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Photo Courtesy of J. Kavin Ross of the Greenwood Tribune

Greenwood Cultural Center’s Summer Arts Program was established in 1984 under the direction of Opal Dargen. Campers were exposed to racism while at play at Leonardo’s Children (inset) Museum, located in Enid, Oklahoma. (Photojournalist, J. Kavin Ross)

By J. Kavin Ross

“If my friends can’t play on the slide, I don’t want to play on the slide either.” Austin, age 10.

Recently, children attending the Greenwood Cultural Center’s (GCC) Summer Arts Program were met with the rude awaking of racism. After a long drive to Leonardo’s Children Museum in Enid, Oklahoma, the group encountered opposition upon their arrival. A racial statement towards its campers promoted the youth program to immediately vacate the town.

About eighty children, staff, and parental chaperones traveled nearly two hours on board two Red Carpet charter buses. After reaching their destination, the center was confronted by management before they entered the Leonardo’s Children Museum.  Although GCC had already provided the appropriate adult/child ratio, they were warned to be very careful in the hands-on interactive museum.   

After the long bus ride, staff prepared for lunch. Museum staff cited that they were limited to the number of visitors who can be inside their designated dining area. However, the museum boasts their ability to accommodate many groups larger than GCC. According to Leonardo’s their facility is 26,000 square feet and could service over 800 people a day.

The campers were directed to eat outside in the playground area.  When lunch was over, the children began to enjoy themselves by frolicking, socializing with one another, basically just having fun. Unfortunately, all amusement came to a halt when a white female museum worker instructed two young male campers, of dark complexion, that the slide was for white kids only.

With tears in her eyes, Austin informed Mrs. Deborah McClellan, the director of the Summer Arts Program, that a museum worker had said that the slide was only for white kids. McClellan, a passionate person, and a protector of all children, she has never encountered such an incident. McClellan has been involved with GCC over ten years.

racism slide
Photo courtesy of J. Kavin Ross of the Greenwood Tribune 

“There were three of us. We were about to go on the slide, and the lady said only white kids can stand on the slide,” said Mechiah, age 7.   Already set to go on the playground equipment,  Austin, age 10, of light complexion, was preparing to slide down, but stopped immediately to informed the worker that, “If my friends can’t play on the slide, I don’t want to play on the slide either.”

Her grandparents, as well as her parents, are bi-racial, and once learning of the incident her parents were livid. “I am so disgusted and angry that these babies were exposed to this. I want her, [the worker] fired,” stated Austin’s mother. “I also want an apology to the staff at the Greenwood Cultural Center,” Gaines continued. “I am so proud of my daughter who spoke up and called the worker out.” Austin’s mother declared.  Mechiah’s mom could not believe what her child experienced upon her return to GCC. She was heartbroken over what her son daughter heard.

The worker was located in the back area of the facility, and the campers were able to positively identify the worker. The worker in questioned denied making the statement, but other children who were in-range of hearing the statement identified the same worker as the source of the statement. “The young woman on the museum staff who was identified by one child has been with us for almost a year. She has all positive evaluations and comments from visitors during that time, and said she did not make such comments,” stated Tracy Brittle, the museum’s executive director.

Before the children entered the museum, McClellan informed the campers that they will leave Leonardo’s due in part of the incidents that had occurred.

Their total time in Enid was less than an hour. A far cry of the campers expectations of a whole day of fun. “A lot of kids were upset, and others were crying because they did not know why they were leaving so soon,”  Austin said.

In a published report, the worker has been placed on administrative leave pending their internal investigation.

“Through study of my security cameras, I can see that they arrived at 11:41 am which was later than anticipated and then left at 1:15 pm which was earlier than expected.  Your organization left our facility without making payment. There were some complaints by your adult supervisory staff that I would like to address with your leadership as well,” stated Tracy Brittle, executive director of the museum. Another email followed from the museum.

“… after a short visit, it was determined that the group did not have the required 5:1 ratio of children to adults, and the group decided to leave. Before they left, it was brought to my attention that a couple of the children believed they were told they could not play on a slide exhibit because of their skin color. We are reviewing videotapes to see if from a visual record we can tell what was said.  Based on the result of our investigation we will determine what employee action is needed.” After the museum concluded in its internal investigation, they stated that the comment could not be proven.

The museum offered free admission upon their next visit to Enid, but GCC declined the offer.

As the result of its investigation, and how the museum chose to handle the incident, GCC will not return. “The only thing that the museum did was to clean up the incident and make their story sound nice. But it doesn’t change the fact that the worker told our children that only whites can slide,”  Jordan-Rachshaw said.  GCC offered an invitation for the museum staff to visit and offered to show Leonardo what the Greenwood Culture Center has to offer in Tulsa. To date, the museum has yet to respond.

The Black Wall Street Times is a news publication located in Tulsa, Okla. and Atlanta, Ga. At The BWSTimes, we focus on elevating the stories of our beloved Greenwood community, elevating the stories of...