The fourth annual oNE OKC block party this weekend will aim to represent a vision for northeast Oklahoma City’s future while showing the value of community investment, organizers say.
The gathering is scheduled for Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. at the site of the EastPoint redevelopment project along Northeast 23rd Street near Rhode Island Avenue. The commercial project has largely spurred community excitement.
Camal Pennington, the vice president of NEOKC Renaissance and a resident of northeast Oklahoma City, said the block party and his organization want to showcase redevelopment plans in the area.
“Ultimately, we want to create a sense of place in northeast Oklahoma City, and we want to empower the people in our community to have the tools to be able to become developers and entrepreneurs themselves,” Pennington said.
Developers like those behind the EastPoint project will show models of their plans and will individually meet community members in the event’s “building tomorrow” tent, Pennington said.
The oNE OKC event was first held in 2016 near Douglass High School. Pennington said oNE OKC members initially had to “beat down people’s doors” to be able to raise money for community events.
“Now people are clamoring to come to us,” he said.
Some fear repeat of past experiences
Northeast Oklahoma City is home to one of the largest concentrations of African Americans in Oklahoma and was known historically for its Deep Deuce neighborhood.
Home to famous African Americans such as author Ralph Waldo Ellison, jazz singer Jimmy Rushing and guitar virtuoso Charlie Christian, the Deuce was also home to Calvary Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. applied to work. Now, however, the neighborhood is much different, with the church’s transition to a law office and new residential housing bringing in a different demographic.
Jabee Williams, Emmy-award winning rapper and resident of the northeast side since birth, said northeast OKC has been known as the black part of town since his mom and grandmother were children. The Deep Deuce was still considered the northeast side at the time, he said, and it was full of all black-owned businesses.
Over time, urban renewal bought property, built new highways and tore down many buildings.
“Now it’s apartments and condos and no black people — no black businesses,” Williams said of the Deep Deuce neighborhood. “So you have a place that is historically black that’s not black at all, but their story is based on the fact that it was historically black.”
Pennington said that experience has left some residents hesitant to support the new plans for Northeast 23rd Street.
“That was our families who got displaced,” Williams said.
Pennington said oNE OKC is focused on showcasing local developers who are working on revitalizing the area specifically for the black community and its businesses. But he said it will still take time to get more on board for the developments.
“There is a sense that the people think there’s already a plan in place,” Pennington said. “And that the (developers) have their minds made up already before they’ve taken any community input.”
‘You have to care’
Northeast OKC’s proximity to a revitalized downtown is proving to be an affordable draw for people with no historic connection to the area, Williams.
Vacant lots are being bought, houses are being built and commercial efforts are underway. But not as often by black people, Williams said, because they are less likely to be able to get loans from banks.
“Banks are gonna go, ‘You’re black. We don’t give money to black people. You are trying to open a business in a poverty stricken area, it’s not going to work. We’re not giving you any money,”‘ Williams said.
Julie Coffee, owner and president of the construction project firm High Impact Management, said it is important for the community to see little developers rather than major ones.
“It’s important to help sustain a neighborhood and the people in that neighborhood, so it reduces the gentrification effect,” Coffee said. “When we see just these large developers coming in, then there’s a higher risk.”
That has helped present a more positive perception and attitude toward northeast Oklahoma City, Coffee said.
“We still have a ways to go with that positive-person perspective, but it’s moving in the right direction,” Coffee said.
But Williams said he just wants people to care about the place they are now wanting to live or visit.
“I would be in high school and hear the white kids talk about going to the east side and Bobo’s like it was a motherfucking adventure,” Williams said. “And I’m like, ‘I walk up there from my house all the time.'”
Williams said he joined the NEOKC Renaissance group because he liked what they were doing. He also wanted to make sure the developers who are planing projects cared for his community.
“You have to care who the developers are. You have to care who the business is. You have to care who the homeowner is,” Williams said. “Because if you don’t, you get someone who doesn’t know about their history. They’re only there to make money (or) save money.”
Williams: ‘They gonna come and see black faces’
Williams plans to open a burger restaurant on the northeast side. There, he wants to employ the black people from his community.
“I want to hire a bunch of students from Douglass — students from Millwood,” Williams said. “They gonna come and see black faces.”
Local developers such as Monarch Property Group LLC have bought lots from private sellers and the Urban Renewal Authority to build homes in northeast OKC for the last three years, according to Monique Short, managing partner of Monarch.
“We have enjoyed doing in-fill development in the northeastern part of Oklahoma City,” Short said.
Video from the 2019 oNE OKC event
The oNE OKC block party celebrated new businesses and future developments in northeast Oklahoma City. oNE OKC co-chairwoman Ashley Chatman, Commissioner Carrie Blumert and event host Day’quann Ervin spoke to NonDoc about their hopes for the future.
(Editor’s update: This post was updated Monday, June 10, at 1 p.m. to include a video of the oNE OKC 2019 event.)