While many were struck by the horror of seeing Derek Chauvin’s knee pressed into George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, the image that haunts those in the Black community is the cold indifference in Chauvin’s eyes and the air of impunity radiating from his posture. Lives limited by overt and systemic racism have embedded within them intergenerational trauma — trauma violently awakened that day, which remains unabated.
It may seem unlikely that our lives would intersect — a young Black Tulsa native and an Indian American congressman representing Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley and Tulsa, home of Black Wall Street (or Greenwood) have more that connects them than meets the eye. Built and led by Black people, Black Wall Street would have changed everything we know to be typical of American corporations. It would have reshaped the history of the civil rights movement. The Indian American entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley would never have made it into this country if it were not for the civil rights movement leading to the 1965 Immigration Reform Act.
Greenwood was the most affluent and thriving Black community in America. Innovation and entrepreneurship flourished and were seen as common. Under the impossible circumstances of Jim Crow, former slaves and descendants of slaves built a community unlike anything our country had ever seen. Greenwood thrived in direct contradiction to the narrative of white supremacy that defines the United States.
Black Wall Street was destroyed by systemic racism twice. Deputized mobs, indifferent emergency services and opportunistic insurance companies were supported by an idle and complicit city government during the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921. Decades later, the city of Tulsa contrived a plan to dismantle the successes of Greenwood again through racism masked as urban renewal. Weathered plaques commemorating Black-owned businesses line the sidewalks beneath the overpass that destroyed their rebuilding community.
The smug look of impunity and carelessness on Derek Chauvin’s face is no doubt one the people of Greenwood, my ancestors, saw as they were suffering the worst race massacre in American history. And again when they were pleading with city officials to not build a highway on top of their community.
We are heirs to very different histories, but we find common ground in our pursuits to create a safer, more equitable future for our people. Our ancestors were fierce advocates for their communities. We carry on their legacies proudly. We all have a responsibility to build upon the foundation of Black Wall Street despite that foundation being demolished twice. What would have been if Greenwood was celebrated and supported by their white neighbors, rather than legally decimated? Black Tech Street, envisioned and developed by me, a son of Greenwood, aims to ensure the world sees that lost grandeur materialize.
The tech industry is widely considered the premier industry for creating generational wealth and sweeping global impact. Greenwood founders and entrepreneurs overcame insurmountable obstacles. Imagine the grit it took to excel under those circumstances. Had they been unimpeded, how could you picture Tulsa as anywhere but at the forefront of innovation? Black Tech Street (BTS) aspires to be a premier hub for Black tech innovation and a mechanism of intergenerational wealth creation. BTS seeks to become a self-sustaining ecosystem of capital, companies, institutions, resources and education focused on creating an environment where groundbreaking innovation and tech entrepreneurship is commonplace in the Black community.
Support for BTS has been overwhelming. We are deeply appreciative of the support from various national leaders and partners who have bought into this vision of building a Black tech economic engine on the grounds of Black Wall Street. Leaders like Candice and Brian Brackeen of Lightship Capital, who raised a $50 million fund focused on Tulsa and the Midwest, bought a home here and became dedicated mentors. Leaders like Roy Bahat, head of Bloomberg Beta, have opened countless doors and helped make connections to industry leaders across the country. Leaders like Simon Johnson and Jon Gruber, MIT professors and co-authors of Jumpstarting America, shine a light on the role of STEM education in building tech ecosystems. Their commitment to BTS and their candidness about the obstacles we may face are critical.
Of those obstacles, we understand that breaking into a historically homogenous and mature industry is atop the list. But this moment in history is the ideal opportunity for Silicon Valley to prove its commitment to solving systemic injustices within its industry. Silicon Valley, NYC or anywhere between, here’s our call to action.
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Create internal incentives for African American workers who are able to work remotely and relocate to Tulsa.
Open a physical second office and offer to hire or relocate African American professionals from all over the country.
Whether through funding, connections or opportunities, truly invest in seeing Black Tech Street come to fruition.
BTS is putting in the work needed to overcome the systemic racism that has plagued Black people since well before the Tulsa Race Massacre. So, for those in government, let’s collaborate with them on a policy that will help BTS thrive.
Nearly 100 years ago, Black Wall Street was destroyed. Help us to catalyze a renaissance that will give Greenwood descendants a marker to commemorate a century from now. Let’s build Black Tech Street.