Arts and Culture

Council Oak Elementary, 100 Years In The Making

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Editorial | By Lindsey Barbour

Council Oak Elementary, formerly Robert E. Lee Elementary, was dedicated with its new name on May 10th, 2019, with guest speaker Ben Yahola, of the Muskogee Creek Nation.

As a parent of two children at this school, I am grateful that its 100th year of existence is coming to a close with a celebration of culture and our common humanity.

At the ceremony, the next generation of Tulsans was taught about the Muskogean people, whose oldest identity is, “the people from the heart of the tree.”

Mr. Yahola said that the Creek people would look around for the tree that they came from, and they would often find the biggest tree and think maybe that is the one.

“The roots are deep, right here in Tulsa, of your ancestors, our ancestors, everybody’s! We are a million years in the making,” he said. 

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Mr. Yahola taught the children to utilize critical thinking and look seven generations ahead when making decisions; to ask ourselves if it will be good for our children and our children’s children.

He said, “We evolve because we care. We care about how others feel and are going to address it and shape our future in a good way.”

Deputy Superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools Paula Shannon, City Councilor Sara Joy McKee, and Winnie Purdue and Robert Anquoe of the Greater Tulsa Indian Affairs Commission attended the dedication, as well as the Vice President of the TPS School Board, Suzanne Schrieber and recent school board member, Cindy Decker. Both Suzanne and Cindy voted in favor of the name Council Oak last August.

The name change process was brutal for our school community, partially because it was mismanaged and partially because we didn’t communicate well with one another throughout the process.

We didn’t know how to navigate the difficult conversations, with people we cared about but potentially disagreed with. We had created an identity and culture that we associated with the name Lee.

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There was a grieving process that had to be undertaken in order to move forward, and we are still walking this out. This year, our school was given the opportunity to reimagine our future, to build on what was there before but to make it better and stronger.

I asked my 5th-grade son, who is graduating from the first class under the name Council Oak, what he thought about the ceremony. He said, “As the years pass, the new kids coming into the school will know it only as Council Oak. They will create new memories there, just like we did.”

Our children often see the big picture better than we can as adults.

As difficult as the last few years were, I became a different person, a better person as a result.

I learned that it is ok to stand up for something you believe in, even if it costs you something.

I learned that true friends are those who can disagree and stay connected.

I learned that the key to having an impact in any situation is often simply showing up, and I learned to appreciate, more deeply than ever, the sacrifices made by those in the civil rights movement, who gave up a lot more than social status.

The future of Tulsa and Council Oak Elementary is bright. We are making progress daily, even though there is still a long way to go.

Children can walk into the school under a name that symbolizes gathering and a celebration of cultural identity. The new signage has been installed, and it blends in wonderfully with the historic building.

Tulsa will continue to evolve, and 100 years from now, I believe that its citizens will look back and celebrate the bravery of people like Dr. Gist and the Tulsa School Board.

People who made tough decisions for the good of ALL Tulsans.

To close the dedication ceremony, the children participated in offering the ashes of cedar wood.

Mr. Yahola said, “That’s your offering, it has your essence on it. You touched it. You left something here on earth that identifies you; the oil from you, from your heart and from your ancestors, and you are going to leave it right here.”

We all have the opportunity to leave something behind, in our communities and the lives of the people we touch. Our individual legacies will combine to become the future.

Let’s make it a good one together.


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Lindsey Barbour is mother, accountant, educator, and entrepreneur. She received a Bachelors at Oklahoma State University and a Masters at Northeastern State University. Barbour is, also, an assistant professor at Tulsa Community College, a co-owner at Barbour Properties, and owns an accounting firm.

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