Tulsa is willing to dive deep into its tragic history to heal pain in the present, which Imam Omar Suleiman says is instrumental to "build beyond the moments."
Too often, he explained, people are comfortable simply gathering for events or news conferences. The community must construct solid relationships between terrible tragedies.
"What I've seen thus far from the folks here is that there is a true desire to include everyone in the discussion of inclusivity and to be honest about history, but also strong desires being expressed to have a strong future," Suleiman told the Tulsa World at the 10th John Hope Franklin Center Dinner of Reconciliation. "So reconciliation is being used here not as some pie in the sky or superficial idea, but really as a place where we want to get everyone to."
Suleiman is a professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. He was the keynote speaker Thursday evening for the event at the Greenwood Cultural Center, 322 N. Greenwood Ave.
Suleiman, a native of New Orleans, gained attention following Hurricane Katrina for his involvement in relief efforts, even though he was only 19 when he co-founded "Muslims for Humanity." He also is president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and resident scholar of the Valley Ranch Islamic Center.
Suleiman said he senses there is a deep connection in Tulsa to its painful history, and no one is trying to gloss over or cover it up.
Mayor G.T. Bynum delivered a message that showed how Tulsa is making good on Suleiman's words, specifically in conducting an extensive search for mass graves from the 1921 Race Massacre and recording its oral histories passed from one generation to the next.
Bynum also highlighted the burgeoning renaissance of the historic Greenwood District.
WPX Energy is investing $100 million into a new headquarters, whom Bynum thanked for involving the community in each step of its design and development. He also nodded toward USA BMX and its $23 million Olympic training and trials track, which he said the organization wants to reflect the history and tell the story of Black Wall Street.
"It's a really historic time in our city right now when you think about the work that's underway in Greenwood after decades of under-investment," Bynum said. "Now you have people stepping forward wanting to help a new generation of entrepreneurs rise up on Black Wall Street."
Bynum also exercised one of his favorite mayoral powers — he proclaimed that Nov. 21 is the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation Day in Tulsa. He said the center is turning tragedy into triumph, performing scholarly work and generating constructive community engagement.
"The John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation invites all races, religions and socioeconomic groups to come together in social harmony to share informative dialogue while developing open communication in the city of Tulsa," Bynum said.