Category Archives: National & Global News

Making The Most Of A Second Chance: Troy Delone Leaves Prison Behind

Troy Delone believes that challenges can be overcome with hard work, faith and perseverance. (Courtesy of Troy Delone) 

Troy Delone was not always an upstanding citizen. His extracurricular street activities landed him in the country’s largest maximum-security prison, Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana, when he was 21. Though he was sentenced to double-life plus five years for two counts of armed robbery, Delone was determined to find his way out of prison via legal means.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in Christian ministry while in prison, a new law gave him a glimmer of hope for a potential release. On Dec. 19, 2016, after serving 16 years, that’s just what happened.

Making good on his word to better serve his community, not only does he work with nonprofits, but he’s also earned his master’s degree in social work from Southern University of New Orleans. In a post on social media, Rick Price said, “Every moment of your life is a second chance.” Delone is living proof of this profound quote.

Zenger News spoke with the odds-defying Delone on prison life, his strong faith and the importance of getting an education.

Percy Crawford interviewed Troy Delone for Zenger News.


Zenger: Growing up in the Iberville Projects [in New Orleans], I’m sure it was hard not to fall into the traps of what you witnessed on a daily basis.

Percy Crawford interviewed Troy Delone for Zenger News. (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

Delone: Yeah man! Being that that’s all you see, you feel like that’s just the way life is. The environment you grow up in is so important. Say you grow up in a house where your mom and dad are doctors. The only thing they talk about all day is medical stuff, and you’re going to pick up on that type of language and mindset. But if you grow up in an environment where the only thing you see every day and all day is crime and criminal activity, especially as a kid, you’re going to think this is the way life is.

Zenger: It becomes a survival mentality.

Delone: Exactly! As you get older you might start seeing other things in other parts of the city and community, but it’s like, “OK, that’s the way they live, but we live like this over here.”

Zenger: When you were 21, you got hit with two counts of armed robbery. When you heard the sentence of double life plus five, what went through your mind?

Delone: It was surreal. I just knew it was a bad dream that I was going to wake up from one day. My mindset was this is not real. I probably went through that state of shock and disbelief for two-and-a-half to three years.

Zenger: They send you to Angola, the largest maximum-security prison in the United States. What was it like for you?

Delone: It’s sad to say this, but when I went up there to Angola, it was like, all my family was up there. I have an older brother, we are five years apart, he had already been there six years when I got up there. I also had three of my close friends that I grew up with was up there. There were also other people from my neighborhood that went up there and had been there for a while. It was crazy to see all of them brothers up there like that. That was my thought process, “All my family up here.”

On top of that, the atmosphere in the dormitories that we were living in, it’s like people had lost the reality that they were in prison and sentenced to life sentences. People were watching TV, playing cards or chess. They were just going about life like this was normal. It was insane to me. I hated being in the dormitory because it’s like they didn’t realize that they are in prison.

So I used to stay in the education building, taking all kinds of self-help classes, using the law library and the regular library, and just getting involved with the clubs. I started getting access to that community and being around like-minded people who were like, “Man, we gotta figure out some kind of way to get out of here. Not only that, but once we do get out, we gotta make a difference in our community and prevent other people from falling into this trap as well.”

Troy Delone was once sentenced to double-life sentences, but a change in laws and his own efforts to rebuild his life allowed him to leave prison after 16 years. (Courtesy of Troy Delone) 

Zenger: At one point, they reduced your sentence to 198 years. Was that what made you want to get in front of a parole board, because that reduction wasn’t going to let you see the outside world again, either?

Delone: My focus at that point in time was, whatever it takes to get out of here. If I had to go home on 198 years of parole, so be it, as long as I’m free. I’m still in the system but at least I have the liberties to be able to go to the store, go to work, get in a car and go take a ride with my family. It’s small stuff, like being able to go get something out of the refrigerator or watch TV and not have 60 to 80 other guys around you constantly. Just having that, I was like, I’ll take it.

I was sentenced under the multiple offender law; the three-strikes rule. But my two priors weren’t crimes of violence. That law changed and I was eligible from the application of the law was called Ameliorated Penalty Consideration. 

When I went before the pardon board, they granted me clemency. I had the favor of God. People that surrounded me, stepped up and spoke up for me. The pardon board was like, “This guy here, he’s obviously not the same person he was when he was arrested and convicted, and we want to give him another opportunity.” My sentence was commuted from two consecutive life sentences to 198 years.

