By Louis Gray
Eagle Staff Writer
The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce (Chamber) has had an up and down existence the last few years. Questions over the direction of the Chamber have gone unanswered as community leaders wonder what is going on. The questions have gone unanswered because Board President Rebecca Marks-Jimerson has not returned any phone calls to The Oklahoma Eagle regarding the state of the Chamber. According to some community members, lack of communication is part of the problem.
The Oklahoma Eagle spoke with Ty Walker, owner of Wanda J’s Next Generation Restaurant, 111 N. Greenwood Avenue, and asked him “what is the state of the Chamber? Walker said, “it’s not working, the whole operation is a nonfunctional fixture.” Part of the problem according to Walker is the makeup of the board itself. He further stated, “For one, they put people on the board who are uninterested in business, never been in business, never hired or fired anyone, or even managed a business.”
He said communication is rare. “They need to be able to function and listen to people, to understand what it takes.” While the Chamber has some well-known public figures on the board like former Tulsa Police Chief, Drew Diamond (Vice-President), Walker said “A good education doesn’t necessarily give you the understanding it takes to take care of business.” Asked what the problem is with the Chamber’s board, Walker said “It’s been poor management. “What we need is to have an understanding, some new energy, some young blood and an understanding of what it means to move forward.” From a business perspective, Walker said the Chamber should be trying to promote traffic for retail businesses in the Chamber area. “How can we not have (Tulsa) Drillers promotions, something to generate income?”
Another tenant and Chamber member, Tori Tyson, owner of Blow Out Hair Studio, 109 N. Greenwood Avenue, is not ready to discuss the state of the Chamber. “It’s going, I really don’t have any comment, I might later.” On whether she benefits from belonging to the chamber, Tyson said, “No comment at this moment.”
Willie Sells at Tee’s Barber Shop at 120 N. Greenwood Avenue, clips hair as he has since 1985. He has seen the Greenwood area go through many changes. On the state of the Chamber he said, “I don’t know, I know I’d like to get some heat in here and have that air ready when the summer gets here.” Chamber members are also tenants and pay their rent to the Chamber.
Tulsa City Councilwoman Vanessa Hall-Harper was a little more pointed. Hall-Harper said the state of the chamber is “questionable.” She recalled “when I was on the chamber we were having membership meetings, we had about 100 joining up with the Chamber.” Asked what changed, Hall-Harper said, “I guess certain people became divisive and they started bringing on white people and now they are running it in such a way, I don’t think it’s salvageable.”
“I don’t think it’s their job to be putting on plays, they are supposed to be serving business,” Hall-Harper said. Asked what the new Chamber’s motivation for a change in direction might be, she said, “Initially, I believe they felt like they weren’t being credited for the growth, the Chamber was expanding, and it was just a case of jealousy.” Hall-Harper added “they brought in people like Henry Primeaux who doesn’t have a good reputation in our community, the new board just doesn’t communicate with the community or the association and has shown no results.” Hall-Harper said the Chamber needs to be more involved in the community and do things like bring Juneteenth back to Greenwood.
Hall-Harper said part of the problem is business is looking north for investment ideas and opportunities. On recreating Black Wall Street, Hall-Harper said, “apparently, that isn’t what outside forces want in our community or what I like to call the powers that be.” She believes this is about land and development. “Think about it, this is the last piece of downtown that is not developed, God ain’t making more land,” Hall-Harper said. She worries about Black tenants being driven out to make way for corporate types. She claims lease payments have been doubled and tripled for some tenants.
When The Oklahoma Eagle told Hall-Harper it asked for a year-end report, she said, “I bet they didn’t have one and they are also required according to their by-laws, they are required to have an annual meeting, they haven’t had one in over a decade, we are in violation.”
To be sure, new development is being planned for the old Morton Health Center and other places in the Greenwood area. But, none of it seems to be owned by African Americans. More specifically, it is losing the legacy of Black Wall Street according to Hall-Harper.
Michael E. Smith is developing the Morton site which he purchased from the Tulsa Development Authority (TDA). He spoke about the legacy of Black Wall Street and the positive attributes of his project. In the February 18, 2018 Tulsa World, Smith said “It’s good to be nostalgic about what Black Wall Street was 40, 50, 60, 70 years ago-and I’m talking after the Race Riot.” He added “But, people spend too much time reminiscing and waxing nostalgic about that when they should be forward thinkers and looking toward what Greenwood can be and the renaissance of Greenwood.”