OKC Thunder launches mentorship program for Black teens in Greenwood

by Deon Osborne, Associate Editor

A new program dedicated to enhancing opportunity and addressing the racial wealth gap has come to Tulsa’s Greenwood community.

Thanks to a partnership between the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder and Creative Arts Agency (CAA), the “Thunder Fellows” program has opened its doors in downtown’s Greenwood District to offer Black teens skills and hands-on experience in data analytics.

The 30-week program, crafted for 9th and 10th graders, enhances opportunities for young people to pursue a career in data analytics in the fields of sports, entertainment and technology. These are skills in high demand across various industries that offer lucrative salaries. 

Nationally, young African-Americans are underrepresented in STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), according to the Pew Research Center.

Mentorship program seeks to close racial wealth gap

Thunder Fellows seeks to change those statistics.

“The intent is to educate and expose our young people to data and analytics curriculum,” said Executive Director Cedric Ikpo. “All with the goal of making sure that we’re able to get them career-ready and marketable to ultimately have access to meaningful opportunities in the sports, entertainment, and tech industries.”

In addition to the 30-week curriculum, which launches September 27, 2021, students will have access to “mentors, professional coaching, and meaningful employment opportunities,” according to the program’s website.

Located on MLK Blvd in historic Greenwood District, the program recognizes the historical and present day traumas affecting Black teens. This year, the community honored the 100-Year Centennial of Black Wall Street’s targeted destruction in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, when White rioters destroyed 35 square blocks of the Black economic powerhouse, killing upwards of 300 people.

According to a report from OKC Thunder’s Paris Lawson, the idea for the program was birthed out of a conversation between Thunder General Manager Sam Presti and longtime friend CAA executive Mike Johnson, following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in the summer of 2020.

Thunder Fellows is a 30-week mentorship program for Black teens in Tulsa’s historic Greenwood District (Thunder Fellows)

Thunder Fellows seeks applications from 9th and 10th graders

Seeking to make lasting change, they ultimately settled on a location for the program in the Greenwood District, while honoring the legacy of the community.

Upon entering the doors, students and parents will see the words “Thunder Fellows in Historic Greenwood”. Moreover, a remake of a 1921 Booker T. Washington High School basketball team photo draws viewers’ attentions to young Dick Rowland. He’s the teenager who was falsely accused of assaulting a White girl named Sarah Page in an elevator, which led to White mobs initiating one of the deadliest massacres of a Black community on U.S. soil.

“It is an incredible honor to take on this role with Thunder Fellows, and I believe that with an intentional, thoughtful and committed approach we can help create tangible and transformative outcomes for Black youth in Tulsa,” executive director Cedric Ikpo added on Twitter.

Thunder Fellows is a 30-week mentorship program for Black teens in Tulsa’s historic Greenwood District (Thunder Fellows)

Reimagining Black Wall Street

Thunder Fellows seeks to rekindle the flame of entrepreneurship that gave rise to Black Wall Street mere decades after the end of Black peoples’ enslavement.

Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, a leader in the community, recently encouraged teenagers to apply for the program in a post on Instagram.

“The launch of the Thunder Fellows in the historic Greenwood District is finally here! Serving our youth in Tulsa’s disadvantaged communities is how you reimagine the spirit of Black Wall Street! Do you know any Black 9th & 10th graders?” Dr. Crutcher posted.

Interested applicants for Thunder Fellows must complete the online application with three letters of recommendation by September 10.  The review committee will conduct the selection process from September 13 -17. For those selected, Orientation begins September 20. 

To apply for the program, visit www.thunderfellows.org.

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