“Greenwood is a neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Greenwood was one of the most successful and wealthiest African American communities in the United States during the early 20th Century, it was popularly known as America’s “Black Wall Street” until the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.” – Wikipedia
This weekend we participated in Baking on Health: A Journey to Greenwood – an event where children recreated Greenwood and learned about the history of this time period, as well as a lesson on economics and health.
The children participating started by learning about Greenwood and the history behind it and becoming their own business people and residents of Greenwood. The focus was not on the race riots or mass murders of the African American residents of Greenwood but rather on the success of the community.
All the kids got to pick what kind of store they wanted to operate. Macaroni decided she wanted to sell kids toys and accessories.
There was a bakery, a cupcake shop, a vintage clothing store, a restaurant, a farmer “selling” real organic and locally farmed veggies inlcuding things he grew himself.
There was also a beauty parlor and barber shop, a dress shop, an ice cream parlor, a bar (selling only healthy non-alcoholic beverages), a bookstore, a doctor’s office, a newspaper stand, a grocery store, and a bank. There may have been other shops but those are what I remember.
Visitors came into the event and went to the bank where they opened accounts with the Greenwood Bank and were provided with information on teaching money management skills to kids and were given Greenwood dollars to spend at the event. This was all free to the public to attend.
Everyone, including some of the patrons, wore period clothing and hairstyles to really get the feeling for the times.
Macaroni and some of the other girls complained about their aprons and the practicality of playing in aprons and long dresses, but they were so adorable.
People came to the various booths (that the children made with limited adult assistance) and used their Greenwood greenies to purchase items. The shop keepers were responsible for helping people choose products, providing information on their wears, and giving back change.
There was even an investment firm whose industrious teenage CEO went around to the various vendors offering the “lend” them money with interest. The shop keepers had to consider whether the investment from the investor was worth the cost of the interest.
I’m happy to say Macaroni said, “no thank you” to the investor because she didn’t want to pay him $5 to borrow $15 when her business was booming. She’s a smart one – my girl!
The real-life San Francisco community also got to taste healthy food, get samples of healthy products, and to learn a little bit about history. The cost, just a little time and nothing more.
The children reaped the true benefit of the event. Not only did they get to learn history and have fun making booths and items to sell, dressing in costume and selling, but they also earned real dollars for the time they invested in making the event happen. So the lesson on wisely earning and spending money continues beyond the event.
I think that it’s really important for communities to have these types of events that are not only free but fun and educational. It’s important for all of us to understand not only where we come from but also the history of this country that so many of us call home.
We are taught in schools that African Americans were slaves, but we don’t learn about Greenwood or William Leidesdorff, or any number of highly successful people of color who helped build this country. Who were wealthy. Who had influence and educations, spoke multiple languages and were well traveled.
We, people of color, were more than just slaves, or miners, or railroad builders, or wild savages. We’ve done more than write hymns, create dynamite, teach Pilgrims how to farm, or lead folks to freedom.
We, all colors of the rainbow, helped to build this country brick by brick.
And we’ve forgotten who we are, who we have been, and who we could be.
Banking on Health: A Journey to Greenwood was a nice reminder that we need to remember the past and make it relevant to the present and continue the lessons in the future.
This event was also a nice reminder that it’s important to teach children not only about how to be healthy but also how to handle money and make money work for them – not the other way around. We aren’t born knowing how to manage money. The fact that there is so much consumer debt, so many pay day loan companies, subprime lenders, and so many in poverty is not just about the economics of this country but the way individual families and communities relate to money.
If we give our children the tools and knowledge on how to manage money and build wealth, we’re giving them a skill that help them throughout life and help our communities.
Mad props to Josefa Perez and her team for all the love and energy they poured into this event.
No history, no self. Know history, know self.