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By Tyrance Billingsley II

The Centennial is over. Now what?

The 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre shone a national spotlight on Greenwood/Black Wall Street. National headlines and high profile visitors have frequented Tulsa since the centennial and interest in the history of Greenwood has been reinvigorated. While the renewed attention and investment in our community was good, the true test of all our efforts is whether or not our community can harness this renewed energy in a way that results in long term systemic macro-economic empowerment for Black Tulsans. 

According to an inTulsa study, Severe disparities still persist, including lower average incomes for Black households ($24,000) compared to White households ($50,000), lower average salaries for Black Tulsans ($32,867) compared to White Tulsans ($63,620), and greater representation of Black Tulsans in 105 occupations at risk for automation-based displacement. 

Additionally, there is a significant gap in computer science degree pursuit and completion between Black and White Tulsans (computer science degree completions in 2021 for Black Tulsans was a mere 37 compared to the White Tulsans 356). Also, a recent study commissioned to understand the income disparity between North Tulsans (historically Black area and home of Black Wall Street) and South Tulsans found 24,000 North Tulsans would need jobs that pay an average of $74,000 a year to equalize income with South Tulsans. Clearly, there is still very serious work to do.

To truly revive Black Wall Street, these disparities must be addressed via targeted interventions and investments that are focused through an innovation framework for our community. Beyond just revival, if Black Wall Street is to remain globally competitive in the 21st century, it must become a regional engine of economic mobility with established footholds in critical emerging technologies. 

Black Tech Street is an organization founded to rebirth Black Wall Street as a tech hub. To accomplish this mission, our organization has identified three tech niches that align with Tulsa’s economy, have low barriers to entry, and offer scalability and massive wealth creation potential via entrepreneurship as focus areas themselves. They each also present a unique opportunity for Greenwood to be a national leader in equity focused innovation in each of these verticals, while aligning with the regional economic focus.

Advanced Mobility (AM) has been identified as the core tech vertical for the region, with Advanced Aerial Mobility (AAM) alone expected to have a potential global market worth $45 billion by 2030.

To ensure equitable opportunities and avoid exacerbating existing racial inequities, Greenwood must establish a foothold in supporting and complementary tech verticals that provide targeted “on-ramps” for Black Tulsans into and around Advanced Mobility. 

Pursuing these verticals within an innovation framework, as outlined by Black Tech Street’s Innovation Ambition Matrix for Tulsa, will optimize economic impact and position the community as a thought and industry leader in equitable innovation for the next decade.

The Black Tech Street Innovation Ambition Matrix

Black Tech Street has recently adopted the Innovation Ambition Matrix (IAM), as published in the Harvard Business Review, as a proven strategic tool. Its goal is to help Greenwood as a community focus our efforts and tech focused investments in a balanced ratio that leads to greater returns and “systematized innovation”. 

Organizations that utilize IAM outperform others by a margin 10-20%, regardless of industry. The approach has also been credited by Google founder Larry Page as helping to drive massive growth in a short period of time. To summarize, the model has three Ambition levels: 

  • Core (70%): Innovations involve making incremental improvements to existing products, services, or processes, often focusing on efficiency and experience. 
  • Adjacent (20%): Opportunities expand beyond an organization’s current offerings to complementary tech areas. 
  • Transformational (10%): Breakthrough innovations in markets that either don’t exist yet or are still very early could radically transform the region’s capability for economic growth.

Black Tech Street believes that the Innovation Ambition Matrix can be adopted by Greenwood as a collective framework to harness its reinvigorated momentum to build a new multigenerational engine of economic mobility for Black Wall Street, by focusing our collective energy in the following niches: 

  • Core Investment: (70%): Cybersecurity 
  • Adjacent Investment (20%): Business Intelligence/Data Analytics (BIDA) 
  • Transformational Investment: (10%): Equitable AI 

Per our criteria, each of these niches tap the region’s unique capabilities, complement existing AM investments, and will have ubiquitous intersection with every other tech vertical. There is also a unique opportunity for Greenwood to globally lead equitable innovation in each of these areas of focus. For context, the Tulsa region is uniquely qualified for such ambitions, being home to Google’s second largest global data center in our back yard and also home to one of the largest North American fiber (data) hubs with Zayo Group. 

Further, The University of Tulsa’s School of Cyber Studies is a national center of excellence, certified by the NSA and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The University is tied with Harvard in national cybersecurity rankings (US News), and TU ranks #12 nationally for high paying jobs in engineering (WSJ). Tulsa is also home to the Cyber Skills Center which has an incoming cohort of 28% Black Tulsans who will be trained and certified in Cybersecurity or Data Analytics. Along with our other regional learning resources, these are unique resources in the region that can help put the next generation of Black Tulsans on a path to rebuilding generational wealth. Both Cybersecurity and BIDA also have relatively low barriers to entry and both complement AI. The following sections provide additional detail on investments by area:

Core Investment: Cybersecurity

This focus is driven by several factors, including the critical need for diverse talent and perspectives in the cybersecurity field from a national security perspective, the high earning potential, the low barriers to entry into IT job roles, Tulsa’s academic and skilling assets, and the crucial role cybersecurity plays in the Advanced Mobility industry. The global cybersecurity market is projected to reach $376 billion by 2029, with an average salary of $88,000 per year for cybersecurity professionals. 

