Education

Kravis Employee Threatens Arts Camp Funding if Lee School Name is Changed

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Photo Courtesy of the Black Wall Street Times


The Raymond and Bessie Kravis Foundation contacted the Black Wall Street Times, issuing the following statement: 

Mr. Richard Phillips is not employed by The Estate of George R. Kravis II nor is he employed by The Raymond and Bessie Kravis Foundation.  In addition and most importantly, Mr. Phillips is in no way and in no capacity authorized to neither speak on behalf of nor represent The Estate of George R. Kravis II nor The Raymond and Bessie Kravis Foundation on any matter. 

updated 08.15.2018

From the Editorial Board

Richard Phillips, who identified himself as an employee of the Kravis Foundation in Tulsa, took to the podium at Monday night’s TPS Board meeting to seemingly threaten current funding for a children’s summer arts program if the school board voted to remove the name Lee from the former Robert E. Lee Elementary.

Phillips, who noted that he was representing the views of the foundation itself, primarily took issue with the process the board followed, stating “I’m here to represent their wishes, Mr. Kravis’s wishes, that you follow your process. If you don’t follow your process that you set up, then how can we as concerned generous citizens trust your school board?”

While Mr. Phillips did not raise specific grievances, concerning the process itself, he did seem to focus heavily on the board’s final decision to remove the name Lee from the school after initially voting to keep the name. The change in decision came after members of the community voiced grave concern over retaining the surname of the Confederate general on a school.

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Photo Courtesy of the Black Wall Street Times

“We cannot understand why you would want to deface a historic building,” Phillips said to the council, adding his concern over the cost of changing the name on school benches. He told the board to consider other names, such as Brenda Lee, a white musical artist most famous for her song “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

“I have other things to do tonight,” Phillips said as he wrapped up his speech, “but I am a citizen of our city and have just been shocked at the change of process.” He then shifted his gaze, gesturing toward the mostly white audience, stating “I hope you all listen to your crowd.”

As he turned to leave the podium, he paused and said: “It would be my pleasure to recommend future funding.”

To some, this thinly-veiled threat to remove future funding for a summer arts program serving children across the city, should the removal of the school’s surname of Robert E. Lee occur, echoes the dog-whistle style politics other speakers addressed.

Several times, amid speakers suggesting that those with children at the school who find the name offensive can “leave” and “go somewhere else,” other members of the Lee community took to the podium to address the issues of oppression and white supremacy that Lee’s surname represents.

One speaker, in particular, a father from Lee, noted to the crowd that the vote to remove the name from the school does not necessarily need to reflect majority opinion, but instead should reflect “what the majority opinion ought to be.” He said that sending his child to a school named after Robert. E. Lee made his “stomach turn.”

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Photo Courtesy of the Black Wall Street Times

Other community leaders, including Tyrance Billingsley, Richard Baxter, and Chris Moore asked for the audience to consider a perspective that may be different from their own lived experience and to look at the issue of the name change through the lens of a person of color. Baxter noted that keeping the surname Lee would be no different than an earlier city effort to keep the name Brady on a downtown street by choosing a different Brady to name it after.

While frustrations became apparent from individuals on both sides of the issue, there was a sense of burgeoning relief that this effort, which will soon enter its second year, will hopefully be drawing to a close.

The vote, scheduled to take place on Monday, August 20, would end a process which began following the white supremacist terror attack in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. Should the current motion before the Board pass, the school would be almost immediately renamed Council Oak Elementary, in honor of the gathering place created by the Muskogee (Mvskoke) Creek nation upon settling in Tulsa after the Trail of Tears.


Checkout the Tulsa Public School Board Meeting below and leave a comment in the comment section on our Facebook post. 

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