But then they said I had to go up to the parole board and I’m like, “The parole board?” Basically, the same people that sit on the pardon board sit on the parole board, too. So it was the same group of people. It was a matter of me being patient to be able to parole, because when they commuted my sentence, they said, “With immediate parole eligibility.”

I was able to go up on the next parole board and was released. I probably was one of the last ones to make parole and be released on the same day. They don’t do that anymore, but like I said, I just had unmerited favor from God. Just trusting and believing that God had opened the door for me that no man can close.

Zenger: You earned your bachelor’s degree in Christian ministry while in prison. How important was that?

Delone: The degree in and of itself wasn’t the thing that was the most impactful for me. The thing that was more important for me was through my studies of the seminary, I really was able to develop my own personal relationship with God. My mom raised us in the church. When we were kids, up until the age where I was able to completely rebel, we had to go to church every Sunday. We were in there from 9 in the morning until almost 3 in the afternoon. I had a foundation. I knew about God, but I didn’t know him for myself. I believed in God, but I didn’t know that I could communicate with him, and he could communicate with me. That’s what came out of my studies at the seminary.

This was pivotal, having my identity confirmed that I was not this career criminal, this notorious person. They put these titles on you in the hood, he’s a head busta, he’s a hustla, a playa and all that there. I wasn’t none of that. I was a child of God, and it was pivotal for me to know who I was. Having my identity confirmed as a child of God changed my whole perspective on life.

Zenger: I attended the Angola Rodeo one year, and we were told that only a very small percentage of inmates that enter Angola State Penitentiary ever see the outside world again. Given that, what does your release date, Dec. 19, 2016, mean to you?

Delone: The Bible says, “He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him.” That was my reward day. I was free when I was in there. Free on the inside. My mind and my heart was free, but my body was in bondage. That was the reward for me to continue to press on and glorify Him in everything that I did. Through my relationship with Him, I was able to help other people. The Bible says, “Let your light shine before men, and they will glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Troy Delone after recently earning his master’s degree from Southern University of New Orleans. (Courtesy of Troy Delone) 

Zenger: You then furthered your education and just recently received your master’s degree from Southern University of New Orleans, one of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Congratulations, my brother.

Delone: Thank you! When I started the process of pursuing my master’s degree, it was very challenging because I had a family; married with kids, and I was also working full time. It was a very challenging process that I went through. So when they called my name to get my diploma, it was a monumental moment in my life.

When I was growing up, I was hard-headed, but I was gifted academically. And they had such high expectations for me. My people thought I was going to be a lawyer or doctor if I just did what I was supposed to do. So at that moment, I just knew my sister was so proud. With my mom not being here anymore, I was able to feel her pride and joy through my sister being there.

Zenger: Continue your work in the community, and we’re all proud of you, brother. Anything else before I let you go?

Delone: Just to put a little bow on it, I always tell my son this: The experiences in life each of us goes through are not really for us, it’s to help somebody else. So when something good happens, this is not for me, this is to be used to inspire other people. No matter what challenges you face in life, you can overcome them with hard work, faith and perseverance. There’s nothing you can’t accomplish in life.

(Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff)



The post Making The Most Of A Second Chance: Troy Delone Leaves Prison Behind appeared first on Zenger News.

Maryland Program Helps Those Who Help Victims Of Crime

William Kellibrew, whose mother and brother were killed and his own life threatened when he was 10, is now director of  youth and trauma services in Baltimore. (Courtesy of William Kellibrew)

BALTIMORE — William Kellibrew was 10 years old in 1984 when his mother, Jacqueline, and 12-year-old-brother, Anthony were killed by Jacqueline’s boyfriend in the living room of their home in Capital Heights, Maryland. Next, the killer approached William.

“He put the gun to my head,” said Kellibrew, who begged for his life. He was spared: The killer instead put the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger.

In the aftermath of his terrible ordeal, Kellibrew’s advocacy against domestic violence drew the attention of Oprah Winfrey and the Obama administration, among others.

Today, as director of the Office of Youth and Trauma Services in the Baltimore Health Department, Kellibrew, along with a number of his staff, took advantage of a training program offered by the Roper Victim Assistance Academy at the University of Baltimore.

The academy “provides a fundamental overview of the entire field of advocacy including victimology, victim rights and victim assistance for residents in Maryland.,” its website states.

