A 3-D model of a once-thriving black community is home. At least for the summer.
The model of a section of Tulsa’s Greenwood District was created last year by the young participants of Teamwork Makes the Dream Work and The Next Step, working under the guidance of engineering students at Cameron University. Their goal: create a replica of a community nicknamed the Black Wall Street because it was one of the most prominent concentration of black-owned businesses in the nation until a race riot and massacre destroyed it in 1921. While the history of the riot and massacre is becoming known, what may be lesser known is just how prominent and healthy that community had been.
The model has been making the rounds since it was publicly unveiled last summer. Today, it’s resting in the library of Tulsa’s Greenwood Cultural Center, established in the Greenwood District to share the story of the community and those who made it home.
“They have it on display in its own room,” said Onreka Johnson, one of the adults who is helping coordinate the project.
She said the 3-D model will be displayed in the cultural center’s library for two months. Center officials have said they will move it to a more prominent place as special events are held at the center over the summer.
“They wanted to keep it up there,” Johnson said, explaining the center was blown away by the work done by Lawton youths and wanted to make the model a permanent part of its collection.
Lawtonians want the display to remain here, Johnson said, adding the next task is finding a permanent site in the city where the model was created. The display already is well traveled. Its first public appearance was at Central Plaza, when it was unveiled in July 2022. Since then it has been displayed at McMahon Auditorium and Lawton City Hall. After it finishes its 60-day display at the Greenwood Cultural Center, it will be displayed at the State Capitol, then come home.
“We want as many people to see it as possible,” Johnson said. She said the Capitol was a natural display site because of the number of people who visit the building, and Rep. Daniel Pae, a Lawton native, was happy to help arrange it.
Johnson and Kim Jones credit former CU Engineering Department Director Sheila Youngblood for making the Tulsa exhibit happen. Johnson said Youngblood, now teaching in Tulsa, shared the story of the model’s creation and the Greenwood Cultural Center reached out to the women about bringing it to Tulsa. Jones said the fact the 3-D model exists is a credit to Youngblood, who ensured her engineering students worked with the young participants of Teamwork Makes the Dream Work/The Next Step.
“Her kids were heavily engaged,” Jones said, of a four-week project she called a great learning experience for the young creators.
Both women are pleased the model is drawing attention. Jones said that attention is great feedback for those who created it.
“They didn’t know how much it impacts others. Now that they see how people react, seeing the replica, it is very exiting to them,” Jones said. “Even when we went there last week, as we were pulling it off the truck, the response of the people who work at the Tulsa Cultural Center — they were excited and in awe that kids created this in Lawton.”
Johnson said the simple act of displaying the model in the community it depicts is important.
“It’s brings things full circle,” she said. “From what we taught the kids about it, taking the kids to Tulsa and being able to recognize the street names and the buildings that were recreated, and having that project there where it happened, it brings it to fruition.”
Jones said Program Coordinator Michelle Burdex plans to include the replica in programs the center will offer this summer.
“She wants to make sure the students there see what the students in Lawton created,” she said.