Lankford holds town hall in north Tulsa
Politics • U.S. senator speaks to constituents, other officials in famous Big 10 Ballroom
U.S. Sen. James Lankford fielded a variety of questions from his constituents in north Tulsa on Thursday night, standing on a stage once shared by musical greats like Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown.
Lankford chose the Big 10 Ballroom at 1624 E. Apache St. for a town hallstyle meeting because he is dedicated to the revitalization of north Tulsa, said his spokesman, D.J. Jordan.
Jordan said Lankford wanted to showcase the nearly completed renovation of the venue that once featured some of America's finest black performers.
It's remarkable, Lankford said, “to be in this room, with this history.”
He started his part of the evening with a brief history of the building, naming a long list of great black performers who played there.
The Big 10 Ballroom was a national venue for black artists from 1948 until the mid-1960s, a stop on what was called the “Chitlin Circuit” that offered
them a safe stage on their national tours at a time in America when they were not welcome at many white concert halls.
The facility was closed in the mid-1960s and fell into disrepair. It was used for a time as a warehouse for beauty products.
It was purchased in 2008 by A Pocket Full of Hope, a nonprofit agency that uses the arts to teach young people social skills and responsibility.
Lester Shaw, the agency's executive director, has been working on renovating the building to house the agency, as well as other programs for young people.
Shaw told the crowded venue Thursday night that those in his program are “destined for greatness.”
“These young people are worth the effort,” he said. “This is our small contribution.
“We decided that this building was connected to some rich history. We thought this would be a great opportunity to connect with them.”
State Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, commended Shaw for his commitment to making the facility a reality.
Goodwin said she was questioned about why she would appear at an event with Lankford, a Republican.
She said the senator has always been accessible to her, despite their political differences, and they have in common their commitment to God. Lankford is a Baptist minister.
State Sen. Kevin Matthews said he had a great deal of respect for Shaw and his wife, whose Pocket Full of Hope students have a 100 percent high school graduation rate.
And he thinks Lankford.
“When we see all of the strife we have over racial issues, … Sen. Lankford reached out his hand to turn that tragedy into triumph,” Matthews said.
Mayor G.T. Bynum thanked Lankford for holding the event, and said his speech on the Senate floor about the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot was the best piece of oration he had heard in the Senate.
Bynum said the city is working on the problem of access to jobs and economic growth, particularly in north Tulsa. That goal includes a bus rapid transit line up and down Peoria Avenue, which is expected to spark development along that corridor.
He said he was glad that the people of north Tulsa are holding the city to a high standard of economic growth.
Lankford addressed several issues that federal lawmakers will be facing this fall, including tax reform, health care, opioid addiction, and DACA, the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, which protects from deportation undocumented people who came to the United States as children.
He said slow economic growth over the past decade has meant fewer jobs and lower wages, and tax reform could spark economic growth.
The tax code needs to be simpler, Lankford said, and needs to make it easier for businesses, particularly small businesses.
He said good information about tax reform will be difficult to find this fall because so many lobbying groups will be putting out conflicting information.
Lankford said opioid addiction is a big issue that disproportionately affects Oklahoma and needs to be tackled on several fronts.
He said drug companies are working on development of pain medications that are not addictive.
On DACA, he said, “We've got to figure out what to do with those kids. How do we actually fix this?
“I'm not interested in deporting them.”
Lankford said he has come up with a proposal that would allow DACA people to apply for conditional residency that would make them legal for five years, renewable twice, followed by application for a green card, and then naturalization as citizens.
U.S. Sen. James Lankford speaks at a town hall meeting at the Big Ten Ballroom, 1632 E. Apache St., on Thursday.