Kellibrew shared his perspective after the first day of the five-day program: “I think that it’s important for us to educate ourselves to serve our communities and to create safer spaces for young people. We need to hear their voices to address the deep-rooted trauma that has impacted so many communities.”

William Kellibrew speaks at a 2019 Baltimore trauma conference for care providers. (Hamil R. Harris)

The origins

The Roper Academy is named for Stephanie Roper, a 22-year-old college student who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by two men after her car broke down in a rural area of Prince George’s County on April 3, 1982.

Stephanie’s parents, Roberta and Vince Roper, formed the Stephanie Roper Committee and Foundation, which eventually became the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center.

The Roper Academy was established in 2003 to train law enforcement officers, counselors and nurses and about victims of crimes, the trauma they experience and the stress that service providers can experience.

Heather Pfeifer, one of the instructors at the online Roper Victim Assistance Academy this week. (Hamil R. Harris)

Academy participants typically learn at a retreat center in Baltimore County, but In the wake of the pandemic, they attended online for the 40 hours required for the certificate.

Speakers this week included Dianna Abramowski-Liberto, an assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore County; Debbie Bradley, victim advocate with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office; and police officers, among others.

Dave Thomas, with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, talked about how the time has come “to shift perspectives on trauma survivors, from disdain to one of concern.”

Lisa Ferentz, founder of the Institute for Advanced Psychotherapy Training and Education, told participants that many perpetrators of domestic violence started as victims themselves.

“Believing ‘I am bad’ sets children up for a lifetime of self-sabotaging and self-destructive behaviors, dangerous, abusive choices and relationships,” Ferentz said.

In another session, art therapist Mary Ann Hendricks distributed glue, crayons and other supplies for participants to make their equivalent of a “treasure chest” designed to teach them to manage their own trauma.

Heather Pfeifer, an associate professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Baltimore, said the academy aims to bridge the gap between research and practice.

She also pointed out what might be an upside of the COVID-19 pandemic:

“COVID reinforced how wired we are for affection,” Pfeifer said. “Learning to adapt within these constraints is stress in and of itself, and that is not a bad thing. COVID was this persistent stressor, so I look at it as how can we adapt and what can we take away in terms of lessons learned.”

Debra Stanley, director of the Roper Victim Assistance Academy of Maryland.  (Photo Courtesy of Debra Stanley, University of Baltimore)

Debra Stanley, the academy’s executive director, said that for decades crime victims were not part of the justice system that was primarily focused on the defendant and their rights. But more recently, there has been a shift from what’s known in legal circles as retributive justice system to a restorative one, where the rights of the victim are also considered.

“Things have changed so much since the death of Stephanie Roper,” she said, “but more needs to change.”

Similar thoughts were expressed by one of the participants in the week’s training.

“I learned a lot about the human trafficking of children,” said Debra Thomas, a chaplain for the Baltimore Police Department. “They say it takes a village, but we need more people to get involved and be the village to save more children today.”

(Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff)



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Pastor Persists In Efforts To Get Reparations For Tulsa Massacre Victims

The Rev. Robert Thomas, pastor of historic Vernon A.M.E. Church, leads a group of activists to Tulsa's City Hall weekly to demand accountability and reparations from City Council. (Vernon A.M.E. Church)

Over the course of a day-and-a half in late May and early June 1921, a white mob, angered by the alleged assault of a white woman by a black man, burned and looted the predominantly black Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The damage covered 35 city blocks, destroying nearly 200 businesses, displacing about 10,000 residents. Hundreds were killed in the Tulsa race massacre, deemed one of the deadliest riots in U.S. history.

In the aftermath, Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church was the only black-owned structure still standing in the historic Black Wall Street district. Today, the church at 311 N. Greenwood Ave. stands as a symbol of black resiliency and fights for compensation for the victims of the massacre.

“It’s really humbling to pastor a church that was here before the massacre and has been part of the rebuilding of the community,” said the Rev. Robert Turner, Vernon A.M.E.’s pastor since 2017. “We’ve been called the ‘grandmother of Greenwood’ as the oldest, continuous landowner in the city, black or white. We provide a place for spiritual health and racial healing while representing what remains of Black Wall Street. [Reparations] is really something our people deserve; for justice, reclamation and recompense. Vernon is the change agent against the injustice [of the massacre].”

