Youth-led radio program teaches Tulsa Massacre, Black history to younger generation

High school students help produce the Tulsa-based radio program the Juice, which airs weekly on the Black community station KBOB 89.9 FM. (Courtesy of Ramal Brown)

When Ramal Brown was growing up, discussions of the Tulsa Massacre were virtually nonexistent. 

Even though he lived down the street from Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, also known as Black Wall Street — where in 1921, white mobs killed hundreds of Black residents and destroyed 35 city blocks of what was the wealthiest Black community in the country — the adults in his life rarely, if ever, talked about it. Schools never mentioned it and the city hardly acknowledged it. Only as an adult did Brown, 39, fully discover that one of the deadliest instances of racial violence took place in his own backyard. 

“There was just a lot of trauma that happened during that time, for people not to share their story with the next generation,” Brown said. But he doesn’t want that silence around the massacre to continue. 

Brown is the director of The Juice Radio Show, a weekly program on the Black community station KBOB 89.9 FM that’s produced by high school students who are responsible for researching, reporting and interviewing guests. In addition to giving young Tulsans a chance to learn radio broadcasting and cultivate their reporting skills, Brown said it let the younger generation learn about the Tulsa Massacre, which happened 100 years ago this week.  

“As soon as we found out as adults about Greenwood, we made the change,” Brown said. “We didn’t have that in mind at the time, but as we got closer and closer to the centennial, we were like, ‘Well, all of this work that we were doing was just for this occasion.’”  

Members of the Juice hosted presentations and performances alongside other youth organizations as part of the Black Wall Street Legacy Festival, a multi-day event honoring the anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre and Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S.  

Wayne Ceasar, 17, who’s worked with the Juice for three years, said the program is keeping the history of Greenwood alive and relevant for future generations. An aspiring television producer, Ceasar has reported on Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Massacre, taking his findings to social media, where most of his peers get information. He researched the many businesses that existed there before the massacre and the founder of Black Wall Street, O.W. Gurley, one of the wealthiest Black men of the 20th century.  

“We had everything,” Ceasar said. “We didn’t have to go to nobody. We had it in Tulsa, Oklahoma. To me, that made me feel good about my city and what we had in 1921.” 

Black Wall Street had been one of the most commercially successful Black communities in the United States until white mobs — prompted by false allegations that a Black teen sexually assaulted a white teen — attacked the area on the ground and by aircraft, leaving hundreds dead and thousands of homes, businesses, churches and schools destroyed, an estimated tens of millions of dollars in damage. 

But Oklahoma public schools weren’t required to teach the Tulsa Massacre until 2002. And even then, schools weren’t given specific guidelines on curriculum. In 2019, some Oklahoma City schools adopted a curriculum created by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission and the Oklahoma History Center, and the following year, the state released a framework for all schools to teach the massacre.   

Even with these developments, Brown said he encourages students to learn about the Tulsa Massacre year-round, noting that young people working on the Juice are trying to help facilitate this. 

But it’s not just history that the Juice is teaching young people.  

Tanner Frank, 16, has been with the Juice for a little over a year, and says he wants to continue his career in radio broadcasting. For him, working on the Juice has given him the confidence to speak in front of large crowds and the drive to help preserve the history of Black Wall Street.  

Brown, meanwhile, said the Juice also offers students an opportunity to learn entrepreneurial skills. “If you can do it in Tulsa, you can do it anywhere,” he said.  

The Juice was recently featured on the digital documentary, “Blood on Black Wall Street: The Legacy of the Tulsa Massacre,” hosted by MSNBC’s Trymaine Lee, which Ceasar and Frank said gave them the chance to test their journalism skills.

“It was honestly kind of mind blowing like, wow, somebody from NBC came down here and they really know what’s going on with us,” Frank said. “It really just shows like a light, like OK, we can really do this, and, [gives] us some hope for the community of Tulsa.” 


Author
Esohe Osabuohien

is a NBC News associate and an alumna of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She was previously awarded a fellowship from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which allowed her to travel to Havana, Cuba, and write about artist-activists who use their platforms to address social issues on the island.