By Bianca Flowers
Restoring the economic vitality that permeated through Black Wall Street in Tulsa is the ultimate goal for emerging entrepreneurs who are putting the city on the map as a hub for nurturing innovation. Local business leaders have been foundational in infusing the bustling Greenwood district with not only tech talent, but corporate commitment and capital will sustain it.
ACT House serves as an apparatus for mentoring, training and locking in seed funding for bootstrapped Black and LatinX entrepreneurs. Since launching the six-month accelerator program in Tulsa two years ago, applications have nearly tripled.
All eyes were on the city last year when the tragic centennial of Black Wall Street conjured up painful memories of the wealth that was destroyed and lives that were lost. The racial injustices compounded by the pandemic adversely impacted minority businesses. Consequently, it heightened the awareness of the need for reinvestment in communities of color.
For Black Tulsans whose lives are interconnected with the sacred history of Black Wall Street, the call to action of making amends is long overdue and accountability is critical to promoting upward economic mobility in the Black communities.
“We’ve heard all of these commitments, but there are very [few] reports of any being deployed in a serious way, Tyrance Billingsley II, founder of Black Tech Street, told Finurah. “Now that the centennial has passed, I think the urgency is a bit gone.”
Black Wall Street, a once vibrant and predominantly affluent African American neighborhood, was the economic lifeline for Black families. Yet, in one night, thriving businesses were eviscerated. The massacre of hundreds obliterated decades of generational wealth that hasn’t been fully quantified. Analysts estimate that $200 million in assets, adjusted for inflation, was wiped out, according to the American Journal of Economics and Sociology.
“There are so many people who want to trade on the legacy of Black Wall Street, or profit off of it,” said Billingsley, all the while people who are descendants, or who have lived here their entire lives have not been elevated,” he said.
Billingsley, who’s a descendant of a relative that survived the massacre in 1921, pointed out a TED Talk on how tech is a catalyst to closing the wealth gap. The grooming of tech talent by securing capital to accelerate founders of color is what he and other changemakers are intent on bringing to Tulsa.
A tight-knit community along with close collaboration – that’s how Dominick Ard’is, founder of ACT House, describes the camaraderie between himself and fellow visionaries. A veteran in strategically crafting and facilitating startup incubators for eight years, the Florida native saw potential in building on the unique legacy of Black Wall Street.
“When we look at what we’re building and why we’re building it, we can do it anywhere but we chose to do it in Tulsa,” he told Finurah. “As a team, we wanted to represent what it means to build something great in an overlooked space.”
For 27-year-old Chandler Malone, the ACT program has been instrumental to the growth of his company, BootUp, a job board platform dedicated to bridging the tech talent gap. In February this year, he raised $2.1 million in seed round funding.
“What we raised was from all Black investors and Black-led funds,” Malone said. “Dominick’s mantra is to ‘get 2 percent better every day. As an entrepreneur, it puts this level of repetition in my mind that allows [me] to have more structure for creativity to come out.”
While ACT House and other initiatives are fairly new programs, Ard is optimistic that the gradual progression of capital investment in communities similar to Greenwood district will be a breeding ground for entrepreneurs of color to seek opportunity.
“The beautiful element is that you’ll start to see a new representation of what our economy should look like.”