While three survivors of the massacre — Viola Fletcher, Lessie Benningfield Randle and Hughes Van Ellis — recently received $10,000 each from a Tulsa nonprofit, Turner continues his weekly marches to Tulsa’s City Hall, seeking reparations from a political structure he holds responsible.

“[The gift] gives us more momentum. But, it’s not the first or the biggest,” he said. “We will continue to go after the City of Tulsa, which, over the years, has been complicit at best, a co-conspirator at worst.”

The spark

Dick Rowland was a 19-year-old shoe shiner at a white-owned establishment in downtown Tulsa in 1921. Jim Crow laws forced him to use the “colored” bathroom, which was on the top floor of the nearby Drexel Building. Details vary about what happened next on May 30, but it is well-established that after Rowland entered an elevator in the building, the 17-year-old white elevator operator, Sarah Page, screamed, and a white clerk reported the incident as an attempted assault.

Rowland fled but was arrested the next day. A headline on the front page of the Tulsa Tribune on May 31 that read “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator” provoked a white mob that descended on the courthouse jail where Rowland was being held. The sheriff refused their demands to hand over Rowland and ordered a barricade on the top floor to protect Rowland. After a group of black men showed up outside the courthouse, fighting broke out, shots were fired, and 10 white people and two black people were killed.

Hours later, the Greenwood neighborhood was under siege. Damage was estimated at nearly $2 million ($27 million in today’s dollars), but claims were denied by insurance companies.

The case for reparations

“Following the massacre, government and city officials, as well as prominent business leaders, not only failed to invest and rebuild the once thriving Greenwood community, but actively blocked efforts to do so,” states a 2020 report by Human Rights Watch on the case for reparations.

“No one has ever been held responsible for these crimes, the impacts of which black Tulsans still feel today. Efforts to secure justice in the courts have failed due to the statute of limitations.

“Just over one-third of people living in North Tulsa are below the poverty line, and 35.7 percent are black,” the report states. “Just 13.4 percent of South Tulsans are below the poverty line, and only 9.1 percent of South Tulsans are black.”

The City of Tulsa is addressing the effects of the massacre with a number of public-private initiatives.

“Under Mayor [G.T.] Bynum’s leadership, addressing the legacy of the massacre and making unprecedented investments in community-led redevelopment has been at the forefront of his administration’s goals,” said spokesperson Michelle Brooks. “As it relates to cash payments, Mayor Bynum has stated that he does not believe this generation of Tulsans should be financially penalized for what criminals did 100 years ago, as the only option to bring monetary payments is to tax all Tulsans, including black Tulsans.”

Among the more than 20 economic and community development initiatives announced by Bynum is the construction of Greenwood Rising, a $30 million history center and museum to honor the legacy of Black Wall Street before and after the massacre.

The Rev. Anthony L. Scott, of First Baptist Church of North Tulsa advocates a two-pronged approach to reparations. (First Baptist Church of North Tulsa)

“It’s a great idea to increase the knowledge capital [of what occurred in 1921], and it will bring a great deal into the economy, but the benefit will not be for us, it’ll go into the larger community because we don’t own the land,” said the Rev. Anthony L. Scott, pastor of First Baptist Church of North Tulsa, one of the two other black churches in Greenwood. “The museum will generate revenue off of the pain of black people. A percentage of that revenue should be earmarked to benefit those who experienced the pain.”

Scott said he favors a two-pronged approach to reparations: “Survivors and their descendants are deserving of individual monetary reparations because of the massacre that took place. That will compensate those families as far as legacy wealth and helping their families. But, I’d also like to see redevelopment reparations on a grander scale to compensate for a self-sustaining black economic engine that would have benefited everyone had it not been destroyed [in 1921].”

White House response

On the 100th anniversary of the massacre this year, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. issued a proclamation for a Day of Remembrance. During his visit to Tulsa on June 1, he announced new steps to grow minority businesses and target racial discrimination in the housing market.

“Having the president here in Tulsa was great. He was the first president in 10 years to recognize what happened here as a massacre,” said Turner. “But he said nothing about reparations.”

Media reports described Biden as “wary” of backing reparations for black people in Tulsa, and his lack of support for a House bill that would create a commission to study reparations. H.R. 40 was passed by the House Judiciary Committee in April, but opposition by Senate Republicans makes adoption as law unlikely.

Nevertheless, Turner remains optimistic.

