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“BlackWallStreet314” a reminder of Black economic power

Festival focus on rebuilding communities

Farrakhan Shegog, 29, resident and CEO of Young Voices with Action, believes that East St. Louis, St. Louis and Tulsa, Okla., have something in common.

“We are connected by the resiliency of the people,” he said.

 

On June 26, Shegog and community partners will host the “BlackWallStreet314” Festival in the Wellston Loop area.

It’s an area where African Americans once lived, utilized the Wellston Loop Trolley for transport and participated in robust economic activity on the Wellston businesses strip.

With America emerging from one of the worst pandemics in modern history, Shegog said it is time to refocus on our history of resiliency and ingenuity and build our own economic and social futures. 

Viewing the durability of Black people through a historic lens reveals a pattern not dissimilar from today’s epidemic.

African Americans had to deal with the twin calamities of a rampaging disease and deadly racial oppression. The influenza outbreak of 1918 was preceded and followed by horrific instances of mass slaughter of Black people and destruction of their homes, neighborhoods and businesses.

The 1917 “race riots” in East St. Louis occurred shortly before similar atrocities in cities including Washington, D.C., Longview, Texas, Omaha Neb., and Chicago. It became known as the “Red Summer” massacre of 1919.

These incidents were followed by the Tulsa race riots in 1921, when deputized mobs of Whites murdered Black residents and destroyed homes and businesses in the Greenwood District.

May 31 and June 1 marked the 100th year anniversary of the Tulsa massacre. That event, Shegog said, should serve as a reminder that there is much work to do.

“The time is always ‘right now’ for us to rebuild our communities. I’m keeping that in mind knowing that as we pay homage to our ancestors and the builders of Black Wall Street, now is the time to rebuild, especially as folks across the country are becoming vaccinated and the number of cases is going down. This doesn’t mean we can put our guards down. We’re still in survivor mode.”

The Greenwood District of Tulsa earned the nickname “Black Wall Street” because of its Blacks owned homes and thriving businesses, including grocery stores, banks and libraries. It was one of the most affluent African American communities in the country.

 The “BlackWallStreet314” festival’s major purpose, Shegog said, is to draw interest, investments and build excitement around the idea that Blacks can have their own “Black Wall Street” in an area that has suffered from disinvestment and abandonment.

“The festival will emphasis the importance of recirculating our dollars in our own communities,” Shegog stressed.

“It will showcase that it’s possible to increase and recirculate black dollars in poor and distressed neighborhoods.”

Shegog is aware that the call for Black investment and ownership isn’t new.

Jamaican political activist, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur and orator Marcus Garvey made this clarion call in the early 20th Century. When Blacks were grappling with the influenza outbreak and race riots in 1918 and 1919, Garvey set up UNIA-ACL, a Black nationalist fraternal organization andthe shipping company, Black Star Line.

 

By 1919, Garvey’s organization had a reported membership of more than four million people, all committed to black ownership and independence.

Although some Blacks may be skeptical of a call for self-sufficiency that’s been regurgitated for more than 100 years, Shegog believes that now is the time for real action in St. Louis. His belief rests on the young people involved with the “BlackWallStreet314” movement.

 

“The majority are young men between the ages of 17-to-24. They’re not out there killing, they’re doing something positive,” Shegog said.

 

“These young men are building homes and buying properties. We’re teaching them how to find the right house, how to find contractors and how to create generational wealth throughout the city & county.”

Shegog, who graduated from Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology in Tulsa, also works for the Urban League. He has worn many hats, which include serving with the agency’s “Save-Our-Sons” initiative. It is developing a program aimed at introducing young people to the aerospace industry.

He now serves as a community director working with the Federation of Block Units.

The “BlackWallStreet314” effort is supported by Mike McMillian, president of the Urban league, the Wellston Community Coalition, several politicians and, most important, residents anxious to own land and properties.

Another valuable partner is the nonprofit Easton Development Corporation, which is dedicated to creating affordable housing and community programs for the Wellston community and surrounding neighborhoods. The nonprofit is expected to release its “2021 MLK Mixed Use Development Project” which compliments the festival’s mission.

The timing of the “BlackWallStreet314” perfectly coincides with the election of a mayor, Tishaura Jones, who, Shegog said, wants to direct city funds to some of most disenfranchised neighborhoods in the city. He finds additional comfort with Jones’ recent appointment of Neal Richardson as executive director of the St Louis Development Corporation (SLDC). Richardson is also the president and co-founder of “Dream Builders 4 Equity,” a nonprofit that hires minority contractors and students to refurbish dilapidated North City homes. The mayor and Richardson’s call for “economic justice” serve is a reminder that City Hall is serious about moving the entire city forward economically and equitably, Shegog said.

African Americans have survived racial, economic and health plagues for centuries and have rebounded courageously. Now is the time to revisit our legacy of resiliency and imagine a post-COVID world where long-tolerated disparities are finally addressed, according to Shegog.  

“Black Wall Street means an adjustment in our communities and our thinking. It means we have to hold ourselves accountable. Black Wall Street in St. Louis means Black ownership, Black health, Black education and Black love.”

For more information visit: https://blackwallstreet314.c

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