Listen to this article here
On Tuesday, August 25, 2020, Tulsa mayoral candidate Gregory Robinson II stands with his fiancée Katelyn Kramer and godson, right, and political advisor Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, left, at Robinson’s mayoral watch party at Dos Bandidos in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Reading Time 12 min 54 sec
TULSA, Okla. — On June 6, 2020, in the heart of Trump Country, a 30-year-old Black Tulsan named Gregory Robinson II announced his mayoral candidacy in Oklahoma’s second-largest city: Tulsa.
Facing an uphill battle since his declaration to run, Robinson’s community organizing skills, charming charisma, humble spirit, and ability to connect to Spanish-speaking voters through his bilingual skills proved handy along the campaign trail. In just 76-days, not only did he raise $250,000 — more than half of what his incumbent entered the race with, but Robinson garnered national endorsements from Democratic Party royalty.
Former 2020 Presidential candidate and former US Representative of Texas, Beto O’Rourke, gave his endorsement to Robinson during a virtual fundraising event earlier this month.
Robinson also received endorsements from Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond, Va., and Mayor Steven Reed of Montgomery, Ala., both of whose cities recently removed Confederate statues.
Robinson’s hometown of Tulsa has been plagued as the tale of two cities: one White and Black — but now one of othered. Black, Brown, Indigenous, and poor Tulsans are marginalized and underrepresented in economic and political spaces.
But the bombing of Black Wall Street in 1921 with no conversation around reparations, the continual dismantling of Black economic progress through failing schools, food deserts, a life expectancy gap that averages between 8 and 17 years and the continues low chance for economic mobility due to decades of systemic racism that intensified after integration only aggrandizes many Tulsans’ frustrations with the city’s current administration. Nearly 30% of the city’s constituents voted against the current mayor and for Robinson, who may just become the city’s first Black mayor within the next decade.
Tulsa’s tale of two cities is deeply rooted in its history of racism that begins before Oklahoma statehood and the founding of Tulsa.
After the American Civil War and ending of the institutional enslavement of Black people, northeastern Oklahoma’s racial history become complex.
White Confederate pioneer-families, who lost the war, fleed from a defeated, burning and broken rebellious American south, recolonized lands that had been given to the Muscogee Creek and Cherokee nations in the Oklahoma Territory.
These first nation peoples were given land allotments by the federal government. They allowed Black freedman to purchase some of it; this made the prosperous Black-township of Greenwood possible to develop and thrive during the city’s Jim Crow era, racist laws that were passed and enforced by Tulsa’s White pioneer-families who were former Confederates.
And although the Jim Crow laws have long since been annulled, its residue has left a long-lasting footprint of racial inequity in the city. Today, much of its racially-biased culture still remains intact and displays as a major characteristic of the city’s social-political landscape. Notably, during the 2008 Presidential Election, not one Oklahoma County including Tulsa County and the City of Tulsa voted for America’s first Black president.
For Robinson, it is that racial inequity that provoked his audacity to run against a Goliath, against one of Tulsans’ political pioneer-families’ descendants — GT Bynum, and be the change he seeks.
Greg Robinson’s Full Transcript:
“The most important people up here right now to me are my two godsons. Because when I think about the risk that I took, and I think about why I had to take them, its embodied in these two young boys — these two young kings. Because of that, tonight is a win for us.
I can say that even with the realization that I’m not going to be the next mayor of Tulsa because there are things that are bigger than the political games that we’ve become a custom to playing. There are things larger than the divisive rhetoric that we’ve fallen into.
There’s a humanist that has the ability to connect all of us; that has the ability to bridge our differences; that has the amazing capability to bring us all together, and then push us to accomplish things beyond our wildest dreams.
And so when I think about the little boy that I was, from 29th and North Lewis, the son of a banker turned activist, and an accountant, a little boy who just got poured into by all of his cousins all of his aunties all of his teachers; and they just kept telling him: “We love you, we love you. You’re going to do something special one day. Keep pushing.” The little boy that was broken when he lost his father at 12-years-old, but he had his big cousin, Trey, to fall into his arms and catch him. The little boy who was broken at 16-years-old and was hurtled up in the hallway at Booker T. Washington but had his teacher Dr. Marshall to take him up. The little boy that was confused about what his pathway in life was going to be in the student union at the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff, but he had a mentor in Mike Washington who said it’s OK to dream big and be in orbit. I think about that little boy that went all the way from North Tulsa all the way to work for President Obama — right? — to work for Secretary Clinton and the little boy that decided: The best thing he could do was, come back home. Come back home and try to ensure that every child, regardless of their race regardless of their social-economic status, regardless of their ZIP Code, has a pathway to achieve their wildest dreams.
