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  • Writer's pictureGreg Davis

Black Wall Street - Beyond the Fires

A century ago this May, one of the most horrific acts of ethnic cleansing unfolded on the streets of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hundreds lost their lives, hundreds more remain unaccounted for, and millions of dollars in property were destroyed. While the systemic policies touted "community betterment," they were, in truth, designed to shatter the long-term economic wellbeing and psyche of emerging Black entrepreneurs.

Amid the tragedy of May 31, 1921, there is much to glean from the marvel and splendor of what was once "Black Wall Street." Often described as a Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ) or a Business Improvement Area (BIA), Black Wall Street was initiated in 1906 by O.W. Gurley, a prosperous Black entrepreneur who purchased 40 acres of land, exclusively selling and financing it for the Black community. This led to a flourishing community of Black-owned businesses spanning various industries, including hotels, trade, retail, dining, legal services, and more. The average dollar circulated within the community for around 36 days, making it one of the most financially affluent Black communities in America.

The lessons we should draw from the example of Black Wall Street are rooted in the creation of an ecosystem that retains the Black dollar within the community for more than six hours. This system hinges on a diversity of enterprises mutually supporting one another. Systemic racism's sophistication lies in pigeonholing Black businesses into specific categories, disrupting the balance of supply and demand while discouraging genuine innovation. To achieve long-term financial success, our community must recognize the value in diversifying the enterprise pool, including artisans, designers, tradespeople, and pairing this diversity with innovation.

Let's move beyond the common media narrative around Tulsa and focus on the true brilliance of Black Wall Street. In doing so, our community can find the path to long-term financial sustainability.

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