First National Black Voter Day, in OKC
To get to the corner of Northwest 23rd Street and Prospect Avenue in Oklahoma City, if you’re coming from Chesapeake Energy Arena, you can drive straight north, right up Broadway to 23rd. Take a right, then cross just behind the State Capitol building on the Clara Luper Corridor – a stretch of 23rd street that honors the late, great Oklahoma City Civil Rights pioneer and educator.
However, there’s another way to get there from the Thunder’s arena. Cut across 4th Street and on your way to Lincoln and 23rd, you’ll pass another street named after a prodigious Black Oklahoman – Russell M. Perry Avenue.
On Friday, any Oklahomans that made that trip past 23rd Street and Prospect approached a festive scene: a Thunder-themed van with the mascot Rumble on top, alerting drivers to a parking lot filled with people dancing to hip-hop that blared from the DJ booth of Landon Wesley. A recent graduate of Langston University, Wesley has gotten his start as a professional at Perry Publishing & Broadcasting Company, the brainchild of Russell Perry, an Oklahoma businessman, media pioneer and member of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
WATCH: National Black Voter Day
Perry Broadcasting's studios are across the street from where the party was on Friday, but the music and dancing were window dressing for passersby to be drawn into the real action – voter registration as a part of the first-ever National Black Voter Day. Black Entertainment Television (BET) and the Urban League initiated National Black Voter Day as a way to aid Black voters to ensure their vote counts each election cycle.
“Statistics say that African Americans are four times more likely to face discrimination at the polls and are more likely to be turned away for not having a voter ID card or being involved with the justice system in the past,” said Jabar Shumate, Vice President of Community Convening and Social Justice for Oklahoma’s chapter of the Urban League. “We want to see every voice and every vote count.”
Russell Perry's foray into media began in 1979, when he founded the Black Chronicle newspaper, a state-wide publication. Over the years, Perry's influence and reach has grown. As a pillar of the Black community in Oklahoma City, Perry Broadcasting teamed up with the Urban League of Oklahoma City and the Thunder to pull people in from the area to make sure they were registered to vote.
New Oklahoma resident Thomas Jones, who lives a block away from Perry Broadcasting, heard the music and walked over to check out the event, registering to vote in Oklahoma for the first time. He came into town from Florida 18 months ago to work for 2 Men and a Truck.
Yehshen McShan also recently moved to Oklahoma from the Dallas area to reunite with family. She saw the hubbub along 23rd Street and took the time to register in her new state. National Black Voter Day will be in her iPhone calendar from now on.
“It’s nice to actually have a place to get that done and accomplished. This type of stuff is going to really help,” said McShan, who works for a non-profit called Guiding Right as an assistant program director, focusing on tobacco cessation. “My friends have been getting on my back about not being registered to vote. Now I can get back in the group chat without the grief.”
Representing the Perry organization on Friday was Terry Monday, the Vice President of Programming, who oversees the hiring of DJ’s, all the shows and the day to day operations of the various radio stations the company operates. Notable stations include KVSP Power 103.5, dedicated to hip-hop and R&B, KINB 105.3, which is Oklahoma City's CBS Sports affiliate and 96.9 WTHB, a gospel station. Monday spent most of the afternoon holding up his cell phone to take video and make calls, pacing down the sidewalk and monitoring the parking lot party.
“Information is power. For people that don’t know, sometimes they’re afraid to ask questions. I think it’s a good thing when they do pull up that they feel safe,” said Monday. “This is the place and location where I could actually be vulnerable and say that ‘I don’t understand the political process’ or ‘I’m not registered to vote’.”
Monday was born and raised in Oklahoma City. He grew up on Fonshill Avenue, walking to play basketball in Pitts Park, just three blocks south of where he now works at Perry Broadcasting. As tall as a Thunder small forward, Monday attended U.S. Grant High School and Northwest Classen but eschewed offers from colleges to play basketball. Instead he attended Oklahoma’s only Historically Black College and University (HBCU), Langston University, his grandmother’s alma mater.
Back in 1993, Monday was just out of college and looking for a job opportunity. That’s when Perry pulled Monday in to be a DJ on his new venture into radio.
“As long as I’ve known Mr. Perry, he’s always catered to the African American community, trying to enlighten them and educate them and uplift them with information,” said Monday.
With Perry serving not only as a supervisor and mentor but as a father figure, Monday has stayed with the organization ever since, flourishing as an executive in the same community where he was raised.
“I’m a lifer,” Monday said. “I’m in this for life. This is what I do.”
Perry created the pipeline and Monday has shown a pathway for Black kids who grow up in Oklahoma City or attend Langston to work their way up through the media industry to higher levels of business. He sees that potential in Wesley, whom he once described as a “T-bone steak”. Once Wesley learns from some youthful mistakes and streamlines his on-air personality – or in Monday’s words “trims some fat” – the young protégé will be a choice cut for Oklahoma’s motorists.
“I give Terry the utmost respect, the utmost credit,” said Wesley. “He can be anywhere he wants to be. He just chose to be here in the city he grew up in, in Oklahoma City.”
Monday is paying forward the tutelage he got from Perry and is also keen to improve his community from within, just like his mentor. Through the voter registration event with the Urban League and other initiatives, Monday and Perry Broadcasting are trying to set an example for citizens in the Oklahoma City community and help them stay alert to not just their rights but also their responsibilities as voters.
“I think it’s wonderful to have a national push and telling our listening audience, among African-Americans and outside of African Americans, how important it is,” said Monday. “Not only is it important to be registered to vote and to vote but there’s a third component to it also: to be engaged.”