Thunder Underscores Its Commitment to Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District

Thunder Underscores Its Commitment to Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood DistrictParis LawsonBy Paris Lawson | Digital Content Reporter | okcthunder.com

Like most 11-year-olds, Tripp Gibbs has never been to a groundbreaking before. But on Friday, he and his parents proudly picked up shovels and helped turn dirt on the site that is the future home of Greenwood Rising, a state-of-the-art history center honoring the legacy of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street before and after the horrific Tulsa Race Massacre.

Tripp’s great grandparents Leroy and Earnestine Gibbs were survivors of the 1921 massacre. For his parents Leroy and Tracy, it was important to them to make sure their son was there for the groundbreaking ceremony.

“This is about moving forward and he’s the legacy of that because he gets to live on this side of it, so it’s as if you are turning the ground of what was into what it’s become,” said Leroy Gibbs II.

“This moment goes to our son more than anything, being a child being raised in such a racially-divided climate right now. But the reality of Greenwood Rising is a racial reconciliation climate for everyone,” Tracy Gibbs added.

Friday’s event underscored the surging positive momentum building toward a more equitable future in the Greenwood District, a 35-block area of North Tulsa that was once home to one of America’s wealthiest African-American neighborhoods which earned it the name “Black Wall Street”. In May of 1921, in what is now known the Tulsa Race Massacre, thousands of thriving Black-owned businesses were burned to the ground taking the lives of hundreds of residents. Helping to push that recent positive momentum has been the commitment by the Thunder as an organization to ignite meaningful and scalable change when it comes to racial equality and social justice in its home state.

During the event, it was announced that the Thunder is contributing $250,000 to the nearly-completed campaign to build Greenwood Rising, scheduled for dedication in May of 2021, the 100-year anniversary of the massacre. While the donation served as a significant and generous contribution to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission and its mission to educate Oklahomans on the vibrant history of Black Wall Street, it’s only part of the Thunder’s commitment to the North Tulsa community and the Greenwood District.

Last month, the Thunder unveiled the Thunder Fellows Program in partnership with CAA Sports which aims to create a pipeline to professional roles in sports, entertainment and tech for Black students in Tulsa. The program highlights various career paths in each respective industry and helps facilitate the opportunities to achieve them. Created by long-time friends, Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti and CAA Sports Executive Mike Johnson, Thunder Fellows will be guided by the Centennial Commission and will have a Thunder-powered Data & Analytics Center housed and staffed right in Tulsa’s Greenwood District.

“Our organization is deeply committed to social justice and the actions that are necessary to create better opportunities for the Black community, now and in the future,” said Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett upon announcing the program in July. “I am proud that the Thunder Fellows Program will both provide tangible learning for the future, and also serve as a symbol in the Historic Greenwood District. We will work tirelessly to make this a program that will create change for generations to come.”

"May 31, 2021 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. It is time for us to come to terms with the devastation of this atrocity. Our hope is that the Thunder Fellows Program captures the spirit of the Greenwood District while helping to launch and create future opportunities for local area Black youth,” said Presti in July.

The goal from the beginning for the Thunder and the Centennial Commission has been to aide in a change in the trajectory of economic and educational empowerment for years to come in the North Tulsa community. By putting the focus on youth and education, the Thunder Fellows Program operates with the long-term objective in its sights. With more representatives from the Tulsa community in the profession of sports and entertainment, the more they will be able to not only give back to their community, but inspire the subsequent generation to do the same. It’s the possibility of cyclical advancement and change that will outlive the initial donation and the announcement of the program itself in 2021. It’s generational and scalable.

“This effort is of particular significance because of its potential to spur economic growth while simultaneously developing the economic and entrepreneurial skills of Tulsa's Black youth,” said Phil Armstrong, Project Director, 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission. “Black Wall Street is not a geographical location, it’s a state of mind. It’s that spirit of entrepreneurialism that says if I can dream it, I can achieve it.”

While the year of 2021 will mark the centennial of the Race Massacre, the completion of Greenwood Rising and the launch of the Thunder Fellows Program, it will also serve as a starting point for long-lasting change while also recapturing the spirit of empowerment that hummed through the thriving black-owned businesses up and down Black Wall Street a century ago. Much like the symbol of promise and potential when young Tripp Gibbs stabbed his shovel into the dirt of the future foundation of Greenwood Rising, the Thunder Fellows Program will work to honor the lasting legacy of Black Wall Street while pushing for positive and equitable change for generations to come in North Tulsa.

“This will make a difference. It's real and concrete action,” said State Sen. Kevin Matthews, founder and chair of the Centennial Commission. “It's programs like this that will truly lift us up on a path of change and optimism for our community and our children. We are excited at the opportunities this program offers for the future.”

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