Black Wall Street

Print More

To highlight the experiences and contributions Blacks have made in American history since colonial times, President Gerald Ford proclaimed in 1976, and Congress passed a public law in 1986, designating February as Black History Month.

In anticipation of Black History Month in town, a Suffield High School student conceived of an expansive two-day event dubbed Black Wall Street (BWS) to be held on February 10 and 11 at Suffield High School.

For those who may not know, BWS refers to a May 1921 massacre in the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Okla., which was one of the wealthiest black communities in the United States at the time. Over the course of two days, a 35-square block of Black businesses were looted and burned to the ground. In all, 108 Black owned businesses and 1,000 homes were set on fire with the complicity of local government officials. In spite of the tragedy, the term BWS became a symbol of economic hope and success for the Black community.

In that positive vein, the student, collaborating with the SHS group Voices United, proposed the project to the district administration who encouraged the student to proceed with the planning and provided support. Dr. Cassandre Victor-Vega, a Suffield parent, agreed to help the group solicit vendors, obtain speakers, invite performers and encourage presentations by other school clubs. Additionally, the student worked with the administration of all the district’s schools to suggest curriculum that would mesh with and enhance the event for all students.

Determining that it would cost about $2,500 to stage this event, the student sought and received grants of $1,000 from both the Rotary and ABAR (AntiBiasAntiRacist) a community group which “stands in support of and solidarity with all persons of color…”. Additionally, Voices United raised funds through bake and ornament sales at the high school.

As the planning proceeded, however, the administration, through an exchange of several emails with the parent, indicated that although they still supported the concept of the club activity, there were many decisions still to be made concerning the event’s logistics, attendance, finances and facility use. A particular stumbling block, since Voices United wanted the event to start at 11 a.m. on Friday, was the use of the SHS Commons before the lunch waves were over at 12:30 and the prospect of outside vendors in the building while school was still in session. With the event date drawing near and the scope of it greater than the administration originally understood, Superintendent Timothy Van Tasel suggested to Victor-Vega that, given the myriad issues still to be addressed to take place, it would be better for ABAR to take over running the event as it would have fewer requirements to satisfy than the school system would.

Victor-Vega read this as the administration withdrawing its support for BWS and in effect canceling the event that she said had been conceived as educationally based. Superintendent Timothy Van Tasel maintained that the administration was still supportive of the event and hoped that it could still go on. Victor-Vega did not see this as possible without the school assisting, so she alerted the vendors that the event had been cancelled.

In an email sent to SHS families and staff, Van Tasel apologized to the organizers and those “disappointed, or saddened by the issues that have interfered with its progress.” He stated that the BWS project had “all the ingredients of a truly special learning activity – an event that embraced the ideals of diversity, acceptance, support and unity through the creative medium of a living history museum. The inspiration behind the endeavor deserved far more credit and attention than it was given, and in hindsight I wish we could turn back the clock to leverage more support as the project came into focus”.

He went on to say that “the administration certainly bears some responsibility” for “slowing the momentum of BWS.” The letter continues: “We recognize that we could have provided a more clear roadmap to support the planning that went into this project. Further, we recognize that we erred in our collaborative efforts, and we realize that better communication and clearer expectations could have prevented some of the issues that arose. We assumed procedures, policies, and expectations were understood by everyone involved in its planning, and we see that this is an area we need to address and improve upon. We have already begun the process of developing and addendum within our Student Activity Handbook that will establish clear instructions, provide guideposts, and offer structures of support to our students and club advisors for any future events that will be planned.”

“In closing, our district and school administration remain very hopeful that we can pick up where the event planning of the Black Wall Street event has left off and move ahead with this student-led project. it is our hope that the Black Wall Street endeavor will come to fruition for next school year. It is an ambitious project that will take many months and many people to facilitate, but we certainly believe in its merits and the important learning experiences it will provide for us all.”

Comments are closed.