This past weekend, I got to celebrate my daughter’s birthday. When she was born 17 years ago on May 31, it never occurred to me that her connection to such a dark day in our country’s history would later serve as a beacon of light for building our family’s legacy and make her a driving force in my own career trajectory years later.
Known as the Tulsa Massacre, the events of May 31, 1921, arguably encompass the most devastating atrocities of injustice we as Black Americans have endured in this nation’s history, shaping the future of our families for generations to come. It is on this day that a symbol of economic hope and success for Black communities in the United States came to an end when within hours, a white mob turned three square miles of a vibrant Black community into ashes, with more than 300 Black people killed and over 1,000 homes and businesses looted and set on fire.
The Tulsa Massacre would set in a wave of fear and a warning for Black communities across the country for what would come should they dare achieve prosperity. Over the following years, Black communities would continue to experience the destruction of their prospering communities and the suppression of their collective voice, establishing a generational trauma that we have failed to overcome.
During this time, just outside of Tulsa in Henrietta, OK, my great grandfather Reverend Behn would be a leader that was recognized for his deep integrity, hard work, and courageousness. Born a slave and later freed under the Emancipation Proclamation, he stood up for his rights when others feared retaliation, eventually allowing him to leave land to his children upon his passing. Despite all the courage and savviness he displayed, it was no match for the fear and violence that our family, along with many others across this nation would face over the coming decades. We, too, fell victim to those times and my grandparents eventually left Oklahoma, undoubtedly in search of opportunity and hope.
Long before my daughter was born, I made a promise to myself that I would help break the generational curse of the events of Black Wall Street, at least for my own family. Little did I know Gabrielle would come into this world on such a symbolic day. Much less could I have predicted that on her ninth birthday she would ask for two things — an investment account and a bike. It was on this day, May 31, 2014, that my own purpose would change and make it our family’s mission to break the curse for all.
Easier said than done, my journey in building Goalsetter has come with many realizations, both good and bad. On one side, I have realized that these attitudes and beliefs remain deeply engrained in our educational, financial, and political systems and that we as a country have a lot to dismantle if we truly want to progress toward an equitable society.
I have also realized that while many people speak of allyship and talk the talk, few really have the courage to do what it takes to change the trajectory for Black people in America. More importantly, I have realized that if we truly want change, we cannot depend on anyone to give us the opportunity. It simply has to come from within. This is what the people of Tulsa understood and it is the lesson we must take away as well.
This realization does not take away white America’s responsibility from owning its history but we cannot fall victim to the rhetoric behind the faux war against Critical Race Theory or the countless other narratives that have been assigned to us after Tulsa. It is just a stark reminder that while we cannot stop those who continuously choose to destroy and take away, we can honor the legacy of our ancestors in Tulsa, Oklahoma by building together for a better tomorrow.
Our tomorrow cannot be centered around three miles, however. It must instead be knit together across 3,000 miles of our nation, as Black people bond virtually to create the next version of Black Wall Street. It will be led by people from all walks of life and from all over the country. People like Merline Saintil, Robert F. Smith, Michael C. Hyter, or Morgan DeBaun, Michelle Ghee, and Tuoyo Louis. People who are dedicated to uplifting our voice, investing in our success, and freeing us from the shackles of the Tulsa Massacre once and for all.
Tanya Van Court is the founder and CEO of founder Goalsetter, an award-winning savings and investment platform that provides fun and engaging financial literacy tools that are designed for the whole family. Tanya received a B.S. and M.S. degree in Engineering from Stanford University and previously held positions for Nickelodeon, ESPN and Discovery as a children’s programming executive.