherry Deann Laskey, Julie Skye, Hannah Jarman, Tyrance Billingsely II, Kristi Eaton, Alaagba Fagbenro Amusan, Mikeal Vaughn, Jamaal Dyers, Tony Moore, Rebekah Campbell Mcilwain, Shannon White, Dr. Shaw, Alvin Okonkwo, and many others who are not on this list. 

They are courageous people willing to risk everything, even their very lives, in order for the world to merely be better. They are the needle pushing society forward towards the light.

Can’t you see the diversity that creates the excellence that Tulsa is promised?

Needless to say, no community wants to be the victim forever. We are all freedom fighters in our own right. 

But we must be intentional about progress if we want it, and we must be intentional about reconciliation if that is the goal. We must also be transparent about what we honestly want, or there will never be reconciliation, and there will never be a OneTulsa.  

We will never have community policing. We will never be able to close the achievement gap in our schools. And we will never stop the drug problem nor provide shelter for the homeless.

We must be intentional about what we want. We must put our hands and minds together. We must work for everything that we want our city to become.

One example of being unintentional is preserving the name Robert E. Lee for a school in Tulsa. This only reminds us of our dreadful past and discourages hope for the future. 

Another example is preserving the name Brady on a street sign and on a theater that reminds our city’s black citizens that a terrorist Klan used to run this town, and to some, that it still does. Often when Tulsa’s black citizens see the name of a Klansman or a Confederate soldier, they are consciously and subconsciously traumatized.

Our city government was not intentional about reconciliation when councilors back then voted to keep the name Brady on street signs and for its arts district.

And the court and the lawyers were not intentional about the Crutcher family receiving justice.

Tulsa’s citizens have not been intentional about a lot of things. 

But I still remain optimistic because of people like Nate and Cindy, people who allow their moral compasses to guide their decisions. 

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John Hope Franklin is indeed a worthy name that deserves to be on a Tulsa Public School, just like Wayman Tisdale and Dolores Huerta.

If Robert E. Lee Elementary School were named after Martin Luther King, Jr., I fear that the residents would be afraid their property values would go down. I fear that they would advocate against it without using the phrase “property value”. The thing is, naming the school after such a great American would make sense given that Lee Elementary School sits on south Cincinnati. And yet, sadly, Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd stops at the Frisco Railroad tracks, which is the same color line that divided Tulsa before and after the massacre. We have not been intentional about desegregation in Tulsa. 

Imagine if we walked from Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd and Pine Street to Robert E. Lee Elementary School for a robin cutting ceremony to name the school after Martin Luther King, Jr., or John Hope Franklin. We could inspire the whole nation. But I’m a dreamer and a visionary. Perhaps my ambitions are too far-fetched for some to fathom. 

We can still change our trajectory. TPS has until July 1, 2018, to make a profound decision that can change our city forever. And it can be the first to be intentional about bridging the gap.

I’m hopeful for a historic moment for TPS, the City of Tulsa, and our beautiful state.  

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20507737_10208835206550886_2670263807103671918_oNehemiah D. Frank is the Founder & Executive Editor of the Black Wall St. Times.  Frank graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL in General Studies,  and  earned a Political Science degree from Oklahoma State University. He is a community activism, a  teacher at Sankofa School of the Performing Arts, a blogger for Education Post, and dedicates most of his time to empowering and uplifting his community of North Tulsa, home to America’s Black Wall Street. Frank is a 2017 Terence Crutcher Foundation Honoree and the Community Impact Award recipient for the MET Cares Foundation and has been featured on NBC, Blavity, and Tulsa People. His latest accolade includes a TEDx Talk at the University of Tulsa.

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