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Main Spotlight: Revitalization Possible con Comunidad

October 6, 2021 | Main Spotlight: Revitalization Possible con Comunidad | By: Jessica Jackson Seay, Executive Director, Kendall Whittier Main Street |
The mural is called "Selfie Wall" and it was designed and painted by Ghazal Ghazi as part of the Kendall Whittier Wall program in May 2019. She designed it to celebrate women, diversity and nature. The sunset picture was taken in fall of 2020. Credit: Kendall Whittier Main Street

Revitalization in Kendall Whittier happened fast.

In its first six years, Kendall Whittier Main Street saw $118 million reinvested as 15 façade projects and 61 other building rehabilitation projects were completed. A total of 32 new businesses opened, and 190 jobs were created.

But still, something was missing. Kendall Whittier Main Street had yet to engage a large section of the district’s population - its roughly 30 percent Hispanic and Latinx residents.

Kendall Whittier is a commercial district and neighborhood located about three miles east of downtown in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As an Urban Main Street in a city with a population just upwards of 400,000, Kendall Whittier’s full potential remained untapped.

Kendall Whittier is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in an ever-diversifying Tulsa. In fact, the newest Census data shows that Tulsa has become a majority-minority city, with more than half its residents identifying as a person of color.

Invitando a la fiesta

The KWMS Board of Directors knew it was time to not just invite neighbors to the party, but to involve them and work with them on authentic Mexican and Hispanic programming.

In 2017, in partnership with two Latina residents, KWMS launched the Mercado, a biweekly multi-cultural market focused mainly on Latinx vendors but open to anyone. Mercado created entrepreneurial opportunities to Tulsa’s Hispanic community and helps bridge the gap between cultures, vitally important in a time of country-wide divisiveness

The following year, Kendall Whittier After Five – a summer outdoor concert series – began Salsa Night in September. Salsa Night features free salsa dance lessons for any novice to prepare for a night of salsa dancing fun. Later in the evening, an Oklahoma-based salsa band, who sings in both Spanish as well as English, takes the stage for una noche de baile. Kendall Whittier Main Street even works with a Latinx-run rental business in the district to provide a dance floor.

All posters and other promotions for Mercado and After Five’s Salsa Night are in Spanish as well as English.

Additionally, Main Street created a Spanish webpage on its website to share its story and services with all of Kendall Whittier. Event flyers and postcards are often double sided with Spanish and English. The KWMS staff are working to translate all documents and practicing their own Spanish-language skills.

In late Spring of 2021, Kendall Whittier Main Street hosted a bilingual COVID-19 vaccine clinic. Thanks to a partnership with Growing Together, bi-cultural Spanish-speaking volunteers were on site to walk attendees through every step of the vaccination process and answer any questions they had. In two clinics, about 240 people were vaccinated against COVID-19; 95 percent of them were Spanish-speaking. Having volunteers there who understood their culture, as well as language, gave attendees the confidence to get the shot.

These efforts have increased the number of Hispanic residents at all Kendall Whittier Main Street events throughout the year.

Los Festivales y Mercados

When Mercado began in 2017, the goal was to create an inclusive multicultural event that reflects the neighborhood’s demographics and its creative flair, while providing entrepreneurial opportunities for the greater Tulsa Hispanic community. Vendors sold handmade clothing, shoes, blankets, crafts, and jewelry. Mercado mornings started with a rousing Zumba class -- free and open to the public -- followed by a four-hour open-air market.

The highlight of the Mercado season is the annual celebration of Mexican Independence Day each September. In addition to vendor booths, co-manager and Kendall Whittier resident Monica Poblete created vibrant celebrations of Mexican culture, including traditional folk dancers, Azteca dancers, live music, and lotería games for prizes at district businesses. The event attracts hundreds of people to celebrate Mexican culture loudly and proudly at the major intersection of the neighborhood.

Kendall Whittier Main Street took a hiatus on Mercado in 2020 due to COVID-19 and the move of the Tulsa Farmers’ Market, Oklahoma’s largest farmers’ market, to Kendall Whittier. In the future, the event will shift to a quarterly cultural celebration, tapping into the success of the annual Mexican Independence Day celebration. Each festival will feature a different theme, including the Mexican Independence Day in September and Las Posadas in December, while still maintaining the entrepreneurship aspect of the Mercado.

Los Festivales y Mercados will launch in December 2021.

En el futuro

As Kendall Whittier Main Street looks at future programming, further connecting with the Latinx population in Kendall Whittier and throughout Tulsa will be key to taking the organization to the next level. While the Hispanic population in Tulsa has increased by 5 percent since 2010, the Hispanic-owned businesses in Kendall Whittier have not.

Kendall Whittier Main Street’s new Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibly Committee is discussing ways to be more intentional about inclusive business recruitment and development. The Board of Directors plans to more proactively enlist Latinx Board members and volunteers. It is currently seeking a translation specialist volunteer position to help staff better translate program documentation and news releases.

New sidewalk planters will feature colors commonly found in papel picado to showcase the districts deep Hispanic roots. Bright yellow flowers and greenery will be planted in artistic planters of oranges, greens, blues and pinks make every day in Kendall Whittier feel like a fiesta.

A number of strides have been taken over the last five years to better engage with the Spanish-speaking residents of Kendall Whittier, and it’s worked! But there’s still so much to be done. Fortunately, Kendall Whittier Main Street is up to the task.

El futuro será brillante.

The mural artist is Brady Scott. It means "good vibes" and was created in May 2019 as part of our Kendall Whittier Walls program. It is designed on the wall of San Miguel Middle School, which is an independent school that takes students who are behind, particularly in English literacy, by 6th grade and works with them to ensure they excel. Many graduates end up going to college - often the first in their family to do so! Photo courtesy of Kendall Whittier Main Street

About the Program

Kendall Whittier Main Street is a nonprofit organization that inspires the ongoing revitalization and growth of a historic and cultural neighborhood in Tulsa, striving to transform it back to a thriving, walkable commercial district. KWMS is a 2020 Great American Main Street Award winner and an Oklahoma Certified Cultural District.

About the Author

Jessica Jackson Seay is the executive director of Kendall Whittier Main Street, a 2020 Great American Main Street Award recipient and 2020 Oklahoma Outstanding Community of the Year, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Jackson Seay has been with the program since March 2019, coming directly from Claremore Main Street in Claremore, Oklahoma, roughly 25 miles northeast of Tulsa. Jackson Seay found her way to Claremore after few years as a newspaper reporter and six years in marketing and communication and sports information at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, where she was named Employee of the Year. She holds a journalism degree and Spanish minor from the University of Oklahoma.