Lank­ford holds town hall in north Tulsa

Pol­i­tics • U.S. se­na­tor speaks to con­stituents, other of­fi­cials in fa­mous Big 10 Ball­room

Tulsa World - - Front Page - By Bill Sher­man

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.

JOEY JOHN­SON/for the Tulsa World

U.S. Sen. James Lank­ford speaks at a town hall meet­ing at the Big Ten Ball­room, 1632 E. Apache St., on Thurs­day.

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