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'Focus: Black Oklahoma': controversial legislation, Enid City Council race, wildfires

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Jamie Glisson

This episode of Focus: Black Oklahoma features stories on a controversial bill in the state legislature, a heated city council race in Enid, wildfires in Western Oklahoma, and more.

The United States has been at the forefront of the global war on terror for more than two decades. Now one Oklahoma lawmaker, District 19 Republican State Rep. Justin Humphrey, proposed House Bill 3133 seeking to expand that conflict by introducing a bill to designate people of Hispanic descent as “terrorists” if they’re convicted of certain crimes. Francia Allen speaks with Francisco Treviño of Casa de la Cultura and Blanca Zavala to examine the proposed bill and the amended version.

Venson Fields takes us to Enid, where voters preparing for a heated city council election. Allegations of white supremacist ties emerged and swirl around Commissioner Judd Blevins of Ward 1. The white supremacist allegations include Nazi ties to a white supremacy group, Identity Evropa. That group has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC and a white supremacist group by the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL. Identity Evropa participated in the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017 where three lives were taken and dozens more injured. Led by Reverend Father James Neal of the Orthodox Catholic Church of America, at the Holy Cross-Enid parish and Kristi Balden, chairperson of the Enid Social Justice Committee and one of three incorporators of the Enid LGBTQ Plus Coalition. Balden credits Connie Vickers, Nancy Presnell, and Lanita Norwood for the research that turned up the ties and the Enid Social Justice Committee for mounting a campaign for Blevins's recall, aiming to confront hate in the community. The recall election will take place on April 2 and will pit recalled commissioner Blevins against Cheryl Patterson who has served on many public boards and committees in the past including the Enid Public School Board, the Enid Public School Foundation, the Human Services Alliance, and Foster Grandparents Board.

On February 26, Texas’s largest wildfire broke out north of Stinnett in the panhandle. The next day, the Smokehouse Creek fire crossed into Western Oklahoma, resulting in damaged property and the evacuation of multiple communities. The efforts of containment are being led primarily by local volunteer fire departments, with little budgetary help from the state of Oklahoma. Shonda Little speaks with survivors. The fire has amassing nearly 1.1 million acres to date and the fire is considered 89% contained. The National Weather Service and emergency management officials caution that embers and continued high winds could easily result in new fires that stem from it. Two human fatalities have been reported along with at least 3,600 dead cattle and that number is expected to grow. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller speaking with The New York Times said "just my prediction, but it will be 10,000 that will have died or will have to be euthanized." In Oklahoma, Ellis and Roger Mills counties and the communities of Gage, Shattuck, Durham, and parts of Reydon were evacuated. Approximately 100,000 acres of western Oklahoma have burned. The deadly fire is now believed to be from a downed powerline, a constant threat during the area’s high fire risk days due to drought conditions. Xcel Energy said in a statement released on March 14 that "our facilities appear to have been involved in the ignition of the Smokehouse Creek Fire." Shonda Little talks with Levi Blacketter the emergency management director for Roger Mills County, Derek Wood, and Kristal Slavin to relay more details from those living in the impacted areas.

The Oklahoma Eagle, the 10th oldest Black-owned newspaper in the United States still publishing at 101 years old, has engaged in a new initiative to develop stronger relationships with its readers: The Trusting News Project. This is a campaign spearheaded by the Oklahoma Media Center in partnership with The Ecosystem Engagement Project. Oklahoma Eagle Managing Editor Gary Lee explains the goals of the project.

The 25th White Privilege Conference will occur April 3-6 at the Double Tree Hotel in downtown Tulsa. The conference provides an opportunity for participants to discuss how white privilege, white supremacy, and oppression affect daily life, while giving strategies to address issues and advance social economic justice. The Privilege Institute’s Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Eddie Moore, clarifies that the conference is about more than its title would lead many to expect. Conference Host Coordinator Kelli McLoud-Schingen, Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Tulsa, shares what makes this conference special and why Tulsa makes sense as its host city.

Amidst the windswept plains of Oklahoma, a rich tradition of oral history and storytelling binds together the narratives of Native American and Black communities. As the state grapples with controversial legislation like House Bill 1775, the resonance of these shared experiences, struggles, and triumphs becomes increasingly vital. Crystal Patrick explores how these interwoven tales shape the cultural fabric of Oklahoma's Oral Histories with Chris Hill, an Osage storyteller, a moniker from which he runs, and Dr. Autumn Brown, an advocate of oral histories, having worked with the Eddie Faye Gates Collection at Tulsa’s Thomas H. Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art preserving oral histories of survivors and descendants of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

As Chaz "ThunderWof" Stephens approaches 29, he reminisces on his high school days and the antics of his old crew, DOMO. From lunchtime performances to clashes with authority, Stephens reflects on a bygone era of camaraderie and rebellion. We join him on a nostalgic journey to a simpler time in Turley. Chaz’s sold out live comedy show The Horse & Wof debuts March 22 and will be recorded for those that missed out on tickets. This will be Riverside Studio's first-ever comedy special.

Focus: Black Oklahoma is produced in partnership with KOSU Radio and Tri-City Collective. Additional support is provided by the Commemoration Fund.

Our theme music is by Moffett Music.

Focus: Black Oklahoma’s executive producers are Quraysh Ali Lansana and Bracken Klar. Our associate producers are Smriti Iyengar and Jesse Ulrich. Our production intern is Daryl Turner.

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