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Greenwood Leadership Academy Scholars: Honoring and Contributing to the Legacy of Black Wall Street

Sep 4, 2021 | Category A

Names carry with them power, history and influence. Named after the historic Greenwood district, which came to be known as “Black Wall Street,” Greenwood Leadership Academy (GLA) aims to empower Tulsa’s future leaders and scholars by honoring the past, making connections to the present and paving the way to an equitable future. Moving into its fifth year of operation, GLA continues to center students’ voices and to hold space for students to contribute to the community’s collective vision.

The Met Cares Foundation founded GLA in 2017. Serving Pre-K to 5th-grade students, GLA works to transform the academic and social outcomes of North Tulsa’s students by providing a rigorous, well-rounded college and career prep education to ensure that Black Excellence is evident in every arena of our community and to re-establish the greatness of Black Wall Street and the Greenwood District.

The Greenwood District was a strong and vibrant community situated in North Tulsa made up of Black business owners, doctors, lawyers and other community leaders. In 1921, the community was terrorized and set ablaze by white Tulsans who destroyed the thriving Black community. This event came to be known as the Tulsa Race Massacre, the single worst instance of racial violence in the United States. The history of Tulsa’s Black community, especially that of the Tulsa Race Massacre, has been hidden and undertold to deny the racism that fueled the event as well as the systemic racism that still exists to this day. These inequities are especially present in education, as racial disparities exist in both suspensions and student mobility in the Tulsa public school system.

“My hope is that in the time that we are in, we come to an agreement in our shared history [as Tulsans] and can become confident about our commitment to have difficult conversations.”

KATHLEEN WHIGHAM, PRINCIPAL AT GREENWOOD LEADERSHIP ACADEMY

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, mass demonstrations around police brutality and protests for change, GLA rooted conversations around empowering student voices and creating spaces for students to process what was happening in the world “in the spirit of transparency and honesty,” said Principal Kathleen Whigham. These conversations were “also situated in a larger conversation about equity, systemic racism and change.” These dialogues led to GLA students’ evolving understanding of history and the connection to present day events. This includes ensuring that students understand not only what happened during the massacre but also know the powerful stories of the resilience and courage in Greenwood, their school’s namesake. Principal Whigham believes that “the more [students] learn… about the history of what happened during the massacre… the more they are able to situate it and make connections to what is happening now.”

It’s not really about what I want or my vision—It’s really rooted in what our kids want, what our families want, the experience that our teachers want to have. My role in that is to really hold that vision and then create the systems, structures, timelines, quantifying what it is we want… [to make that vision a reality].

KATHLEEN WHIGHAM, PRINCIPAL AT GREENWOOD LEADERSHIP ACADEMY

As the school has evolved, GLA’s goals and vision have shifted and changed with experience and lessons learned. Principal Whigham stressed the importance of creating a shared vision between all members of the GLA community, from teachers to parents to students themselves. Students have been a large part of this process, giving feedback on what they need from teachers and from their school to be the best learners they can be. The students’ cognizance of their own needs is powerful, and their feedback not only benefits their own experience but also contributes to a greater legacy for the students that will come after them.

Principal Whigham remembers when a 2nd grade GLA student was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He answered, “a leader who leads people to do good things.” This second-grader had moved past thinking about occupations that would be “cool” or would make money and realized he could be a responsible and influential leader in our community. This student’s answer is exactly what Principal Whigham hopes GLA is able to do for all of its students: help them realize their purpose as both attainable and rooted in strengthening their community.

“A leader who leads people to do good things.”

2ND GRADER AT GREENWOOD LEADERSHIP ACADEMY,
IN RESPONSE TO BEING ASKED WHAT HE WANTS TO DO WHEN HE GROWS UP

Moving forward, Principal Whigham’s hope for Tulsa’s children and families is that, “everyone is empowered to chase their potential and their purpose.” She acknowledges this can only come after we confront the origins of existing inequities, so we can move forward “to create the future that we want to design [together].” GLA scholars, equipped with the context of Tulsa’s history, will be able to lead the way with purpose and an understanding of their unbounded potential.

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