Building power

Greg Robinson, METCares Foundation director of family and community ownership

Majority-black elementary schools within the Tulsa Public Schools district suspend students at a rate nearly seven times higher than their white counterparts. The disturbing numbers—18.2 percent to 2.6 percent—are laid out in a report released earlier this year by the Equality Indicators project.

Developed by the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governances, the project looks at areas like housing, education, and criminal justice to help cities gauge and understand equality and equity. In 2017, Tulsa was one of five U.S. cities selected by the 100 Resilient Cities initiative to participate.

The City of Tulsa partnered with Community Service Council (CSC) to gather information through community forums and online surveys regarding the various issues that contribute to inequality in Tulsa. The compiled information was then analyzed to identify the Tulsa Equality Indicators and construct a report on the findings.

Six major themes emerged from the report, with 54 indicators categorized into one of the six themes. Under the theme of education, indicators like Race & Suspensions and Income & Dropouts were identified. Each indicator includes information and data to help community members understand what inequality looks like in their city.

The Resilient Cities strategy was unveiled in June 2018 to address a variety of issues outlined within the Equality Indicators report. The mission is to transform Tulsa into a world-class city, guided by four long-term visions the city hopes to realize through goals and action plans outlined within the report.

For many black Tulsans, the Equality Indicators report quantifies issues their communities have been facing for a long time. The METCares Foundation, an organization founded in 2014 with the mission to transform educational outcomes for black youth, believes that the vision of a more resilient Tulsa must include voices from the community. To help realize this vision, METCares organized an initiative called Resilience U, a series of eight workshops where North Tulsans are invited to engage with experts and decision makers on critical issues and identify areas in which families can get engaged.

"The way I think about this is: Anything you do for me without me, you do to me—so how do we create a situation in which we are doing together for each other?" That’s Greg Robinson, director of family and community ownership for the METCares Foundation. "We don’t even say ‘empower’ anymore, because if I can empower you that means that I can disempower you. We like to talk about building power in the families to be able to change [their] situation. Any way we can get you more educated and in front of more folks, talking and building relationships, that’s what we want to do."

Robinson, along with community activist Kristi Williams and METCares family coordinator Raynell Joseph, conducted house meetings throughout North Tulsa to gain insight from community members. Robinson’s team then cross referenced their findings with the Equality Indicators and identified topics they believe are impacting residents the most. These became topics for the Resilience U sessions.

"For too long in the community, we felt like city officials and city leaders can just say words. What we want to do is be able to hold leaders accountable to their words," Robinson said. "We are so excited about [the resiliency plan] but that, to us, is an invitation to do work. This is us as a community saying, ‘Here are the indicators that most affect us. Let us be a part of the solutions to these things.’  We hope that Resilience U is the start of a conversation for us to get to some solutions, so these indicators aren’t the same the next time they do this study."

All the sessions will take place at Greenwood Leadership Academy and are designed around one or more of the Tulsa Equality Indicators. This first two sessions took place Nov. 29. The morning topic was social emotional learning, and the afternoon session focused on addressing trauma. Each session is 90 minutes long and free to attend. Child care and dinner is provided.

Part of Joseph’s job as family coordinator is to advocate for the families she meets with daily, and to identify ways to reduce barriers that may prevent families from attending.

"Raynell pounds on us every day [about] how are we being empathetic to families, how are we addressing the needs?" Robinson said.

Community members, leaders, and organizers sat around tables, discussing various equality indicators impacting the community during the Nov. 29 the session on addressing trauma. After Deputy Superintendent Paula Shannon gave a talk on how TPS is working to better address trauma and inequitable suspension policies, attendees broke out into groups and shared personal experiences.

"We can look at these numbers all day, but these are symptoms of a problem. What is a root cause of a problem? For us, when you start talking about trauma, you start to dig into root causes. We believe that if we can figure out how to better [address trauma] a lot of this will come down—like suspensions. I can guarantee you [that] is related to trauma."

The next Resilience U session will take place at 3:30 and 6 p.m. on Jan. 17. The topics for this session are "Families Building Better Readers," and "Justice, Safety, & Community Policing," where Sheriff Vic Regalado and Chief of Police Chuck Jordan will be presenting on their plans to address inequalities in policing.

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