By Joshua Wann
This past Thursday was a warm June evening in the heart of downtown Tulsa ― Guthrie Green ― the center of arts and culture in our city. Picnic blankets and lawn chairs were starting to bloom like flowers all over it. Old friends laughed easily to the same inside jokes while waiting in line for a cold treat at The Give Back Shack. The young children of new families played joyously on the quickly disappearing empty spaces of the lawn. By the time Dance Junkies and the Micah Wise dance group took the stage, it was shoulder-to-shoulder, blanket-to-blanket packed. A quilt of community.
The dance groups captivated every eye with swaying synchronized moves. Next, the Roots of Africa drumming group delivered generous grooves for all. And by the end of the set, everyone was feeling good, especially the two blonde toddlers brashly dancing and the elderly black man bobbing his head and lifting his cup to about the 100th person he seemingly knew and called neighbor. ONEOK had everyone movie-ready with a free bag of popcorn by the time the main event, Black Panther, slid into its first cinematic scene: the origin of Wakanda.
“Baba, tell me a story…the story of home.”
The beginnings of Wakanda laid in war until they were united under a king who was empowered by the Heart Shaped Herb. On a night like tonight, where neighbors of all shades sat together cheering on T’Challa, it was hard to imagine that a little less than a hundred years ago, these same several blocks of harmony were a warzone of massacre. The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre left buildings and homes in ashes and families and friends in graves, as white neighbor attacked black neighbor. The massacre devastated a once thriving district and economy and nearly erased a resourceful and entrepreneurial spirit. Nearly.
The fallout from the massacre has been a generational plague. For the community of North Tulsa, there are still disparities in access to technology, goods like grocery stores, and services like education and medical providers. Just past the screen showing Chadwick Boseman and Danai Gurira, giving regal performances of strength and integrity, is a street that, until 2013, was named after one of the city’s founder, a known Klansman.
Despite this strife, there are strides in success. Examples include the work of Hannibal B. Johnson, 100 Black Men of Tulsa, [insert other organizations, local businesses, and leaders that you want to spotlight as moving in the direction of progress].
Leaving the event, one could hear the echoing excited voices of young children, way past their bedtime, shouting, “Wakanda forever!” There may not be a magical plant giving special powers to a single king. Wakanda may be a fictional kingdom. But Tulsa is potentially on the precipice of a new age of harmony where community service, reconciliation, intellectualism and innovation give rise to unity and a thriving 918.
Josh Wann is a contributing writer for The Black Wall Street Times. He lives and teaches in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is often accompanied by his lovely wife and the chaotic, adorable hurricane known as his hoard of three children. He’s published prose and poetry in publications such as Hard Crackers, Dragon Poet Review, The Ogham Stone, and Concis, among others. His short story collection, A Brief History of Fools, is available on Amazon for only $.99 and he really wants you to believe the rave review it has, even though it’s the only one and it’s written by his mom.