Lunch with - Frances Jordan
Executive director, Greenwood Cultural Center
Time: 1 p.m. Date: Dec. 3 Place: Hibiscus Caribbean Bar & Grill
For years, Frances Jordan and I have been “phone friends.” You probably have them, too — people you feel you know but have never met. In our case, that’s not entirely true. We have met, though don’t press us on how, probably briefly at the Greenwood Cultural Center, the popular event and oh, so-much-more facility that helps anchor the adjacent historical district and the Oklahoma State University-Tulsa campus.
Recently, Jordan has been aglow over the center’s 2008 Governor’s Arts Award, specifically the Arts and Education Award, which honors organizations benefiting youth and/or arts in education.
“One thing it did was pretty much explain that the Greenwood Cultural Center is more than just about events,” she says. “Receiving the award really took care of that,” and generated lots of media coverage and phone calls.
Yes, it’s the site of community meetings, fund-raisers, weddings, reunions, proms and graduations, she says. But few seem to realize its role in enriching the lives of young people, many of whom have no cultural opportunities and who badly need a shot of improved self-esteem. GCC provides diverse experiences: ballet, African dance and drumming, hip-hop, martial arts, Spanish, a summer arts program, Women of Tomorrow for teenage girls, after-school tutoring and more.
“We’ve seen their attitudes change (for the better),” she says of the students. Some children come back to help out.
Which is just how Jordan came to be executive director. She had been working in Oakland, Calif., was tired of it, and returned to Tulsa to ponder her next career move. While home, then state Reps. Don Ross and Maxine Horner encouraged her to volunteer at the center.
“I said I could help out for six months,” she remembers. That was 11 years ago, and you can tell she’s found her niche — “It grows on you,” she says.
She tells me she is a workaholic who often forgets lunch, so we take time to enjoy Hibiscus’ jerk chicken meal and get acquainted. A Central High School and Northeastern State University grad, she and her brother were raised in a warm, loving home by an aunt and uncle, Willie Lois and Joe Turner; a cousin is actress Alfre Woodard. We find lots in common — our children, our love for Tulsa and our admiration for local icons John Hope Franklin and the late educator Pocahontas Greadington. We talk about our jobs, which excite our creativity and enthusiasm. We agree we aren’t eager to retire, wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves if we did, but that we ought to take more vacations. We appreciate the wisdom of the old and marvel at the uncluttered insights of the young. We don’t solve all of society’s ills, but we come fairly close.
We could talk longer, but the office beckons. We chat all the way out the door and on to the sidewalk. Nearly two hours have passed. But it doesn’t seem like that. A good sign that we have had a good time. And certainly, we are now more than phone friends.