That’s why I ran this race!
I ran because the City of Tulsa has a unique potential to learn from its mistakes, to push through its current shortcomings on racial inequity, and become a model for the country.
But we have to stop pretending our way to peace.
We live in a tale of two cities. It’s in the data.
How do you think it feels to be west of the Arkansas River and be devoid of economic investment and have the factory air pushing towards you every morning?
How do you think it feels to live north of Highway 244 and be feeling like you’re on an episode of Naked and Afraid if you accidentally ran out of gas, to be stressed out about where you’re going to get access to fresh fruits and vegetables, to be stressed out about whether the neighborhood school that you’re sending your kid to is going to put them on the pathway to upward mobility?
How do you think it feels to be a person from the Hispanic community that walks into City Hall and doesn’t always see materials in their language when they’re 16% of the city and 36% of our public school district?
How do you think it feels to be an Indigenous person who comes to every single meeting and never hears the acknowledgment of the land that we all stand on?
See, I ran because we’ve confused ourselves into making inequality a black and white issue. No! It’s a right and wrong issue.
So we can build, and we will continue to push for a city that invests in inclusive economic growth that takes a localized economic perspective so that we put power back into communities so that they own the development of their neighborhoods so that we invest to ensure that we are building up or the next Tesla or Elon Musk and not just trying to recruit them in.
We will continue to push for a more holistic approach to public safety, where we are not just throwing our money at the symptom of the problem and bragging about having 90 police officers in every single year, but bragging about the fact that we are now investing in mental health resources and investing in public health resources so that we can actually build people up instead of breaking them down.
We will continue to push for a city that combats poverty as opposed to criminalizing it. We look forward to pushing councilwoman Hall-Harper and her compatriots to look at those municipal-finings and fees.
We will continue to push to be more innovative in the way that we approach education the reality is that the income any quality that exists means that we have a lot of kids going through our K through 12 education system that need to get the training and the certificates and be connected to prospective employers so that they can come out of school making 40, 50, 60-thousand dollars so that they can actually get a bridge out of poverty. We’ve got to start building an education system that actually deals with the issue in the schools, which is the fact that because we haven’t invested in public health infrastructure that we have the highest Adverse Child Experience scores of any other city in the nation. That means that we’re pulling ourselves if we think kids are going to be able to critically think if no one is critically thinking about them.
The reason we were able to get 30% of a mayoral vote in two months is because we spoke to what people are truly feeling out there.
I want you all to pay attention to the vote-numbers tonight. I want you to pay attention to the amount of people who got engaged in this election in the midst of a pandemic. I want you to pay attention to the amount of volunteers that sacrifice themselves, day, after day, after day, for 76 days just because they believed in something again.
That’s what our political leaders should be striving for—standing with the people, even if that means opposing a political agenda.
So my call is the same as it was before I ran; it is the same as it was during my run, and it’s the same as I told you it was going to be after my run.
People of Tulsa, I love you. I believe you.
Leaders of Tulsa, I love you. I believe in you, but we are going to push all of you. We are going to continue to push all of us because I am not satisfied with just average. I’m not satisfied with just a few of us being OK. All of us need to be all right.
It doesn’t make any sense for there to be vacant homes and homeless people. It doesn’t make any sense for the average income of Black folks to be half of that of White folks. It doesn’t make any sense for Native Americans to be 3 1/2 times likely to be denied home loans as White folks. It doesn’t make any sense for our Latinx brothers and sisters to be victims of use-of-force 3 1/2 times that of their White brothers and sisters. It doesn’t make any sense for the life expectancy gap in the same city to be an average 8.4 years between a North Tulsa zip code and a south Tulsa zip code, that average worst at 17-years. That is not information; that is an indictment.
We all have to do better!
So that is my pledge to you tonight. Tomorrow, our work continues.
Thank you so much!”
Gregory Robinson II