On July 20, 2019, entrepreneurial expert Kezia M. Williams leads a Saturday morning boot camp to ambitious entrepreneurs in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (All photos courtesy of The Black Wall Street Times)
Published 07/20/2019 | Reading Time 3 min 15 sec
By Nehemiah D. Frank
If a person told me that a healthy Black business ecosystem was a possibility in Tulsa 10-years go, I would have thought the person was nuts and socially unaware of the ginormous up-hill-climb Black entrepreneurs face in our city — mainly due to its history.
I, however, hold a different opinion today, and it’s a positive one.
On a sunny Saturday morning in my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, I walked into a creative and inspiring space and saw some familiar faces and a few new ones. Their ages varied widely bringing a variety of unique perspectives to their conversations.
The commonality that drives and brings them together besides their shared ethnicity as Black people is their quest in entrepreneurship.
They seek to reinvigorate the spirit of Black Wall Street in the 21st-Century, and they have the help from entrepreneurial expert Kezia M. Williams.
Williams is the Chief Executive Officer and founder of The Black UpStart based in Atlanta, Georgia. The Black UpStart is a national initiative that trains African-American entrepreneurs. This young and inspiring innovator has ten years of experience in training millennials on how to use crowdfunding grants to benefit their small and innovative startups. She also intentionally manages initiatives that serve Black donors and entrepreneurs.
Throughout the year, Williams travels around the world with her team hosting rigorous entrepreneurial boot camps that teach new Black business owners the formula for creating successful businesses. Last month her team was in South Africa, and this month they’re in Tulsa, Oklahoma home of the original Black Wall Street.
For the next several weekends, Williams and her staff will travel to Tulsa to host a Black entrepreneurs popup school at The Forge in downtown Tulsa.
Williams shared her excitement about the Tulsa group with me: “We had 215 applicants for 16 spots. It was extremely competitive. All of the entrepreneurs sitting around the table are early-stage pre-revenue Black entrepreneurs, who are specifically interested in solving problems in north Tulsa, which is incredibly inspiring.”
Collaborative efforts are what made this intensely informative workshop possible.
Rose Washington is the Chief Executive Officer of the Tulsa Economic Development Corporation (TEDC), and Brandon Oldham serves as Program Associate on the Vibrant and Inclusive Tulsa team at the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF). Their respective organizations assembled an alliance with The Black UpStart to bring the entrepreneurial pop of school to Tulsa.
Oldham shared his excitement around the boot camp coming to Tulsa, “It’s truly an honor to see everyone here. I was very impressed when people started responding, and all of the applications started to roll in. It shows there’s not only a hunger for it but that there’s a true need. It is truly something that Black Tulsans are interested in, and it’s necessary for our community to continue to thrive.”
“Our history has shown us that entrepreneurship is something that not only builds community but strengthens them in a way that no other industry can do.” Oldham’s statement highlights the beautiful legacy of the community that he’s from. The Greenwood District, also dubbed the Black Wall Street by Booker T. Washington, at one point was the wealthiest and most resourceful Black community in the western world, boasting 36 square blocks of black entrepreneurship.
Washington explained “The drive that they have to learn what they need to learn to be successful and the comradery that their building together means that they’re going to change the landscape in Tulsa,” referring to the 16 lucky participants. “They’ll be the first group of Black UpStart graduates to start changing the landscape for Black business in Tulsa.”
Washington also shared that TEDC is converting the empty storefront at the Shops of Peoria into an entrepreneurial hub called Empowerment Suits (E-Suits). E-Suits will host on-going business planning and community economic classes, among other positive things to reboot the entrepreneurial spirit within the north Tulsa community. She hopes E-Suits is completed before the end of the year.
As for the lucky participants, they are already gaining a wealth experience and growing from The Black UpStart boot camp Tulsa.
“What I like about The Black UpStart is that it’s challenging my current ideas and how I currently do business. It’s forcing me to think outside of the box and think of different ways I can serve a larger market,” Kyara Little explained. Little is an inspiring financial service entrepreneur with ambitions to open a firm.
Jamia Newsome is a new entrepreneur who was also inspired to share her experiences in attending the boot bamps. “The most exciting thing about this experience so far is just being around a group of people who are at different levels and stages in entrepreneurship. I’m at a very basic level and stage, and I knew nothing. Just to hear all of the ideas in the room about things I had never thought about and things I’ve never known is a very illuminating experience for me. It’s been amazing.”
The attendees have a few more intensive training sessions with Williams before their graduation on July 27, 2019. But the good news is Washington explained that bringing The Black UpStart back to Tulsa are already in talks.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Black Wall Street Times, an educator, TEDx alum, blogger for EdPost, and Community Advisory Board Member for the Tulsa World.