Furthermore, cybersecurity is one of Tulsa’s tech niches, and Black Tech Street seeks to make Tulsa the national blueprint for developing and attracting Black and diverse talent in this field. Inskit’s Cyber Threats to the Black Community highlights how Black Americans are among the most targeted populations for Cyber crimes. Greenwood has an opportunity to pioneer the national narrative and model for mobilizing Black Americans into Cyber as a means to address issues of national security, the need for diverse perspectives in Cyber, and bolstering economic opportunity via workforce and entrepreneurship.

Black Tech Street has developed a five-point plan for executing its goals in this vertical, which includes: 1) establishing measurable employment goals for Black Tulsans in Cyber by 2030, 2) implementing a holistic education-to-employment pathway for Cyber certifications and advanced degrees, 3) partnering with Fortune 100 corporations to hire Black Cyber talent from Tulsa, 4) creating a Cyber Center of Excellence in Greenwood, and 5) partnering with Black-focused cybersecurity professional organizations to host an annual cybersecurity conference in Greenwood. Additionally, the plan aims to create K-12 learning, scholarship, and research opportunities for Black Cyber students and researchers across the country through a partnership with The University of Tulsa. By establishing a workforce foothold in Cyber, this plan will pave the way for developing and attracting Black Cyber entrepreneurs to anchor their firms in Tulsa.   

Adjacent Investment: Business Intelligence/Data Analytics (BIDA)

The BTS IAMs Adjacent (20%) ambition is Business Intelligence/Data Analytics, which uses technology and data analytics to transform data into useful information for business decisions. This offers an opportunity for Black Tulsans to get high-paying tech jobs that do not require technical skills. The global data analytics outsourcing market is expected to reach USD 11.1 billion by 2027, and Business Intelligence Analysts earn an average of $87,605 per year in the US, while Data Analysts earn an average of $65,470 per year. 

Business Intelligence and Data Analytics skills are also among the most in-demand skills by employers, with a 50% increase in demand over the past five years. Greenwood can create a strong workforce and pipeline in BIDA through its Cyber Skills Center’s Data Analytics track, positioning them for opportunities in Artificial Intelligence. Data Analytics will also play a critical role in Advanced Mobility, generating massive amounts of data that need to be analyzed for critical business insights and things like flight pattern optimization in drones.

Transformational Investment: Equitable AI

While generative AI presents the potential for exponential economic impact, it also carries the risk of perpetuating biases and inequalities. We plan to establish Greenwood as a global leader in equitable artificial intelligence (AI) for the development and deployment of AI systems that are fair, transparent, and inclusive as a “moonshot” ambition. This presents a transformative opportunity for Greenwood, as the AI industry is projected to create 2.3 million jobs by 2025 and generate up to $13 trillion of economic activity by 2030. 

Training generative A.I to be equitable and oriented towards optimizing opportunities for minorities rather than accelerating already radical inequalities will be one of the most defining tech issues of our time.With that being the case, there is no better place for the epicenter of equitable thought and industry leadership in A.I than Greenwood. As a community that is still grappling with and creatively battling systemic inequities from the most brutal instance of racial terror against Black Americans, where better to anchor the efforts for this monumental task than Tulsa? 

Our strategy includes actionable steps such as: 1) Securing access to large and diverse datasets, 2) establishing an R&D hub for Equitable AI, focusing on research relevant to Tulsa and Black Tech Street’s aspirations, and how AI can be utilized for socioeconomic equity 3) Setting the standard for what trustworthy and accessible AI looks like for minority communities nationally. Additionally, the proposal suggests forming an initial public-private project that will confer tangible benefits to the community by collecting, cleaning, and making available data that can become an asset for Black Tulsans integrating AI or building AI companies. It would also drive a variety of AI applications such as improving the safety and reliability of autonomous vehicles, complementing the tech focus of the region.

Black Wall Street’s Next Chapter— Catalyzed by EDA Tech Hubs

The Black Tech Street Innovation Ambition Matrix provides a framework for innovation, and leverages cutting-edge technologies such as cybersecurity, BIDA, and equitable AI, which can create generational wealth and combat systemic poverty in Tulsa. However, to catalyze systemic macroeconomic change for Black Tulsans, the matrix must be powered by partnerships with institutions capable of effectuating change at scale.

The EDA Regional Tech Hubs program is a $500 million economic development initiative to drive technology- and innovation-centric growth across five designated tech hubs in the United States. AI, Data Analytics and Cybersecurity are all among the “key tech areas” prioritized by this grant.

This makes the BTS IAM the perfect framework for winning the EDA Tech Hubs challenge, and a grant catalyzing the rebirth of Black Wall Street through technology would undoubtedly be the most impactful award that the EDA has ever made.

Winning the EDA Tech Hubs Challenge and partnering with national corporations and academic institutions to execute on the BTS IAM provides a once in a generation opportunity to create a viable vehicle for multigenerational wealth creation and economic mobility via the tech industry, and ensure that Greenwood will remain at the forefront of technological innovation for the next decade.  

The Black Wall Street Times is a news publication located in Tulsa, Okla. and Atlanta, Ga. At The BWSTimes, we focus on elevating the stories of our beloved Greenwood community, elevating the stories of...