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The sun was setting on an abnormally warm day in Montgomery, Alabama when Dr. Tiffany Crutcher received a life-altering call. It was September 16, 2016, and Dr. Crutcher was wrapping up a long day of work at her Alabama clinic. The Tulsa native recalls a distressing feeling that night before the phone started to ring.
The call was about her twin brother, Terence Crutcher.
Tiffany and Terence had just shared a 40th birthday together. They celebrated over the phone, talking about their respective future plans. Terence, a father and choir member, was a student at Tulsa Community College. He was driving home from school that evening when his car stalled in the middle of the road and he began to suffer a health crisis. Officer Betty Shelby of the Tulsa Police Department responded, inexplicably perceived the unarmed Terence as a threat and shot him.
When Tiffany picked up the call that evening, she received the unimaginable news: her twin brother was dead.
More than 1900 nights have passed since that phone rang. The time that has followed has re-shaped Dr. Crutcher’s life and reoriented the trajectory of Tulsa’s future.
And in this year, five years after Terence’s killing and a century after the Tulsa Race Massacre, the influence of Dr. Tiffany Crutcher is undeniable.
While innumerable Tulsans have had profound influence this year, Dr. Crutcher’s relentless fight for justice makes her our choice for The Black Wall Street Times’ 2021 Person of the Year.
The unshakeable fight for Justice for Greenwood
The 100-Year Centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre was a seminal moment for Tulsa’s history. One hundred years after a white mob destroyed Greenwood, with aid from the city and the state, survivors and descendants still wait for justice.
Dr. Crutcher’s great-grandmother, Rebecca Brown Crutcher, was living in Greenwood the night of the attack.
In her testimony before Congress on May 19th, Dr. Crutcher recalled her great-grandmother finding Greenwood to be a place of “safety and a rare refuge in the grim days of Jim Crow.”
“But this paradise, this vibrant place my great-grandmother helped to build, would soon be wiped away in a flood of racial terror,” Dr. Crutcher said.
As white mobs tore Greenwood apart, Rebecca Brown Crutcher fled her community to save her own life.
“We are here asking our nation’s government to see that justice is done in the form of reparations,” Dr. Crutcher said.
Tiffany Crutcher was not seated before Congress by happenstance, nor for the first time. Since her brother’s murder, Dr. Crutcher has made frequent trips to Washington, DC, urging leaders to pass policing reform.
Now, with the eyes of the nation on this room, Dr. Crutcher ensured that not only her family’s story, but the stories of the three known living survivors echoed across America.
Dr. Crutcher, alongside friend and family attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, accompanied survivors and other descendants to DC for the hearing.
Mother Leslie Randle, Mother Viola Fletcher and Hugh Van Ellis (“Uncle Redd”), fought back tears to recount that night. Each of them called on the City of Tulsa to pay reparations.
Later that day, the three would meet with VP Kamala Harris, sharing a profound moment with the nation’s first Black Vice President.
For Dr. Crutcher, this was not the mountaintop – this was just a necessary step on the road toward true justice.
The community’s Centennial commemoration
As the date for the Centennial drew near, a national spotlight illuminated Tulsa like never before. Many of its leaders, including the city’s mayor who calls reparations ‘divisive’, seized the moment to paint a narrative of progress and positivity.
But Greenwood is not rebuilt, though it is being gentrified. Those who survived it’s destruction and their families still have received no reparations. Promises for change have gone unfulfilled as the city has quite literally sought to keep its sordid past buried.
For Dr. Crutcher and so many others, this moment was not one for celebration. This was a moment to fight for Greenwood’s future.
As other attempts at celebration fell apart, Dr. Crutcher and a team of community leaders from across the city and country launched Legacy Fest. The four-day event, attended by tens of thousands from across the nation, highlighted the power of Black Wall Street and amplified calls for justice.
The effort featured panels, speakers, political leaders, artists and musicians, while elevating local Black entrepreneurs and community leaders. In the heart of Greenwood, calls for reparations reverberated across the city.
National media personalities like Joy Anne Reid and Tiffany Cross hosted weekend shows in front of a powerful mural depicting the massacre. The event was a Herculean effort – and again, at the center of it all, were the survivors, descendants and the entire community.
On the Wednesday after the event, hundreds packed City Hall demanding the city give reparations.
In Tulsa, a city in the heart of one of the most conservative states in the nation, the push for progress transcended politics.
And in all of it, Dr. Tiffany Crutcher was there. Before and after the cameras, journalists and presidents arrived and left, she was there. And over six months after promises from local and national leaders that change was coming, she fights on.
“At the precipice of tangible change”
Dr. Tiffany Crutcher does not stop. The fight for justice is not one that ebbs and flows alongside the waves of national attention. Instead, she sees clearly her role in shaping the long arc of history.
Dr. Crutcher does not find herself bound by the whims and influence of politicians or funders. Her willingness to challenge impediments to justice by any means necessary is born out of a relentless drive to see the work done.
It’s been five years since Terence was murdered. In those five years, the advocacy of Tiffany Crutcher and the foundation she has built have touched every corner of our city, state and country. She has given up everything to bend that long arc of history a bit closer toward justice.
Crutcher no longer lives in Alabama, she no longer owns her dream home with a large yard and swimming pool and she no longer owns a successful clinical practice. She had the choice to hang on to her old life, but she willingly traded all of these things and more to make sure what happened to her twin brother never happened again.
The decision, borne out of tragedy, is one Tiffany never wanted to have to make. Still, in her strive toward justice, it is one she also refuses to regret. Tired as she may be, she sees the chance at change within our collective grasp, and she has no intention of slowing down until it’s realized.
“I never would have imagined that out of death something so good would happen and Terence’s legacy would manifest the way that it has in five years,” Dr. Crutcher told the Tulsa World in September. “We are at the precipice of really trying to get some tangible change. We just have to keep pressing forward toward those goals.”
“I love you, and I’m gonna make you proud.”
This year has been unimaginably difficult for the Crutcher family. Despite taking every precaution, Leanna Crutcher, the family’s matriarch, passed away from COVID-19 in January.
But Tiffany and her father, Reverend Joey Crutcher, have refused to let their pain overtake their drive to ensure that the love and light both Terence, Sr. and Leanna exuded go dim.
And so she presses on. She wakes her nephew Terence, Jr. up for school in the morning. She checks in on her nieces Tykiah and Tyjunae as they navigate entering adulthood. And she comes alongside her father as they navigate this new life defined by advocacy.
One of the last things Terence told his twin sister before he died was “I love you, and I’m gonna make you proud”.
Terence Sr.’s future was shining, bold and full of possibility. Thanks to his inimitable twin sister, his legacy, and the prospect of justice for our city and our country, now radiate with a light that can never be dimmed.
The whole of Tulsa has been made better by Dr. Crutcher’s unwavering commitment to justice. Despite the relentless opposition she faces, she never allows her faith in God and humanity to wane.
Dr. Crutcher is quick to give credence to the shoulders she stands on, often drawing inspiration from the words of Ella Baker who proclaimed that “we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”
It is without question that, one day, a young person steeped in their own fight for justice will draw on the wisdom, words and power of Dr. Crutcher for that same inspiration.