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Published 01/26/2020 | Reading Time 4 min 22 sec
By Tyrance Billingsley II, Contributing Writer
I was born in the most entrepreneurial, affluent African-American community in the history of America. Hence, greatness, tenacity and innovation are coded within my very DNA, as it is in all the other African-American descendants of America’s original Black Wall Street, also known as the Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
While many people are doing fantastic work in efforts to revitalize this once Black Promiseland through economic development and other initiatives, most have conceded that the original level of affluence achieved through Black Wall Street can never be truly recreated as it was an unintentional result of segregation that allowed my community to flourish.
I respectfully disagree because to be black is to be innovative.
Not only can the wealth that existed in the past be recreated, but it can far surpass the acme of its glorious days by via one industry — tech. The 1900s saw the nativity of Black Wall Street; the 2020s should, therefore, see the birth of a Black Silicon Valley.
As a young black professional with ambitions of starting a high-growth tech company, I’ve had the privilege of learning about the tech industry, while working alongside some of its major players and seeing the immense wealth and positive impact the industry creates for communities.
Tech is the premiere industry that is having the greatest impression on the world in terms of building wealth and improving the quality of life.
As African-Americans and as heirs to Black Wall Street, we must be as rigorous and passionate in our pursuit of the tech industry as our ancestors were in their search of all forms of entrepreneurship. Our ancestors who built Greenwood were not just entrepreneurs — they were innovators.
To be black in America is to be innovative. That is the culture that black Tulsans adopted in their yesteryears, and it must be what we adopt today.
We honor our ancestors when we put major dents in the universe and build intergenerational wealth for our children and children’s children. This can be achieved through the creation of a vibrant and thriving Black Tech Ecosystem.
A black tech ecosystem is a community of black start-ups, entrepreneurs, tech companies, workers, mentors and funding institutions woven together by a culture of collaboration. That is what we will build here in Tulsa. This task will be difficult and will not happen overnight. It will be a very long process, and it begins by adopting a new perspective.
The tech industry has consistently produced some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world in just the past three decades. A sector of such prestige in leadership that boasts some of the smartest people on the planet as its poster children are bound to invoke imposter syndrome toward almost anyone looking to venture into this space.
I have found this to be true for my brothers and sisters of color more so than anyone. We find ourselves struggling against centuries-long campaigns that have taught us to doubt our abilities against institutions of wealth creation that were not designed with us in mind. Nevertheless, our city continues to produce and attract black entrepreneurs and leaders who embody black excellence.
The same will be true for the tech industry. We don’t need to fear the tech industry as an industry that is too far out of our league to tame and thrive in; we need to embrace it as an unfettered means to achieve every bit of change we want to see in this city and our world.
A vibrant tech ecosystem is not only a path to intergenerational wealth, but it can also be a path to greater community empowerment due to the fact that many of the great issues of the 21st century will not be solved by government policies, but by innovative and disruptive entrepreneurs.
Tulsa is currently in the infant stages of what will be a massive tech wave as its entrepreneurial ecosystem begins to explode. Institutions such as 36 Degrees North, Tulsa Innovation Labs, Urban Coders Guild, Holberton, Atento Capital and i2e are providing resources for tech entrepreneurs to build out their visions.
It would be unacceptable if, on the eve of the anniversary of Greenwood’s destruction, African Americans in Tulsa were to not be at the center of the wave that will no doubt produce Tulsa’s next generation of multimillionaires.
We need to establish systems that will enable every entrepreneur of color to know about and feel comfortable accessing all of the resources in Tulsa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem needed to build out this vision. This can start by first educating our community on the opportunity that the tech industry offers and creates easily accessible entry points into the tech ecosystem already built.
Moreover, increasing African American engagement and utilization of Tulsa’s growing ecosystem resources will ensure that the wave of tech-focused development sweeping through our city is used as a catalyst for building a thriving community that we are determined to build.
If you are an entrepreneur and your business is not tech-based, don’t feel left out. Understand that a Black Tech Ecosystem is a multifaceted concept that manifests in many different forms. Technology penetrates nearly every area of our lives. A mindfully built tech ecosystem stands to enhance conventional business as well via tech, enabling them to enhance services better. For those who are not of the entrepreneurial persuasion, but still passionate about tech, a thriving tech ecosystem would provide a multitude of well-paying jobs and professions through which intergenerational wealth can still be built.
Black Wall Street was a thriving community of African American entrepreneurs, visionaries and workers collaborating to create one of the most prosperous black communities America has ever seen, and Black Silicon Valley can work the same. Other black tech hubs exist throughout the country, such as Atlanta and Miami.
What happened there can and will happen here. We can build a community through which our black children in the education system live and breathe entrepreneurship and grow up knowing it’s their birthright to learn how to code, write business plans and see innovations they have dreamed come to fruition. We can establish a culture where there is an automatic association of Black with innovation and tech entrepreneurship. And when the eyes of the world look upon Tulsa in the coming years, it will not only see a city commemorating and celebrating its past; it will see a city that stands as an example to all of what happens when black entrepreneurs come together to innovate towards an even brighter tomorrow.
Tyrance Billingsley is a contributing writer of The Black Wall Street Times as well as an entrepreneurial and politically active African American in Tulsa. He chose to stay in Tulsa after high school in an effort to establish himself locally and to help build Tulsa into the global hub it once was — for all its citizens. Tyrance is very passionate about Tulsa and hopes to use Tulsa as a launchpad for global change.