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Photo Credit: Black Wall Street Times | Citizens gather on Guthrie Green for Tulsa’s 4th Annual Racism Stinks’ 5K and Junior Skunk Olympics.
By Hannah Jarman
I moved to Tulsa from the South Suburbs of Chicago one year ago to begin teaching. While I still consider myself very new to this city, it did not take me long to fall in love with it.
Conversations are being had here that are not being had in most cities across the country; organizations and individuals stand out as leaders in reconciliation of this city’s history and progress for this city’s future. And in light of its challenges, I have decided to invest myself in Tulsa.
However, after one year of teaching 6th and 7th graders that represent diverse racial backgrounds, it has become starkly clear to me that simply stating that we have made progress in terms of racial equality ignores the reality that many Tulsans face every day.
During the last week of school, we explored identity and how it relates to Tulsa’s past, present, and future. At one point during this exploration, I asked my students to raise their hands if they ever received a judgmental look when walking into a store. My students of color unanimously raised their hands. My white students did not.
After introducing the incredible work the Crutcher Foundation is doing in this city, we had a class discussion about police brutality. My students of color solemnly nodded their heads, having had lived this reality for their whole lives. They don’t feel safe wearing a hoodie in public. My white students looked at me with confusion.
During Black History Month I was asked by a student “are there any Black role models in Tulsa?” My jaw dropped. While I could spend the rest of this speech unpacking that statement alone, I won’t. But this so clearly illustrates for me the detriment we have done to students in this city by ignoring their identities throughout their education.
What I’m trying to illustrate here is that the seeds of inequality that have been sown into this city’s foundation still exist in my classroom today. My students do not walk through the world without facing racist sentiments. In fact, at the age of 11 and 12, they face racism head on every day.
I get nervous when using the word progress because it often gets convoluted with the sentiment that our work here is done. We cannot just settle for progress; rather, we have to change up our language to match our actions as we continue progress-ing.
Progress looks like introducing my students to profiles of incredible leaders in this city who are already doing amazing work including Mayor Bynum, Nehemiah Frank, Hannibal B. Johnson, Chief James Floyd, Richard Baxter, Greg Robinson, Christina Starzl, and Dr. Tiffany Crutcher.
To continue progressing looks like my students’ faces lighting up when they realize that people who look like them represent the change in this community that they hope to contribute to – when before this class they did not know these role models existed.
Progressing is hearing my 6th and 7th graders vow to make this city better than what was passed on to them only after they’ve been let in on Tulsa’s past and present identities.
Progressing is when we can build a racially diverse group of leaders who have an equal voice across this city – starting in our classrooms, continuing in our justice system.
I want my students to be proud of Tulsa. My students deserve to live in a city where their lives matter. Tulsa could be on the cutting edge of not only talking about injustices but correcting them at a systemic level. Desperate times call for radical measures. And I can’t decide if this is fortunate or unfortunate, but quite frankly, radical measures simply means taking action where it hasn’t been taken yet. Action is being taken across this city, but we can do more.
Council members, I urge you today to act upon the recommendations put forth from the Tulsa Policing Reform Letter. Demand better by holding public hearings where we can openly discuss racial disparities in the Tulsa Police Department’s practices. Demand better by revising training programs to include de-escalation practices. Demand better by mandating independent investigations when violence results in injury or death. Demand better by hiring an anti-bias trainer for our police force. Demand better by taking action today.
Demand better because we can do better, all of us, together.
Hannah Jarman is a contributing writer for the Black Wall Street Times. Hannah moved to Tulsa a year ago after graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign with a bachelors in Global Studies and Communication. Today, she teaches middle school Social Studies at Collegiate Hall Charter School. For the past year, Hannah has immersed herself in the political landscape of Tulsa, actively participating in the state-wide teacher walkout and organizing class projects focused on social justice and social change – both locally and internationally.