“To the naked eye, [reparations] may not be possible,” said Turner. “But, to the spiritual eye, anything is possible. I stay in my faith space and take my orders from God. In the words of Margaret Mead: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’”

(Edited by Judith Isacoff and Matthew B. Hall)



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Blair Cobbs Eager To Show New Bag Of Tricks Under Tutelage Of Legendary Trainer

Blair Cobbs returns to the ring on June 19 against Brad Solomon. (Prince Ranch Boxing) 

Blair “The Flair” Cobbs serenades audiences with pro wrestling great Ric “Nature Boy” Flair’s “Wooooo!” every chance he gets. For as much as he can talk with the best of them, his fists work just as well inside the ring. Boasting a 14-0-1 record, the welterweight is again ready for action after more than a year’s layoff.

The self-proclaimed “Baddest Man In Boxin”’ returns to the ring on June 19 to face his most experienced opponent to date, Brad “King” Solomon (29-3).

With a new team and new perspective on his career, Cobbs says of Solomon that he is “the only man stupid enough” to sign a contract to stand across from him. Legendary trainer Freddie Roach looks to add to the tools of the talented vocal southpaw.

“The Flair” took some time out to give Zenger News the scoop on training camp, why he is so confident of victory and much more.

Blair Cobbs is now working with legendary trainer Freddie Roach. (Courtesy of Prince Ranch Boxing)

Percy Crawford interviewed Blair Cobbs for Zenger News.


Zenger: Your last fight was Feb. 14, 2020. I’m sure you are itching to punch someone in the face.

Cobbs: Boxing ain’t been the same without me. It’s time for the most exciting man in boxing to get back in there and show the world what he’s all about.

Zenger: You went from four fights in 2019 to only one last year due to the pandemic. How did you use your downtime?

Cobbs: It’s been very challenging. I have conquered depression; I went through a whole lot of ups and downs in my relationship; all kinds of stuff like that. It’s one of those things that was definitely needed for me. The time challenged me in many other ways in my life.

Zenger: Not only did you overcome those obstacles, but on June 19, you get back to doing what you love.

Percy Crawford interviewed Blair Cobbs for Zenger News. (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

Cobbs: Absolutely. It’s a wonderful time to be alive right now, and I can’t wait to get out there and do my thing.

Zenger: You came in at 145 pounds for your last fight. Did you miscalculate your cut?

Cobbs: I overshot it. I’m a brand-new welterweight. I was fighting at 140 for a long time, and then I had a real hard time making the weight. I actually had a bad fight because of it, just trying to make that weight. So, I had to go up in weight. It wasn’t hard making weight at all, but in that particular camp I overshot the weight.

Zenger: Do you feel like you have a handle on it now?

Cobbs: Absolutely.

Zenger: Your next opponent, Brad Solomon, has double the number of fights that you have and has only lost to top guys. Why such a tough opponent after an extensive layoff?

Cobbs: Because he’s the only man stupid enough to get in the ring with Blair “The Flair.” There are a lot of people that turned down that contract, including Solomon at one point. It will be a big fight. It’s a comeback getting back in there, and there are a lot of people that believe that Brad Solomon has what it takes to beat me. It’s going to be an exciting fight with lots of drama.

Zenger: Your fights always seem to play out in a dramatic fashion. Do you feel like your ability to overcome adversity during the course of these fights is what separates you from other prospects?

Cobbs: That’s the biggest key factor. In one of my post-fight interviews, I told the whole world that I am the definition of perseverance. There is nothing that I cannot overcome. No matter what, no matter how many times you knock me down, I will get back up and win. That’s what it is. That’s the theme of Blair “The Flair’s” career. I’m getting better as a fighter, I’m continuing to develop because I actually have the opportunity to do so, and now it’s time to show up and show out.

Zenger: Solomon won a six-round decision in February against Lisandro de los Santos. Any concerns with him potentially being a bit sharper because he has not been out over a year like you have?

Cobbs: No. He paid for that little fight in Mexico and that’s good for him. But during our fight, he’s going to go through some hell. It’s going to be crazy (laughing). I’ve been training in Wild Card Gym, going through the ups and downs of training. And to tell you the truth, it’s been a fight for a whole year.

I’ve never really been out of camp and have only taken a week or two off. I sacrificed time with my family and enjoying life just to be able to be ready at all times. If there was a fight coming up, I wanted to be ready, no matter what. No excuses. Coming into this fight, I’m extremely prepared. I got a whole new bag of tricks, baby. I have been developing new skills, growing as an athlete, growing as a professional, and it’s going to pay dividends come June 19.

