Financial literacy, equal access to money topics of Black economic summit in Tulsa

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Scores of the nation’s Black financial heavyweights gathered Tuesday in Tulsa to discuss how to close the racial equity gap and erase inequalities in accessing money.

Staged at the Cox Business Convention Center and presented by Tulsa-based Bank of Oklahoma, Nationwide and JPMorgan Chase, Economic Empowerment Day was held in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, which wiped out the accumulated wealth of Black Wall Street in the Greenwood District.

Phil Armstrong, project director for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, said Tuesday’s event grew out of a series of conversations late last summer.

“I began talking to individuals and saying it would be great for African-Americans to see that Black excellence was not just in Greenwood in 1921 but that people today can see that Black excellence has always been here and that there are those at very high levels of achievement in the corporate world that have an extensive amount of experience when it comes to accessing capital and what it means to invest in communities of color,” he said.

Economic Empowerment Day addressed disparities for Black business owners, investors and customers. Through keynote speakers and panels, it also stressed learning from the past and opportunities to facilitate change.

As for the human and economic fallout of the massacre, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said “it’s incredibly important to us that we, as Tulsans and as Americans, be able to learn about what happened, about the people that were involved in what happened, the people that were victims and survivors.

“… It’s also important, though, because we need to be able to think about how we move forward, how we can be a better city. What we’ve found is that a lot of people around the country are looking at Tulsa as a test case as to how we can be a better country and fostering reconciliation and fostering, in this case, economic empowerment.”

Earl “Butch” Graves Jr., president and CEO of the Black multimedia company Black Enterprise, said it’s time to hold corporate America accountable for racial inequities, saying the United States is in the midst of a “pandemic of racism.

“I can’t cure racism for you. White people have to cure racism for themselves.”

Actor-author Hill Harper headed a Bank of Oklahoma-sponsored track titled Black Wealth Street.

“As far as Black wealth is concerned, we’re actually worse off today than we were back then,” Harper said. “Certainly, the greatest way to honor the sacrifice of the survivors and the descendants is to figure out a way to cure this wealth gap.”

The Greenwood of a century ago, Harper said, created three pillars of wealth: institutional ownership, institutional trust and the movement of money within the ecosystem.

Back then, a dollar stayed in that community a year to three years, he said. Today, a dollar leaves the Black community in six to seven hours, Harper said.

“What they did was support each other collectively,” he said. “They actually worked on capital flows, money flows. They recirculated Black dollars. They supported each other. And they grew collective wealth.

“Tulsa was bustling 100-plus years ago. Tulsa should be Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami (Florida) because it was ahead of those cities back then. But racism crushed the soul of the city, and it crushed the people. It crushed the business. It crushed the economy, except for a select few. And if we don’t hold up a mirror of how destructive and systemic institutional racism is for everybody, we all are going to miss understanding how to work collectively … to solve something so big.”

Harper urged African Americans to consider cryptocurrency as a way to bypass the historically unfair lending practices of traditional financial institutions. He recently launched Black Wall Street, a digital wallet for peer-to-peer payment and the ability to trade cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.

“We have to see the road map, see what people are doing, speak about it and then launch other alternative platforms that battle them,” Harper said. “…We recirculate the digital dollar. Then, we have the ability to give out $5 to $50,000 small-business loans.

“But we want to combine that with financial literacy and business education because the No. 1 reason Black start-ups go out of business in the first two years is one, they are under-capitalized, and, No. 2, they are not efficient.”

Featured video:

Mayor G.T. Bynum fielded questions about reparations during a news conference at the excavation of a mass grave at Oaklawn Cemetery.

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