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GREENWOOD Dist. — Inside the walls of Booker T. Washington High School in North Tulsa, members of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation held a series of “Community Conversations” with local advocates and business owners as part of its annual summit on racial justice.
The CBCF traveled to Oklahoma on Saturday, Feb. 25, to hold its third annual National Racial Equity Initiative for Social Justice in Historic Greenwood District, home to the original Black Wall Street.
With a mission to advance racial justice and to propel the Black community forward, the CBCF couldn’t think of a more relevant location than a city whose leaders continues to produce widespread racial disparities. The city also continues to deny reparative justice to the living survivors and descendants of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
The event comes as the city’s own data shows a more than 10-year life expectancy gap between historically Black north Tulsa and south Tulsa. Meanwhile, Mayor G.T. Bynum continues to find every reason to push police over policy while refusing to provide reparations to a community ravaged by White supremacy.
“Let us explore the truth. We’re going to repeat that. Let us explore the truth and exercise the power of shared connectivity,” CBCF President Nicole Austin-Hillery said, highlighting a major theme of the event.
Congressional Black Caucus Foundation lands in North Tulsa
While separate from the Congressional Black Caucus, which includes over 50 members of the U.S. House and Senate, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation works to develop leaders, inform policy and educate the public.
Members of the Black Caucus who attended in person and virtually serenaded the make-shift sanctuary of the Booker T. Washington auditorium to offer insight on ways the Black community can achieve racial equity both locally and nationally.
CBC Chair and Congressman Steven Horsford (D-NV) pledged to not let efforts to erase Black history be swept under the rug.
“That is why the Congressional Black Caucus continues to work toward the passage of national reparations legislation, voting rights and policies that provide economic justice, equity and equality,” Rep. Horsford said virtually.
For his part, Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) vowed to reintroduce federal legislation that would make it easier for Tulsa Massacre survivors and descendants to receive restitution as the city continues to fight against a local lawsuit.
Lone Black Alabama Congresswoman gives blueprint for success
Meanwhile, Rep. Terri Sewell spoke about the power of bipartisanship even in increasingly polarizing times. She’s the lone Black Congressperson in Alabama.
Rep. Sewell calls her community, which encompasses Selma and Birmingham, the Civil Rights District. In Selma, the late Rep. John Lewis led a peaceful march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, when he was just a young organizer. The event became known as “bloody Sunday” after Selma authorities responded by viciously beating those seeking the full recognition of their human rights.
While addressing Greenwood community leaders, Rep. Terri Sewell also called the roll of the four little girls who were killed in a racist bombing of a church in Birmingham in 1963. Addie Mae Collins (14), Cynthia Wesley (14), Carole Robertson (14) and Carol Denise McNair (11) were killed while attending bible school at 16th Street Baptist Church.
“The reason why I’m bipartisan is because I want to make sure I’m gettin something done for the people back home,” Rep. Sewell said.
Focusing on economic development, she was able to find common ground with her conservative colleagues. She worked to highlight how uplifting the urban centers of Alabama would contribute to growth throughout the state. Her plan succeeded with the launch of a major copper tubing manufacturing plant in Wilcox County. It marked the first major investment in Alabama’s poverty-stricken “Black Belt” in over four decades.
While her Republican colleagues took credit for her idea, she cared more about creating opportunities for her constituents.
“It has brought 500 jobs to that region, the Black Belt region,” she said.
Congressional Black Caucus, panelists push for racial justice
Throughout the day, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation held workshops on strategies for building up Black-owned business and cooperative economics.
In a panel conversation moderated by Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, Black Tech Street founder Tyrance Billingsley II, Tulsa City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper, state Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa), Justice for Greenwood Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons and education leader Carlisha Williams Bradley envisioned the past, present and future of the Black community.
They immediately pushed back against local officials whose offensive actions on racial equity speak louder than kind words.
“You can invite me out to lunch and invite me out to drink…but at the end of the day, when you have an opportunity to vote, to cast a vote to make a decision that’s going to impact lives, how are you going to vote?” Councilor Hall-Harper said.
But they also recognized the vibrant rebirth of Black economic activity in the Greenwood District, reminding the community that their legacy of trauma is coupled with a legacy of power.
“I want justice, but in the same breath, what keeps me going is seeing what this community produced in spite of,” Tyrance Billingsley said. It’s the same energy that built Black Wall Street, and that’s what runs through our veins.”
Rep. Regina Goodwin reminded those gathered that Oklahoma was once considered for becoming an all-Black state. It’s evidenced by having the most all-Black towns of any state in the Union. Meanwhile, attorney Solomon-Simmons gave respect to the Black Indigenous community builders, such as Black Creek citizens, whose allotments allowed for communities like Black Wall Street to exist and thrive.
For her part, educator Carlisha Williams Bradley, who was once the only Black member of the state school board before being removed in January, called out organizations that throw money at problems without measuring outcomes.
“I think that Tulsa is programs rich and systems poor,” Bradley said, explaining that she wants to see entities to create an ecosystem of progress rather than solitary endeavors that don’t lead to long-term solutions.
Ultimately, the community was graced with the presence of Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX). She reignited calls for the community to support H.R. 40. It’s a piece of legislation she drafted that would call on Congress to create a commission to study the impact of slavery and draft reparations proposals nationwide.
Speaking to Black community, business and political leaders at the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Tulsa Saturday night, Rep. Jackson-Lee asked for people in Tulsa and around the nation to launch petitions to urge Biden to sign an executive order to pass her reparations bill.
“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going,” she said, quoting famous abolitionist Harriet Tubman.