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When she was in kindergarten, Ray’Chel Wilson learned a word that would change her life: inquisitive. “My teacher said, ‘my you’re inquisitive,’” said Ms. Wilson in an interview with The Black Wall St Times. “Inquisitive described me perfectly,” she added with a smile. 

And it still does. Years later, as a second-year teacher at KIPP Tulsa, Ms. Wilson named her classroom, “Ms. Wilson’s Room of Why,” where she encourages students to ask questions and develop their critical thinking skills. “Inquisitivity is the root of all solutions,” she said of her belief in the power of asking why. 

Ms. Wilson is one of the recipients of The Teaching and Leading Initiative of Oklahoma’s “20 Under Two” award for teachers early in their career, who are making an impact on their students, their schools — and their communities. At KIPP Tulsa, Ms. Wilson is a 9th and 10th-grade biology teacher, where she encourages students to study biology through the lens of their own interests in the human body, diseases, and cellular reproduction. 

Wilson didn’t plan to become a teacher

Certified through Teach For America, Ms. Wilson, an Ohio native, was hoping for a placement in Tulsa, as her family has Indigenous roots and because of her interest in the resilience of entrepreneurs in Black Wall St, both before and after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. As a child, however, she wanted to be an astronaut, not a teacher or a businesswoman. “There were two things I did not want to do for a career: be a teacher, and own a business,” she said with a chuckle, “Now I do both.” 

Concerned about the responsibilities of teaching, coupled with the low pay, Ms. Wilson pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Public Health, believing it would open more doors for her. However, a summer internship providing educational training for judicial professionals in Washington D.C. led to a realization that education was a passion — and that she wanted to work with a different age group. 

Older teens were perfect. “I wanted to reach students at that critical age,” Ms. Wilson recalled. “Lessons learned as teenagers can shape our lives.” 

Wilson encourages students to explore science outside the classroom

To Ms. Wilson, legacy matters. As a Black woman, she wanted to make a difference, and also recognize and honor the resilience of Tulsans, who rebuilt Greenwood after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre wiped out Black Wall St, which she also studied in college. Moreover, Ms. Wilson knew that Tulsa was the place for her to start a financial literacy business for minority adults, Raise The Bar Investments. She believes that STEM is missing an E at the end, for Entrepreneurship. 

As a “20 Under Two” recipient, Ms. Wilson has received a $250 gift certificate to Magic City, which she plans to use not on textbooks, but on books that will further encourage her students to explore science in real life. It’s a lesson she teaches in the classroom, where she encourages her students to focus their final project on a topic within biology that speaks to them personally. 

“The best teachers are the best learners,” is another of Ms. Wilson’s values. To that end, she is grateful to her students, KIPP Tulsa, and Teach for America, for providing her the resources to continue asking why every day. 

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...