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As Oklahoma diversity education is threatened, students learn about Tulsa's past

KWGS File Photo

"They all prospered." School children on summer break have a Greenwood Cultural Center program and a book to thank as they learn about the history of the neighborhood surrounding them.

Teaching history in Oklahoma has become controversial thanks, in part, to state lawmakers forbidding instruction that may cause students to feel discomfort around their identities.

Educators in the state have tried to work around House Bill 1775 restrictions or supplement kids' history education through alternative means or programs.

One such program at the Greenwood Cultural Center in north Tulsa is trying to do just that and has a new book to thank for its format.

Tulsa-raised author Charity Barton published We Did THAT! in March. She describes it as a "Black history children's activity book."

In an effort to better engage kids about the history of the Greenwood neighborhood known as Black Wall Street, GCC hosted a three-week summer camp in June centered around Barton's book.

Charity Barton holds up her book, <i>We Did THAT!</i>, at the Greenwood Cultural Center.
Ben Abrams
Charity Barton holds up her book, We Did THAT!, at the Greenwood Cultural Center.

Barton said allowing kids, particularly young Black kids, to have a sense of identity is a critical part of her work.

"Kids need to have a sense of belonging in order to do well in school," she said. "I was a former education and I saw how kids who did not have that sense of belonging, that sense of self, I saw how it affected them in their schooling."

Barton also said teaching kids about the history of Greenwood is a supplement for the lack of more nuanced education in the school system.

"I do see it as being a way to reach kids at a time when DEI has been taking a hit," Barton said. "I think there’s got to be people that are willing to step up and fill in the gaps because it still has to be taught."

Oklahoma has seen more scrutiny over Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs, or DEI, in schools.

Just before kids at the camp wrapped up for lunch one day, Barton asked some of them what they've learned about Black Wall Street.

One child answered: "Black Wall Street was a place where lot of Black, African-American people... what’s it called?... they all prospered."

Ben Abrams is a news reporter and All Things Considered host for KWGS.
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