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GREENWOOD Dist. — A group of business and nonprofit professionals with the Aspen Institute on Tuesday toured Historic Greenwood District, home to the original Black Wall Street, to gain insight into how North Tulsa entrepreneurs are rebuilding Black wealth.
Aspen Institute participants from across the nation gathered inside the Greenwood Cultural Center, hosted by Build in Tulsa and Coretz Family Foundation, to hear how a collection of Black entrepreneurs are creating a pipeline for generational wealth.
“We are working to build a more diverse, inclusive economy,” Build in Tulsa Managing Director Ashli Sims said.
Nearly 102 years after the Tulsa Race Massacre, when a city-sanctioned white mob destroyed the wealthiest Black business district in the nation’s history, disparities remain stark even as efforts to create more Black entrepreneurs have begun to flourish.
The city of Tulsa is becoming a hub for Black tech leaders, but rates of Black business ownership in the city remain troubling. According to the city’s most recent Equality Indicators Report, the share of Black business ownership in the city has gone down from six percent in 2018 to just 4.3% in 2022.
Tech is the fastest way to grow generational wealth
As managing director for Build in Tulsa, Ashli Sims focuses on facilitating programs and accelerators to provide resources and funding for the next generation of Black Wall Street businesses. The tech industry represents one of the fastest and most lucrative ways to build wealth. The median annual wage for technology jobs is $97,430, compared to $45,760 for all jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Tuesday’s panel featured leaders in tech and entrepreneurship who together are funneling fledgling students and entrepreneurs through their programs to build Black Wealth.
“This is not for the faint of heart. This is purpose-driven work. The work we do is not 9-5,” said panelist Mikeal Vaughn, founder and executive director of Urban Coders Guild.
His program provides computer science skills to public school students from underserved communities. The deep North Tulsa native who was gifted a computer from his parents at 13 years old moved back to his hometown after spending a decade working successfully in Japan.
He said he realized he need to come back home to “provide these opportunities for our young folks to get into tech and find their way.”
Telling our own story
Tyrance Billingsley II, founder of Black Tech Street, echoed that sentiment as he continues to reimagine the future of what Black Wealth looks like.
“Trying to help retell our story of who Black people are is how we honor our ancestors. Because that’s what Greenwood was originally,” Billingsley II said. “They rewrote the story of what it means to be Black in America. We have to translate that into the modern day to get the same results. Tech can help do that.”
A third panelist, Dominic Ard’is, chief executive officer of ACT House, said he’s inspired by the ancestors of Black Wall Street. A Florida native, Ard’is moved his headquarters to Tulsa to provide funding, workshops and accelerator programs to North Tulsa entrepreneurs.
“Our work is incomplete unless Tulsans who come from the lineage are seeing that generational wealth and multiplication happen in their hands,” he said.
Building a pipeline that bursts Black Wealth
Meanwhile, fellow panelist Lindsey Corbitt, interim director for The Black Wall Street Chamber of Commerce, spoke about how the organizations collaborate to create a pipeline that takes participants through each of their programs for maximum success.
“Our goal is to reach out to the next generation,” Corbitt said. The Black Wall Street Chamber is currently working with KIPP high school students to give them tools for entrepreneurship.
In June they’re starting a four-week Black contractors academy, which “will serve 12 up-and-coming contractors who want to learn about architecture and design and the basics of construction,” Corbitt added.
Hypothetically, a high student taking courses with Urban Coders Guild could later build on his idea by gaining entrepreneurship training and resources from the Black Wall Street Chamber. Then they could enter an ACT House accelerator for a boost in funding and support before finally going through Build in Tulsa for ultimate impact.
“We are working for that to just be the first step,” Corbitt said.
Closing the income gap by building Black Wealth
According to estimates from the panelists, closing the income gap between predominantly Black North Tulsa and predominantly white south Tulsa would require 24,000 people in North Tulsa earning a salary over $70,000 a year.
Despite the racial roadblocks from statewide politicians, Tyrance Billingsley II said he’s undeterred. “I genuinely feel this battlefield for the soul of the nation is going to be fought in Tulsa.”
Ashli Sims wants the world to realize that Greenwood is everywhere.
“The epicenter of Black wealth was right here. The most Black millionaires was right here. We can be the epicenter of wealth in the 20s once again,” Sims said.