If Helen of Troy was the face that launched a thousand ships to start the Trojan war in ancient Greece, Dick Roland of Greenwood was the unsubstantiated arrest that launched one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As many as 300 Black residents of the city died in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, and nearly 10,000 were left homeless as white mobs reduced to rubble a thriving center of Black-owned businesses and wealth.
The two days of death and destruction left a still silence in its wake that carried forward for decades, only recently gaining widespread national attention in its centennial year. But, one unjust arrest based upon one unsubstantiated report of an assault launched the first
government-led aerial assault on US citizens, destroying more than 35 square blocks of
Greenwood Avenue, a thriving community of Black entrepreneurs and businesses, transforming
it to rubble and ash. This decimation, combined with a subsequent century of racist laws denied
the opportunity for thousands of Black Tulsans to build generational wealth, a family legacy for
But, just as citizens along Greenwood did in 1921, today Tulsans have rebuilt a powerful
pipeline of community support to bolster opportunities and decrease barriers that other
communities can duplicate.
When the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation laid the groundwork to build Tulsa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem during the Great Recession in 2009, we imagined a world where entrepreneurship was accessible to all. Black Tulsans are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to be unemployed and continually face significant disparities in educational attainment, food security, wages, unemployment, imprisonment, and police brutality.
Quickly, a reality emerged in which “entrepreneur” meant high growth tech business, and the
only people who had the education, network, and fundraising capacity to pursue capital
intensive tech enterprises were largely unavailable to women and BIPOC citizens. In 2013, the
Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation underwrote a gap analysis to provide insight into equitable
entrepreneurial ecosystem building, learning through the report that the best first step was to
decrease barriers that inhibit equity. We worked with our community to create a pipeline to
entrepreneurial success for ANY Tulsan with the hustle and passion to pursue their goal.
One such barrier was decreased by opening the Limited Time Only Market, or LTO | MKT at
Shops at Mother Road Market, specifically meet the need for an innovative, intentional space
to test retail concepts before signing a lease or investing in buildout costs. By reserving a
white boxed, state-of-the-art space within a retail storefront plaza on our campus, we create
opportunities for local, underrepresented entrepreneurs who’ve faced systemic disadvantages
to traditional means of business growth to have barriers of entry to a brick and mortar presence
drastically reduced. When we account for the details that typically stand in the way of a retail concept, such as sales permitting, tax remittance, marketing services, promotion, and point of sale technology, we create opportunities for Tulsa-based BIPOC entrepreneurs to bring their
retail concept directly to consumers, thereby increasing sales, brand awareness, and brand
loyalty along the way who might not have access to networks that will help sustain long-term
We as a society must protect the ability to dream for those who’ve historically faced systemic oppression and designed disadvantages, and continue to intentionally support and uplift their right to innovate, dream and create.
Additionally, when we learned that poverty rates are highest among Oklahomans of color, we
knew that the best way to support the growth of BIPOC businesses was to increase the pay of
all workers. At LTFF’s nonprofit food hall, Mother Road Market, hourly non-tipped employees
make a livable wage, earning 79%-134% above Oklahoma’s minimum wage, providing the
opportunity to build a life for themselves and their families that will outlast their job at Mother
Road Market. Plus, for members of our kickstart kitchen incubator Kitchen 66, as well as Mother
Road Market’s food and retail merchants, we decrease startup capital needs by providing
pop-up testing space, business support, mentorship, and connection with community resources.
Providing ample space for short-term testing allows entrepreneurs to obtain insight regarding
location, pricing, inventory, and staffing before they make the commitment of a long-term lease
and invest in equipment.
We’ve seen this model directly benefit BIPOC entrepreneurs in our community. Take Tamiqua
Whittaker, founder of luxury lip care line Queen Kisses, and Shawntel Lindsay, founder of
loungewear company Sheigh Lounges. When we featured Queen Kisses and Sheigh Lounges
in our February Black-Owned Business and March Women-Owned Business curations, both
product lines nearly sold out, also resulting in an increase in social media followings, customer
engagement, and invitations to participate in local showcase events.
Additionally, pairing startups and established businesses alike, specifically within the BIPOC
community, allows startup businesses to seek advice when they encounter a new obstacle.
Connecting entrepreneurs with partner programs like Stitch Crew, an accelerator run-in
collaboration with OKC’s Thunder basketball team that prioritizes female and BIPOC
entrepreneurs assists in supporting entrepreneurs in assembling necessary documents to pitch
their business to investors for funding. Similarly, connecting entrepreneurs with programs like
Tulsa Economic Development Corporation Creative Capital (TEDC) helps to drive small
business success in Oklahoma through non-traditional lending programs that help
entrepreneurs start or expand a company.
Through these programs that LTFF has created for other businesses to model and create
throughout the country, we’ve found that finding ways to decrease barriers for BIPOC
entrepreneurs ultimately create equity and opportunity to build generational wealth and legacy
despite a tragic history. Whether it’s paying a livable wage or providing funding through Tulsa
StartUp Series pitch competitions, we want to create spaces that affirm the necessity of BIPOC
entrepreneurs just as they are.
Creating a space and culture of representation is critically important, as decreasing barriers for
BIPOC entrepreneurs create opportunities for individuals of all backgrounds to see reflections of themselves and ultimately continue the pipeline of diverse talent connecting with opportunity.
To equitably bring big dreams within reach for our entire community, we as a society must
protect the ability to dream for those who’ve historically faced systemic oppression and
designed disadvantages, and continue to intentionally support and uplift their right to innovate,
dream and create.
Elizabeth Frame Ellison is the President and CEO of the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation and
specializes in building equity through entrepreneurship, especially in the food and retail sectors. During her 12 year tenure, Ellison founded Mother Road Market (a nonprofit food hall to eat well x do good), Kitchen 66 (a kickstart kitchen incubator), Shops @ Mother Road Market (a small-shop retail testing space) and Tulsa Market District on Route 66.
Shakori Fletcher is Partnerships Director for the Limited Time Only Market at the Shops at Mother Road Market. Shakori consults on community-forward projects, and works to uplift, connect
and champion artists, entrepreneurs, and changemakers for the ultimate goal of sparking intentional collaboration for community development and social change
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