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'Focus: Black Oklahoma': SoonerSelect, Traci Manuel, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy

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A group of Oklahomans march in Poteau, Okla. during the summer of 2020.
Jamie Glisson
Focus: Black Oklahoma
A group of Oklahomans march in Poteau, Okla. during the summer of 2020.

This episode of Focus: Black Oklahoma features stories on the transition from SoonerCare to SoonerSelect, the first African American educator to claim the title of Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy, and more.

After Oklahoma voters decisively passed State Question 802 in 2020, mandating expansion of Oklahoma's Medicaid coverage to low-income citizens similar to the Affordable Care Act, Governor Kevin Stitt has worked to privatize the joint federal and state run healthcare program. As SoonerCare transitions to SoonerSelect, on April 1, 2024, the program will be operated by three private companies; Aetna Better Health of Oklahoma, Humana Healthy Horizons, and Oklahoma Complete Health. As of March 10, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, or OCHA, began auto-assigning members who had not selected their new plans. Shonda Little speaks with Jared Deck, State Representative for House District 44 in Norman and JeKia Harrison, President of the Young Democrats of Oklahoma, and a lifelong resident of northeast Oklahoma City to learn more about this transition and the concerns held by some about this change.

In a groundbreaking achievement, Traci Manuel, who both attended and taught at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, has etched her name into Oklahoma history books, becoming the first African American educator to claim the prestigious title of Teacher of the Year. Anthony Cherry speaks with her and Milton Dean III. Dean has been in education for 16 years with Tulsa Public Schools. He currently serves at Street School, a nonprofit, alternative, therapeutic based school. Before that he spent four years at the Juvenile Detention Center, also known as the Tulsa County Family Center for Juvenile Justice to share more about Manuel's remarkable journey, from her teaching career to her statewide advocacy for a more inclusive and effective education system.

Rebecca Marks Jimerson, the Commemorative Chair and Special Projects Chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Society, has a decade-long commitment to honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy. Recently in Tulsa Jimerson produced a powerful partnership with the Jewish Federation of Tulsa, Circle Cinema, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, and the National Association of Black Journalists which shed light on the intertwined histories of Black people and Jewish people through a documentary entitled Shared Legacies: The African American-Jewish Civil Rights Alliance, directed by Jewish filmmaker, Dr. Shari Rogers of Detroit. Through her film she provides verbal accounts of how Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement were able to move forward with some of this momentum helped by support of allies of the interfaith community even coming together with Dr. King in the marches for equality. This included footage of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and other rabbis who were seen close to the front of several marches with Dr. King. This collaboration serves as a call to contemporary social justice movements to unite and continue Dr. King's vision of equality. Francia Allen attended the screening and speaks with Jimerson, Brae Riley, a board member and Chair of the Social Justice Sub-Committee of the Jewish Federation of Tulsa, and Ryan Thomas, the lead film programmer at Circle Cinema to expand on this powerful cooperation. To connect with the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Society, visit mlktulsa.com, circlecinema.org for Circle Cinema, and the Jewish Federation of Tulsa at jewishtulsa.org. This story is part of a series exploring the relationship between the Black American community and the Jewish community in Tulsa. The series is sponsored by the Frank Family Foundation as a part of Tri-City Collective's Acknowledge Oklahoma or A-OK project.

As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles, the Tulsa Council for Holocaust Education is hosting the 26th Annual Yom HaShoah: An Interfaith Holocaust Commemoration. This year's theme, "Standing at the Threshold: Shaping the Future of Holocaust Education," emphasizes the urgency of preserving memory. Featuring speaker, scientist, education designer, and fiction writer Dr. Danny M. Cohen, the event aims to ensure that the lessons of history, both known and unknown, endure. The Holocaust Commemoration is presented by the Tulsa Council for Holocaust Education of the Jewish Federation of Tulsa in partnership with the Tulsa City-County Library, The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, Congregation B’nai Emunah and Temple Israel. This event is open to the public and will take place May 9 at 7:00 p.m. at Congregation B’nai Emunah in Tulsa. Visit jewishtulsa.org/yomhashoah2024 to register for the commemoration or for more details.

With the impacts of climate change imposing itself across the planet, contemporary science points to the importance of protecting biodiversity as a means of promoting ecological health. Yet, around the world, Indigenous cultures have been passing down knowledge on the importance of sustainable practices and environmental protections for longer than climate policy became a talking point. Guatemala has worked to incorporate that cultural knowledge into national policy. Here’s Jasmine Bivar-Smith.

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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