Tulsa Race Riot 2

Smoke fills the skies over downtown following the torching of homes and businesses during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In just a couple of years, the eyes of the world will be trained on us. Are we ready?

The essential question for Tulsa in 2021, the 100th anniversary of a defining and defiling moment in our history, the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot/Race Massacre, will be: “What has Tulsa done in the interim between 1921 and 2021 to advance race relations; to build a unified, just community?”

My forthcoming book, “Black Wall Street 100: An American City Grapples with its Historical Racial Trauma,” answers that question, though perhaps not in a wholly satisfactory way. We — Tulsans — continue to make progress — sometimes slowly, often incrementally, but advancements nonetheless.

Segregation persists. Racial disparities — breathtaking differences in life outcomes — endure. Race-based distrust lingers. The Tulsa Equality Indicators, work done by our Rockefeller Foundation-funded Resilient Cities initiative, confirm this.

We experience what most cities do: The unfinished business borne of a traumatic national history around race — slavery, peonage, Jim Crow, lynching, “race riots,” political oppression, economic exploitation, social isolation and mass incarceration.

Still, we cling to one thing that makes working toward an improved, shared future in Tulsa worthwhile: hope. With that hope as a fulcrum, we have done and continue to do remarkable things that, over time, build the ties that bind and the bridges that connect.

Efforts in the area of diversity and inclusion are essential to our success.

In the 21st century, to ignore diversity and inclusion — to be content with the status quo — is to accept mediocrity. That is because achieving excellence demands that we cast a wider net, tap into the full potential of everyone and allow all individuals to become and be their best selves.

When we do that, we will no longer be constrained by an artificially limited talent pool. We will no longer be compelled to cap the range of ideas and innovations that are possible. We will no longer be forced to constrict, rather than free up, individual creativity and uniqueness.

When we fully embrace diversity and inclusion, we will be able to leverage synergies between and among the individuals we have encouraged, supported and nurtured.

People seek places where they can learn and grow; where they are met with both clear expectations and the resources needed to meet them; and where fairness, trust and respect reign as core values. Organizations perceived as welcoming, nurturing and supporting by and for all attract the best and the brightest.

People from diverse backgrounds who are made to feel comfortable within various group contexts achieve at higher levels. When that happens, we all benefit — for-profit enterprises, nonprofits, governmental agencies and communities alike.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. captured the profound truth of our interconnectedness when he noted that we will come together as brothers and sisters or we will perish together as fools.

Exceptional leaders recognize the shared fate that should unite us all. They build on that commonality of interest in ways that bring us together and embolden us to confront the challenges we face head-on. That is the essence of diversity and inclusion work.

Diversity and inclusion initiatives, done properly, cannot simply be islands unto themselves. Rather, such efforts must be integrated into every aspect of what we, individually and collectively, do. Far from being discretionary and disposable, diversity and inclusion endeavors drive business and social success.

Have we — Tulsans — made firm commitments to and sustainable investments in diversity and inclusion?

When we can answer in the affirmative, we will have found a powerful response to the question, “What has Tulsa done in the interim between 1921 and 2021 to advance race relations; to build a unified, just community?”


Hannibal B. Johnson, a Harvard Law School graduate, is an attorney, author, consultant and college professor.

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