By Jamiel Robinson
San-ko-fa is an Akan (Ghanaian) word that means, “We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today.” The symbol of Sankofa is that of a bird whose head is faced in the opposite direction of its body. This emphasizes the fact that even though the bird is advancing, it periodically makes it a point to examine/return to it’s past, since this is the only way for one to have a better future. So what does this mean for African Americans in the context of economic development and community building today? Where should we look to but more importantly when? Are there models of success from our past that we can learn from and adapt to today’s African American community?
There was an African American community that at it’s height of prosperity had 600 businesses, 30 grocery stores, 21 churches and restaurants, 2 movie theaters, a hospital, bank, post office, libraries, a half-dozen private airplanes and a bus system. This community was in Tulsa, Oklahoma and was known as Black Wall Street. This name was given to the Greenwood Avenue area of the city. The 35 square block area was both admired and envied because the circulation of Black dollars within the Black community produced a tremendously prosperous and wealthy group of Black families and a vibrant Black community. What made Black Wall Street so powerful is that Black dollars circulated anywhere from 36 to 100 times, sometimes taking a whole year before the money left the community.
You may be wondering what happened to this community.
On June 1, 1921, Black Wall Street was burned to the ground by an angry White mob. The attack reportedly left more than 3,000 African Americans dead and nearly 600 African American successful businesses destroyed. Roughly 10,000 African Americans were left homeless and more than 1,000 houses burnt to the ground. A once thriving Black business district and community laid smoldering – a model community destroyed and a major African-American economic movement resoundingly defused.
What ideas, behaviors and mentalities can be reclaimed in order to get back to the same level of strength, as that of Black Wall Street?
- Group Economics and Business Cooperatives
- Collaboration over Competition
- Increase the circulation of dollars within our neighborhoods
- Decrease the dollars leaking out of our neighborhoods
- Own land and property
- Unified vision and goal
In a nation where African Americans are at the bottom of every indicator of success and in a city that is ranked second worst in the nation for African Americans economically we must reclaim the power and knowledge to build a self-sufficient self-sustaining community and embody everything that Black Wall Street was.
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