Children and adults engaging their inner kid play chutes and ladders in a maze of wobbly nets, rickety rope bridges, and steep, twisty slides. Couples and groups of teens sit by the lake to watch canoes paddle by and take sunset selfies. Skateboarders glide past murals designed by local artists to test their skills along a riverfront course. It’s all contained within one of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s main attractions, the Gathering Place, a nearly 100-acre public park bordering the Arkansas River. It’s a big park with big goals: attracting tourists from around the country and uniting racially divided communities across the city.
Tulsa is grappling with its heavy past. It was the site of the Black Wall Street Massacre and simultaneous mass killings of Osage Nation peoples in 1921. Many street and building names still honor W. Tate Brady, the alleged founder of the city, who was a Klansman and instigator of the massacre. As part of this rebuilding and rebranding, Brady Street (which runs through downtown) has been renamed Reconciliation Way. Black Wall Street—the Greenwood District—is being revitalized with new restaurants, apartment buildings, and galleries honoring the area’s history. However, the pain of the past is still quite present as the city attempts to move forward.
The Gathering Place’s goal is to be intergenerational and intercultural, and to bring folks from all of Tulsa’s neighborhoods together in one space. The city is quite ethnically diverse yet geographically segregated: North Tulsa is predominantly African-American while South Tulsa is predominantly white. The Latino population is the fastest growing in the city, with many families living in East Tulsa, while Asian-American and immigrant populations from Korea, China, Vietnam, and Burma have their own micro communities around the city. The Native American Osage Nation has a long history in Tulsa and is a foundational part of the community. This segregation is no different from many other cities around the country but Tulsa’s violent history and commitment to reconciliation drives a desire for more connection across communities. The idea and hope is that play is a universal equalizer and unifier.
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