Zenger: Solomon has a significant advantage in the experience department, but your last five opponents have a combined record of 63-7, so you have been in with stiff opposition. Do you feel that will help make up for the lack of experience on fight night?

Cobbs: The thing is, they put me in there with a bunch of guys where people think I am going to lose, and I upset them. It’s been a theme. It gets me up in the morning. I looked at some interviews and stuff, and they’ve been saying Brad Solomon has the potential to beat me. That got me up in the morning excited to box. It ain’t fun until you’re fighting the odds. No one else is doing it like Blair “The Flair.” No one is fighting undefeated fighters; nobody is fighting against the odds, and that’s just what it is. That’s what brings a lot of fans to want to come see me. I inspire millions of people doing so.

Zenger: You fight like a guy that’s in there to win, not in there not to lose.

Cobbs: Yeah, I always try to put on a big show that’s extraordinary. If you’re ordinary, it’s not worth it. I only want to be extraordinary. I don’t want to be just perfect; I want to be the greatest and the greatest gotta face great opposition.

People have been caught up in this [Floyd] Mayweather-generation thing where people don’t really want to put their zero losses on the line or be in there with competition they could lose to. They don’t want to face the odds. I have that kind of courage, to face the odds and beat the odds. There are not many fighters nowadays that’s doing that. I love doing it and that’s where I grow the most.

Zenger: All three of Solomon’s losses are to undefeated fighters. What do you have to do to keep his unlucky streak going?

Cobbs: I gotta be smarter, faster, stronger and all-around better. Brad Solomon has a lot of experience. I’m not overlooking him at all. I expect the 2012 Brad Solomon to come out at fight time. Every time I get in that ring, the best of that fighter comes to fight. I’m bringing out the best in these fighters, and I’m extinguishing their flames.

Zenger: We know what trainer Freddie Roach can do with a talented southpaw because of his work with Manny Pacquiao. You are a talented southpaw, so is that what made Roach the trainer choice for you?

Cobbs: It was just the right fit, and it was perfect timing. I made the adjustments in camp. We’re working very well together. I went through the ups and downs, I started at the bottom of the barrel, and now I’m the cream of the crop. You’re not great until you rise to the top against great opposition. In that gym, I have gone through many obstacles and trials and tribulations. That’s just in the training, so I’m already used to this. I’m not new to this, I’m true to this.

Zenger: Good to have you back in the ring on June 19, and good luck to you. Is there anything else you want to add?

Cobbs: Everyone stay tuned for the greatest ass-whooping in 2021 on DAZN network on June 19. Meantime, You can check me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook @blairtheflair for more exciting content; www.blairtheflair.com. Woooo! Nobody does it better, baby!

(Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff)



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Grandmother Blazes New Trail From ‘Black Wall Street’

It was breakfast time, and Wanda Armstrong was rolling out the crust for her famous peach cobbler at Evelyn’s Soul Food Restaurant, a well-known dining spot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that’s frequented by NFL veterans, politicians and even the last astronaut to walk on the moon.

By early afternoon, Armstrong has left Evelyn’s — which is named after her mother — and headed to Wanda J’s, her other restaurant in Tulsa. Located at the American Airlines maintenance facility in town, it bears the owner’s high-school nickname. In addition, Wanda’s son, Ty Walker, and five of his six daughters are cooking and serving guests at Wanda J’S Next Generation Restaurant on Greenwood Avenue.

According to restaurant reviews Evelyn’s Soul Food and Wanda J’s Next Generation are both five-star restaurants that specialize in Southern dishes like fried chicken, catfish and peach cobbler.

In the last few weeks, thousands of visitors have converged on Greenwood Avenue to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in the Greenwood District of the city, better known as ”Black Wall Street.” Among those visitors: President Joe Biden, who gave an address on the tragedy.

“You have to have a product that people like, and then you have to target,” she said. “When I first started, I targeted most working men, and they would come in for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If they didn’t have food at home, they would say, I am going to Wanda J’s. Some women would bring their pots for me to put my food in and take it home.” (Courtesy of Wanda Armstrong)

According to historical accounts, the massacre began on May 31, 1921, after it was alleged that an African-American man raped a white woman. This led to threats of lynching and clashes between armed groups as black residents tried to protect themselves from white mobs who burned buildings and houses, and more than 5,000 people were left homeless.

