Inspired by Tulsa, African-American Leaders Are Defining What Black Wall Street Means Today—in All of Its Variations.
Lakeysha Hallmon takes pride in following in the footsteps of O. W. Gurley, founder of Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, dubbed “the original Black Wall Street.”
As with Gurley, who relocated from Arkansas to Oklahoma to acquire the 40 acres of land on which he intended to establish Black businesses, Hallmon left Mississippi for Atlanta ten years ago with similar intentions.
“Atlanta epitomizes mobility, and where there is mobility, opportunity exists,” Hallmon explains. “There is an opportunity where there are already unapologetically positive conversations about Black economic mobility.”
Hallmon founded the Village Market in 2016, an Atlanta-based initiative that utilizes marketing campaigns and marketplaces to support Black entrepreneurs. She is one of a growing number of Black leaders committed to preserving Gurley’s Black Wall Street vision a century after the Tulsa race massacre destroyed his prosperous Black neighborhood.
“A lot of my decisions are influenced by the way he conducted business and truly galvanized the community,” Hallmon explains.
To date, the Village Market’s annual “Buy Black in August” campaign, triannual marketplace, and community retail store have generated more than $5.3 million for local, Black-owned businesses. Hallmon also founded Elevate, a 12-week incubator that has aided over 75 Black entrepreneurs in scaling their businesses by providing mentorship and funding.
Hill Harper, an actor, recognized an opportunity to digitize Black Wall Street. On Monday, he launched The Black Wall Street, a cryptocurrency trading and conversion application. Additionally, it provides financial literacy resources to underserved Black communities.
“O.W. Gurley founded the Greenwood district…and since then, we’ve seen this entire trend,” Harper explains. “Nipsey Hussle referred to it as ‘buying back the block.’ Our objective here is to reclaim the blockchain.”
Harper continues, “Black culture has empowered and emboldened so many technology companies.” “However, that value has not yet been reintroduced into our community. The purpose of owning this platform is to enable members of the community to take ownership of and benefit from their own culture.”
Randy Wiggins is paying tribute to Tulsa by establishing a new Black Wall Street in the city. “We want Tulsa to be the world’s most Black-entrepreneur-centric ecosystem, as it was at the turn of the twentieth century.”
Tulsa is not only historically significant, as Wiggins points out. Geographically, it is an ideal location for budding African-American entrepreneurs. “That is reality in light of Covid-19, high prices, and the high cost of living on the coasts,” Wiggins explains.
He hopes to attract and support Black businesses that choose to settle in Tulsa through his initiative, Build In Tulsa, which launched Monday. The advisory board of the organization includes John Rogers of Ariel Investments, whose grandfather owned property that was destroyed in the massacre, and Loida Nicolas Lewis, the widow of late businessman Reginald Lewis.
Build In Tulsa is launching three accelerator programs and hopes to provide funding to 30 companies within two years to establish a presence in Tulsa. Long-term objectives include the establishment of a dedicated Black Tech headquarters in the city and the launch of a $10 million seed fund.
Additionally, Wiggins is in the process of acquiring an 11-acre property located five minutes from Tulsa’s original Black Wall Street. He wishes to establish this as a hub for Black-owned businesses.
“To me, Black Wall Street entails radical and intentional collaboration and partnership across every segment of Tulsa and greater Black America,” Wiggins explains. “It’s about every segment of the Black community in America reimagining Tulsa as it once was, as the epicenter of Black wealth creation, and everyone pulling in the same direction to make that a reality once more.”
J. Hackett, owner of Asheville’s first African-American-owned coffee shop, Grind Coffee Co., wants to establish a Black Wall Street in his city. He is reinvesting a $50,000 grant from the North Carolina Black Entrepreneurship Council in order to establish an incubator for 25 Black-owned businesses in Asheville. His goal, with the assistance of 15 local partners—including Hatch AVL, Venture Asheville, the Rotary Club of Downtown Asheville, and the City of Asheville’s Business Inclusion Office—is for each business to exit the program with a minimum of $250,000.
He’s also raised over $200,000 for Asheville’s Black business community through Grind Black Wall Street AVL, a monthly pop-up shop featuring Black-owned vendors. Hackett, on the other hand, has loftier ambitions to establish a dedicated space for Black businesses and has been eyeing a vacant property in Asheville’s central business district.
“We must be able to think systemically: what does it take to be a part of the future’s history-making?” Hackett inquires. “Without a physical location, it’s easy for history to forget about you. However, if you do, it will be difficult to undo. It is critical for every city to have some sort of Black Wall Street headquarters.”
Returning to Atlanta, Hallmon acknowledges that each contemporary vision for Black Wall Street is unique, and each is a variation on Gurley’s. Their ultimate objectives, however, are identical.
“The Black Wall Street of 2021 is the same as it was a century ago: it is a model of resilience,” Hallmon says. “It is yet another instance of Black people deciding to be each other’s greatest resource.”