Thunder/CAA Sports walk-the-walk for Black students in Tulsa

The Oklahoma City Thunder and CAA Sports have partnered up to make a change in the Black community in Tulsa, OK. They are launching the Thunder Fellows Program, designed to open up new opportunities in sports, technology, and entertainment for Black students in the Tulsa metro area.

Thankfully, the 2021 Tulsa Race Massacre has resurfaced to the forefront of society amidst the current Black Lives Matter movement. Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett and General Manager Sam Presti show once again why the Thunder are a first-class organization by continuing to spread the awareness while initiating change in Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District.

“Our organization is deeply committed to social justice and the actions that are necessary to create better opportunities for the Black community, now and in the future,” said Clayton I. Bennett, Thunder Chairman. “I am proud that the Thunder Fellows Program will both provide tangible learning for the future, and also serve as a symbol in the Historic Greenwood District. We will work tirelessly to make this a program that will create change for generations to come.”

There will be two groups that make up the program: Fellows (students from regional colleges and universities) and Young Leaders (Black students in 8th-12th grade from Tulsa area schools). This program will also be guided by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission.

An issue that has plagued the Greenwood community for nearly a century may finally be at a turning point. Opportunities for Black students in this community have been bleak, and severely lesser than their white peers. This is an issue that impacts Black communities all over America, but again, Tulsa was one of the cities hit the hardest.

This program could be a pioneer in ushering in a new day and changing that narrative. The goal is to create a less-rocky path for students that want to pursue careers in professional sports and other fruitful industries. The ImpactTulsa organization, a group of education, business, philanthropic, nonprofit, civic, and faith communities will help identify students to be a part of the program.

“May 31, 2021, will mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. It is time for us to come to terms with the devastation of this atrocity,” said Sam Presti, Thunder Executive Vice President & General Manager. “Our hope is that the Thunder Fellows Program captures the spirit of the Greenwood District while helping to launch and create future opportunities for local area Black youth. Our goal is to effect long-term sustainable change in our entire state and provide future-proof skills that can be leveraged for economic empowerment and mobility. We are grateful for the partnership with CAA Sports, and thank the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission and the George Kaiser Family Foundation for their guidance as we look forward to being a part of a change that is long overdue.”

Referring back to the disparity in opportunities and resources for black students compared to their white peers, the results of the 2018-19 Oklahoma State Testing Program backs up that observation. Eighth graders’ math proficiency of Black students in Tulsa County was 9%. It was even lower (7%) for economically disadvantaged Black students. The incongruity was even more obvious when looking at SAT/ACT results for 11th-grade students, showing that only 7% of Black students met college readiness benchmarks in math, while the percentage of economically disadvantaged Black students sat at 5%.

Those low numbers motivate the Thunder Fellows Program to help close the gaps and give these students an honest chance to accel through high school and college while setting them up for an honest, fulfilling, and profitable work-career. The program will aim to fulfill that goal through mentorship, skill development, and the provision of practical experience.

“Honestly I can’t put into words how honored I am to be apart of this team,” said Thunder guard and Tulsa native Terrance Ferguson. “The things this organization does for so many communities around Oklahoma amazes me! During these times especially when everything seems so dark, this organization goes beyond basketball to shed light in this world. Plus I’m even more excited that they’re starting a program in the Greenwood district where Black Wall Street was to show that our voices aren’t going unheard.”

The Thunder and CAA are looking to designate a location within the Historic Greenwood District to build the Thunder-powered Data & Analytics Center. They’ll also look to replicate this plan in other cities.

The George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) will provide additional guidance for the program. Additionally, a Thunder player will occupy a seat on the Thunder Fellows Program board each year.

It is one thing to send out a statement and stand in solidarity with Black people during this time, but it’s another thing to actively look up ways to initiate change in Black communities. The Thunder have checked both boxes during this time, which is why they are considered a top-tier organization.

Addam M. Francisco

Founder & Editor-in-Chief. National Association of Black Journalists. University of Central Oklahoma.

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