My morning in Tulsa had been intense, eventful, and brutally educational. I started my morning at Greenwood Rising where I learned about that 40 city blocks in a thriving Black community were destroyed. You cannot imagine what that looks like. You must stand on the earth where it happened to get a sense of the terror that blanketed the area.
My next appointment was a walking tour with Terry Baccus the “Mayor” of Greenwood. Terry is a dedicated historian who shares the truth of what happened in Greenwood from the perspective of the survivors and what Greenwood was like BEFORE it was destroyed. His tour was beautiful and heart-breaking and he detailed how the Greenwood District continues its fight for justice today.
I had to sit for a while after those two tours and try to shed some of the historical weight I was feeling. I wasn’t covered in ash and debris, yet my heart and mind were heavy. Although this story is unique to the Greenwood District, it is not new. It has happened repeatedly in America and is always suppressed. It was a lot to digest.
My final tour, surprisingly appropriate, was with Vanessa Adams-Harris of the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect or how anyone could experience reconciliation after learning the history of Greenwood. But the Universe knew what I needed and sent Vanessa to me. The John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation is a short walk from the Greenwood district. I took the Healing Walkway, a pathway designed to allow reflection and peace. It was filled with late-blooming flowers, grasses, benches and quotes of encouragement. Nature walks help me process turmoil and the Walkway was perfect for that.
Vanessa met me with a smile of encouragement that set the tone for our tour. I shared my feelings of frustration and anger and she said every feeling I had was valid. And I was in the perfect place to reconcile those feelings so I could move forward with them. She encouraged me to remember my humanity and to know that what happened at Greenwood was horrible yet people survived it. I told her I was from Alabama so I knew about the horrible happenings of history. And she reminded me that my existence is a testament to the survival and fortitude of my ancestors.
I didn’t realize Vanessa was assisting my healing by walking me through the park. By sharing the history of Mr Franklin and his vision to create an area where people can come to reflect, remember, and rectify. It’s a peaceful park and provides areas where people can sit alone or in groups. The Memorial Tower sits in the center of the park and it portrays the history of how Africans became African-Americans in Oklahoma. It’s a needed reminder of where we’ve come as a people.
She also discouraged “hate” as a primary feeling. How can I hate a group of people when I carry those people in my DNA? I’ve been able to trace my family only back to my great-great-grandparents. But I can look in the mirror, and at my extended family, and be sure that I have European ancestry. Should I hate that part of myself? Or do I continue to love myself so completely that I can see others who share my ancestry in that same light of love? I’m still working on that.
I’m indebted to Vanessa. She concluded our tour with a promise to stay in touch and an invitation to return to visit and perhaps participate in some of the programs offered. I left the Center at peace and with the gratitude of my 25th Cancerversary, of surviving breast cancer so I could visit Tulsa and meet Vanessa.
I encourage you to book a tour with Vanessa and learn more about the Center’s message and purpose. Bring your open heart and be ready to do the work YOU need to do. The John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation is located at 535 North Greenwood Ave, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 74106. Guided tours are available Tuesday through Saturday with varying hours. Book your tour here.