In the years after the massacre, Tulsa’s black business owners rebuilt and experienced a comeback. But then, in the 1960s four highways were built and the one running through Tulsa cut off the black business district, similar to what had happened in other cities across the country.

For Wanda Armstrong, pride and determination are part of the legacy of one of Tulsa’s most prosperous African-American families. Her family has built a dynasty along a business strip where one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history took place.

Borrowing a phrase from a customer, Armstrong said. “Don’t give me equal opportunity. Give me an opportunity to be equal. It doesn’t take a lot of money to start a restaurant. It just takes a desire and willingness to make it work.”

In terms of race, Wanda said she doesn’t use the words black and white in her restaurant. “I have customers who I refer to by flavors and I have vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and Neapolitan. It is not a color thing; it’s a family thing.”

Armstrong opened her first restaurant 47 years ago, and she said while it has not always been easy, she has learned several things that contributed to her family’s successful formula.

“You have to have a product that people like, and then you have to target,” she said. “When I first started, I targeted most working men, and they would come in for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If they didn’t have food at home, they would say, I am going to Wanda J’s. Some women would bring their pots for me to put my food in and take it home.”

As she carefully prepared crust for her cobbler, Armstrong said in the kitchen of Evelyn’s that when it comes to preparing items on the menu, “We cook as we do at home. We still peel our yams … We make our cornbread from scratch.”

Armstrong named the restaurant after her mother, Evelyn Jefferson. She was the oldest of nine children brought to Tulsa in the 1940s after “Black Wall Street” was rebuilt. She said going into the restaurant business was easy because she loved to cook and many family events were centered around the table.

“I don’t spend a lot of money on advertisements,” said Wanda Armstrong. “It is the word-of-mouth that my customers have built, and I have been through generations of families.”

Armstrong opened her first Wanda J’s in 1974 on Apache street in Tulsa. She said in the same way her mother taught her to cook, she taught her children when they were small. “When I was a child I made mud pies,” so her mother taught her how to cook for real. As an adult she did the same for her children. “We started them cooking when they were 7 and 8.”

Sharla Mackey works with her mother at Evelyn’s, and she loves it.

“She is the rock and the foundation of everything that we do here. It is because of her is why we know the things that we know and do the things that we do.”

Ty Walker, who operates Wanda J’s Next Generation, describes the family businesses as a reflection of the American dream.

Wanda Armstrong and her daughter Sharla Mackey make peach cobbler from scratch every day. (Courtesy of Wanda Armstrong)

“There has never been a country like the United States,” he said. “This is the land of opportunity. George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Thurgood Marshall, all those cats before us, were able to succeed in the climate that they were under.”

On June 1, Biden addressed the nation from Tulsa because community activists, researchers, and journalists have pushed city officials to dig and probe sites believe to be mass graves.

“Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous they can’t be buried no matter how hard people try,” Biden said inside the Greenwood Cultural Center. “Only with truth can come healing, and justice and repair, only with truth, facing it. … We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. We should know the good, the bad, everything. That’s what great nations do. They come to terms with their dark sides. And we’re a great nation. The only way to build a common ground is to truly repair and to rebuild.”

Walter Armstrong sat in his business a half-block away while Biden spoke. He said that he hopes that the attention on the 100-year anniversary of the massacre will produce real change, because government can only do so much.

For Wanda Armstrong, pride and determination are part of the legacy of one of Tulsa’s most prosperous African-American families. Her family has built a dynasty along a business strip where one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history took place. (Courtesy of Wanda Armstrong)

He said more young adults must embrace the work ethic that business owners had in 1921.

“In 1948, 35 to 40 percent of black people had some business in Tulsa,” he said. “Today, it’s down to about 5 percent. My wife has worked as much as 16 to 17 hours a day Many young people today just want to work eight hours.”

Beyond the destruction a century ago, Walter Armstrong also wants to call attention to another major setback the community subsequently faced. “Black Wall Street was rebuilt in the 1940s, but when the highways were built, they didn’t have an on- and off-ramp to Greenwood Avenue, and many businesses died.”

“We are just trying to empower the next generation of our kids of the legacy of owning your own business,” he said. “What people are not talking about was in the 1940s Black Wall Street was rebuilt, and it was thriving just as good if not better than in 1921. But without the off-ramp from the freeway, you cut off the head; the body will die; that’s what happened.”

(Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Kristen Butler)



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