OU alumni are uniting June 19 at a peaceful demonstration during President Donald Trump’s Tulsa campaign rally to challenge systemic racism and amplify Black voices.
Trump announced June 10 he would return to the campaign trail June 19 for the first time since COVID-19 put people in quarantine. The rally’s scheduled date and location immediately created controversy, especially within the Black community.
The rally will be held on Juneteenth — a holiday celebrating the end of slavery two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation — in Tulsa, where Black residents of the Greenwood District were killed 99 years ago in the Tulsa Race Massacre. OU alumna Jericka Handie said when Trump announced the rally, she was immediately taken back to the time she toured the Greenwood District.
“When you walk around … you see the ruins and the destruction that took place and (how) vigilante mobs … created this environment where there is a division that people are still feeling the effects of today,” Handie said. “It’s a history that was silenced for so long … and the fact that Trump hasn't even recognized the brutal murders that have occurred … and people have not been held accountable is completely insane to me.”
OU alumnus Carlos Rubio was raised in Tulsa and said it’s difficult to watch the city he loves welcome Trump on Juneteenth. He said Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt's statement regarding how proud he is to be the safely reopened state chosen to host the president is in complete opposition to what activists throughout Tulsa are feeling.
“It feels like Tulsa is always at the wrong side of history with (what happened in) 1921 and what will happen next Friday,” Rubio said. “It feels like Tulsa just can't get it right, even when there's a clear layup of something they could do to impact and influence the community.”
Instead of protesting at the Trump rally, Rubio and Handie said they are choosing to celebrate Juneteenth and support the Black community by attending the Rally Against Hate — a peaceful gathering hosted by Tykebrean Cheshier at Veterans Park in Tulsa.
The rally has already attracted a large pool of participants, with over 4,000 people showing interest so far. Handie said it is powerful to see so many people choose to stand in solidarity with the Black community.
“It feels incredible to know we have this much support on our side, and it comes from so many different people with different world experiences,” Handie said. “It's telling of where this momentum is going to go and where we hope it does go, which is (toward) creating more equity and inclusion in every facet of life.”
As a Latinx ally of the Black community, Rubio said he feels empowered to make sure his Black friends and past classmates with roots in Tulsa feel heard. He said he hopes the rally will allow their voices to be amplified.
“I want to hear and listen as … a progressive ally while also making sure I don’t overstep my boundaries,” Rubio said. “I think these spaces can be powerful … but (ultimately) we're talking about Black Lives Matter, so Black voices should be at the forefront.”
Handie said she hopes to see people from Tulsa and surrounding communities unite and feel the pain that comes with unserved justice. Recognizing history, she said, is the only thing that will allow everyone to move forward and create a better future for our nation.
Currently, a lack of social distancing measures makes the event dangerous for those who are immunocompromised or are at risk of exposing others. Handie recognizes this and said if people are uncomfortable they should stay home.
Handie said there are, however, ways to show allyship in quarantine.
“I understand COVID-19 poses a threat … but (if you stay home), continue to be active in the spaces that you feel safe,” Handie said. “Black voices and experiences can be heard and valued through conversations people have behind closed doors.”
Tulsa continues to experience a rise in cases, with a four-day average of 46 new cases. Despite this increase, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said in a tweet Tulsa protects the free and peaceful exchange of ideas and will continue to do so — while following Oklahoma guidelines — during the President’s visit to Tulsa next week.
Rubio said he encourages people who are near and capable to attend, as the rally can uplift and strengthen Black voices.
“I think it's important to recognize there is a global pandemic that’s going on and for people to take care of themselves,” Rubio said. “There is, however, another global pandemic that's being brought to light, and that's racism. So I think it’s important for people to be present.”
Editor's note: this article was updated at 5:12 on June 12 to correct the spelling of Jericka Handie's name.