4. Re-imagining Black Wall Street. The brainchild of Januarie York, students were asked these questions as they toured a part of our community: If someone gave you a piece of land, what would you do with it? Would you create a business? Would you build a home? A safe haven? How would you utilize your space? What would it look like? What support do you need to make it happen as you envision it? Who on your support team would help you? What roles would they play?
Not too many people know the history of Greenwood, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa. The African-American community there was affectionately referred to as “Black Wall Street” because the black people there created businesses for themselves. Banks, hotels, restaurants, and all other manner of businesses were both black owned and black supported. Their homes had many luxuries their white neighbors did not. Despite the segregation of the time, they had successfully carved out the American Dream for themselves. And how where they rewarded? With resentment and anger that built until it exploded. In 1921, the small town was attacked, looted, and burned to the ground in one of the bloodiest acts of terrorism in U.S. history. Leaving over 300 people dead and 9,000 people homeless.
After the youth were told this bit of history, they were given the opportunity not only to paint out their ideas and explain them but discuss their benefits to community and who might be willing to support it. The New Black Wall Street, 46208. What will they create? Who will support their ideas beyond the lab? How does this benefit the community and who will it support?
This was the pivot point of the Sawubona Lab. The exercise sparked their imagination and ignited their entrepreneurial passions. They began dreaming about possibilities. The completion of the arc that pivot was the shift from adults leading the lab to the students directing the group themselves. The remaining two weeks were spent finishing their art projects and collaborating in brainstorming future projects/businesses. Their Clifton Coffee project was borne out of this.
The Learning Tree works to build meaningful social connections that promote health, wellbeing, economy. We work to uncover and build upon existing assets. By using art, the Sawubona Lab helped the youth explore their identity, tell the story of who they are, and foster a sense of belonging within the community. Not just belonging, but realizing that they were agents of change within the community. Through the mentorship of the local artists and the support of community leaders—the youth will continue to take learning journeys, be mentored in art practice, and community organizing—the graduates will leading the next class next summer.