From the moment the first shots were fired nearly a century ago, one of the fiercest controversies surrounding Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre has been who gets to tell the story and how.

It is not a strictly black-white issue. Many narratives have contended for primacy.

The commission formed to coordinate activities surrounding the centennial of the massacre quickly ran into the same issue. Who would tell the story? Who would control the narrative?

“When we asked ‘What do you want us to say?’ we were met with the communication that some people didn’t want us to say anything,” said Ashley Harris Philippsen, deputy chief of community development and policy for the city of Tulsa and a member of the commission.

So the commission decided to let the community have a say by offering grants of up to $10,000 to put on commemoration events between May 2020 and June 2021. The total amount available for the grants has not been determined, but the goal for the project is $200,000.

Thursday night, Philippsen outlined the grant application process to about 100 people at the Greenwood Cultural Center. She also offered some advice.

“It’s important to remember that commemoration is not celebration,” Philippsen said. “It’s not a jubilee. Blood was spilled. ... (It) was a concern, that we treat this with the gravity it deserves.”

While organizers say the grants are intended to spur community expression, they do have to meet certain guidelines.

“Events must reflect the themes of commemoration, reflection and learning ... racial healing ... and ultimately, if we’re going to transform a system, that involves rewiring relationships and aligning our values, so hopefully we want these projects to strengthen our community.”

If anyone came to the meeting thinking this might be a chance for easy money, they were probably disappointed.

Philippsen outlined an application process that includes a detailed description of the proposed activity and a marketing plan and information about all partners in the proposal.

Those chosen for grants will be required to file financial and outcomes reports within 60 days of completion and complete community impact surveys.

The grants are available only to non-profit and “other organizations” and cannot be used for commercial purposes.

Grant applications will be accepted beginning in October, with winners chosen in December. Philippsen said proposals do not have to be specific to the race massacre, but must relate to the history of Greenwood.

Detailed information about applications will be available at within a few days, Phillipsen said.

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Randy Krehbiel


Twitter: @rkrehbiel

Randy has been with the Tulsa World since 1979. He is a native of Hinton, Okla., and graduate of Oklahoma State University. Krehbiel primarily covers government and politics. Phone: 918-581-8365

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