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The children of Greenwood will always be best suited to carry their ancestors’ torch.
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OPINION By Tyrance Billingsley II, Contributing Writer
Arianne, 5, sits in front of a mural dedicated to her father, Stephon Simon and others in her community, and engages in tech. The mural, sponsored by Metro T-Mobile, includes a track baton passed from one generation to the next. | Photo by Cory Young for The Black Wall Street Times on Thursday, November 19, 2020
Nearly 100 years ago, Tulsa’s thriving Black economy was leveled by a hate-filled mob. Fueled by racism and unconcerned with humanity, these armed vigilantes inflicted a socioeconomic wound that hasn’t healed almost a century later. We will never know what Oklahoma could have been — had Black Wall Street been supported instead of destroyed. “Cutting off your nose to spite your face” doesn’t feel like a strong enough expression here, but it works. In 1921, a thriving economic hub of innovation and entrepreneurship was stolen from the descendants of all Oklahomans.
We have a responsibility to learn from the past, but not just past mistakes. It’s time to truly study the innovation that catalyzed Black Wall Street and enabled it to thrive in the face of Jim Crow-era racism and disenfranchisement.
Currently, we live in a society where tech has an outsized influence on our economy and the world. Less than 30% of the industry are POC (or Women, or LatinX). And if we truly believe a fair and just economy is a strong economy, then our current system is counter-intuitive.
Tulsa is positioned to become what it always should have been – a hub for technological innovation led by the Black community. Or what I like to call “Black Tech Street”.
Over the last 13 months, industry leaders and philanthropic titans have heard my vision for how we make Black Tech Street a reality. Building off the foundation laid by the economic pioneers of Black Wall Street, Black Tech Street will be a self-sustaining ecosystem of Black talent, businesses, and technological advances that will improve every facet of our economy. Black Tech Street has a primary objective to facilitate $1 billion of investments through grants, community development, entrepreneurial development, education, culture and attraction, and workforce development over ten years. Tulsa will become a premier source of highly-sought-after investment opportunities, talent, and innovation.
Tulsa will move closer to the idea of “what could have been” that lives in the minds of all who are heirs to the legacy of the original Greenwood community.
As a son of Greenwood, this vision is deeply personal to me. I know the untapped potential that lives within my community. The children of Greenwood will always be best suited to carry their ancestors’ torch. The leaders we need are already here. This is why Black Tech Street is more than an economic venture. It is my way of paying tribute to all those who came before me whose dreams were cut short and all who are fighting alongside me in a world of unjust systemic barriers – barriers that have left Black-owned businesses disproportionately at-risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. But through the efforts of Black Tech Street, Tulsa’s Black community will be better prepared to weather whatever storm comes next.
Our ancestors laid a foundation for our success that exists outside of the brick and mortar turned-rubble of 1921. We have everything we need to build a powerful repudiation to the ignorance that viciously took the dreams and lives of the Greenwood community (and inadvertently destined Oklahoma to be known as a fly-over state). We don’t lead the country in attracting POC industry professionals, businesses or cultural events — but we will. This is Tulsa’s opportunity to become what it will pretend to be when the world is watching next year during the centennial anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Let’s stop performing and start becoming.
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.