OKC’s predominantly black neighborhoods push for development

Pride runs deep for residents of Oklahoma City’s historically and still predominantly black neighborhoods, and after decades of underinvestment, some recent developments hold out hope for further improvements.

From a Homeland and The Market store in EastPoint that opened last year to the MAPS3 wellness center under construction next to Homeland, which is due to open this fall, new business opportunities and economic developments are spreading – the product a lot of work.

This work over the past year has included the inauguration or completion of several major projects, with additional community-wide revitalization efforts focused on centering residents in ongoing conversations.

Community voices are included in area project plans

Including residents’ needs and wants in their neighborhood amenities is a significant contrast to traditional renewal, said Ward 7 Councilor Nikki Nice, who represents the area. Divestment and eventual “urban renewal” within many communities has historically meant displacement and erasure, she said.

“We never want history to be lost, because it’s in a place that’s going through a big transition – whether it’s because the community helped with the transition, or whether it’s because politics made the transition. “Nice said.

“Many of our family members or ancestors and ancestors are not with us. Our ancestors are gone who can really talk about the places we walk every day, where we enjoy, so still being able to tell this thread of what was here, how it was, what the experiences were like and being able to reimagine it and the seeing for the best – that’s still, in my opinion, what these types of events and storytelling events do.

The new Homeland at NE 36 and Lincoln Boulevard is illuminated at night on August 26, 2021.

After:Homeland, Ralph Ellison Library and A Table in the Wilderness Collaborate for Black History Month

Oklahoma State and County elected officials recently joined Nice and other city leaders in the development of EastPoint, another recent addition to the area, to update residents on work being done in the community. . The update came during ONEOKC Homecoming Weekend, an annual celebration of East Side communities and culture.

From laws passed that should benefit people trying to recover after serving prison and prison sentences, to partnerships between Oklahoma County and local schools for improvements, officials have named East Side residents as the community’s most important asset.

“I can honestly say that I’ve called or talked to everyone on stage about something that’s going on in our community, and I’m grateful that we all have this rapport where we can at least talk and work through everything. what is happening to the resolve of our residents and our voters,” Nice said.

A customer walks into The Market at EastPoint on July 22, 2021.

After:‘More vibrancy in the city’: Homeland store mural celebrates black history in North East OKC

Community-benefit bills difficult to pass in legislature, says local senator

Senator George Young explained at the event that bringing positive change to the community at the state level is not always easy.

“We had bills that were the worst — the transgender bill, the abortion bill — that were some of the worst in the country,” he said. “It was a really dark, dark time this session, and for people who really care about Oklahoma, it was a tough time.”

Young said he has proposed several bills that have never been heard, a fact he attributes to his goal of crafting legislation that serves the residents of his Senate district, District 48, which is majority black. . He said his attempt to create a “race and equality commission” to allow residents to file complaints about racial insensitivity was not supported, nor were his calls to assess the impacts of certain minority community laws.

“What do you expect of me as racial impact statements to look at all the bills that pass, how those bills would impact certain communities and in particular whether they would impact certain communities in a way very, very, very poor?” he said.

Young’s concerns are reminiscent of some of Oklahoma City‘s historic issues that led to underinvestment in eastern neighborhoods.

Crews continue construction on May 11 at the MAPS 3 NE OKC Wellness Center in Oklahoma City.

Memories linger of public policies that shattered OKC’s black neighborhoods

Much like Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” – or the Greenwood district – the northeast side of Oklahoma City, including the Deep Deuce area and locations surrounding the historic Jewel Theater and the old Douglass School, were once thriving centers of the black economy and culture. During segregation, these areas provided opportunities for black families to start their own businesses, enjoy nightlife, and enrich themselves.

With the construction of Interstate 235, Deep Deuce was cut off from the rest of Oklahoma City’s historically black community, and families were forced to relocate, being pushed further from downtown.

“It brings back those memories, some painful but very joyful because we remember those good times with family, but then you also remember what happened when you were forced to move or just moved from your home. because there were other plans that didn’t include you,” Nice said.

Related:‘Dramatically different’: Inclusive planning will continue to be the hallmark of the project south of 8th

The EastPoint mall in Oklahoma City is pictured June 30, 2021.

Recent special committee conversations have included meetings that allow community members to consider the future of historic black landmarks and areas on the east side, including the Lyons-Luster Mansion, the Brockway Center and the neighborhood called South of 8th, as well as fundraising and advocacy for the revitalization of the Jewel Theatre.

After:Northeast Oklahoma City urged to ‘imagine a better future’ through landmark revivals

However, not all City decisions are made with such intention, Nice said. She pointed this out after a recent city council vote to transfer ownership of Stiles Park, located in OKC’s northeast innovation district, to BT Development. Nice voted against the transfer, while noting that it was not a vote against his confidence in the developer.

“What I have a problem with, again when you look at innovation districts and where they’re placed historically, they’re placed in certain communities as we now backtrack to reckon with those places,” Nice said during the Tuesday’s meeting.

“There needs to be more transparency in this process. There needs to be more ownership, in terms of our city, to make sure that happens and there needs to be more commitments to make sure that our community is engaged in this conversation.”

OKC’s MAPS 4 projects offer hope for improvement

Residents and community leaders hope the MAPS 4 projects could bring new investments to the city’s east end, including a possible mental health crisis center and youth center. These would go hand in hand with money already earmarked for improvements to the Clara Luper Civil Rights Center, transportation and beautification projects.

Booker T. Washington Park, the site of recent festivities, is set to receive $5 million in funding for upgrades and improvements, said Dr. Monique Bruner, representative of the 7 MAPS 4 Ward Citizens’ Advisory Council.

The mood at the recent ONEOKC Homecoming community event matched the weather as the children’s laughter carried the breeze and the afternoon sun shone brightly. Community resources lined tables under a large tent, along with elected officials and local artists and creators with products to sell. A large bouncy house and other games provided a “kids zone” to entertain the younger east side residents.

Nice said the event brings together opportunities for residents, including job and career opportunities available locally, as well as direct lines to local services, like health clinics, education opportunities and more. yet – a key to the continued success of the community.

Staff members work Aug. 30, 2021, making items in the deli at the new Homeland store at 625 NE 36 in Oklahoma City.

Nearby, a parking lot filled with food trucks offering Jamaican food, soul food, seafood and snow cones sat next to the stage set up on the basketball court for entertainment throughout the daytime. Residents tried out various truck fare or danced to music played by a DJ between performances by local musicians and dance groups.

“We want to showcase and show the goodness and greatness that is part of Northeast Oklahoma City, because that’s the goal, and the goal is to make it that destination that other places have been.” , Nice said.

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