Risha Talks: Equity should be an inalienable right

by | Apr 27, 2018 | Blog

Imagine living in a place where you decide to buy tomatoes from the local Subway restaurant because there is not a grocery store in your community.

In 2010, I moved from south Tulsa to north Tulsa. During my first week in my new neighborhood, I went grocery shopping in Sand Springs. Once I got home, I realized that I’d forgotten a tomato.

At that moment, needing a tomato to cook made me realize the impact of living in a food desert. I drove to the closest place from my house, which happened to be a Subway restaurant, and purchased three slices of tomato for 79 cents. Suddenly, I noticed the retail options in my new neighborhood: dollar stores and pharmacies.

Living in south Tulsa had spoiled me. There were huge differences between the south and north sides of Tulsa. For starters, within a 3- to 5-mile radius, I had access to shopping, emergent care hospitals, and fresh fruits and veggies. Debris from storms didn’t linger, and vacant lots were not overgrown with grass.

The most glaring difference? People in my old neighborhood didn’t die 11 years earlier than their life expectancy rate.

I drew the conclusion that we needed to improve the equity in north Tulsa. But after 40 years of case studies, improvements seem minimal. As a consultant on the PlaniTulsa initiative to update Tulsa’s Comprehensive Plan, adopted by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission in 2010, I saw that the most memorable headline from this million-dollar study was that north Tulsa was the most underserved area in Tulsa.

It’s 2018. What do we really plan to do about it? When we say we are going to rally the community around the latest study of Equality Indicators, which community are we going to rally?

North Tulsans don’t need anyone to rally around them, because we live with them daily. How do we get others to care enough to invest in making a difference?

Many will say stores won’t come to the area due to crime, while neglecting the fact that the Tulsa Police Department and media stories have consistently said north Tulsa does not have the highest crime rate in our city. Unfortunately, we are all guilty of waiting until issues hit our doorstep before engaging.

Looking at inequity through a national lens, two glaring issues stare back: the drug crisis and gun violence. These epidemics have been viruses since I can remember, but they haven’t been as important to everyone. In our most marginalized and poverty-stricken areas, these issues have been rampant.

All kids should have the right to go to school safely and live in peace in their communities without worry about being murdered. The problem is that many inner-city kids don’t live in peace at school, at home or in their communities. They are not safe from gun violence and haven’t been in decades. Yet, they don’t receive the same high-visibility media blitzes that are common today.

Imagine experiencing 80 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, where 17 students died, every year. Or burying 19 of your friends throughout your childhood. According to the Washington Post, last year, while 41 children were injured or killed in school shootings, the Gun Violence Archive shows that 1,367 kids were crippled or murdered by gunfire in their community.

The untrue and dismal consensus is that inner-city kids are used to gun violence, so it’s not as big of a deal.

Because of drug abuse in my immediate family, drugs have always been a part of my life. I have seen drugs decimate the loving community I grew up in, and I always thought no one cared.

As a bystander, I can’t help but glare at the opioid crisis being coddled with compassion while the crack epidemic dehumanizes people and destroys vulnerable communities.

The reality seems to be that we don’t care about each other. Until these issues affect upper-class communities, the people who live there and especially their children, there will be no change.

Daily, I question my thinking. On one hand, I say we should take care of ourselves and build our own grocery stores, hospitals and banks in our community. Then we should figure out a way to deal with drugs and guns in our community so that our kids grow up healthy and mentally strong.

Then I think this sounds frighteningly familiar. We did this before for similar reasons. It was called segregation. History has a way of repeating itself if we aren’t cognizant about how we got there.

Like breathing, we all identify with our many different races. However, sometimes we forget that we all belong to one race — the human race.

Humankind is interconnected, and diversity is the best way to expose that ideology. What affects me will eventually affect you. We should help our neighbor live equitably because we care, not selfishly so his problem doesn’t become yours.

Equity and equality belong to all of us.


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