Member Highlight: Black History Month

February 22, 2023

What does it mean to be a Black entrepreneur in Tulsa? In honor of Black History Month, we chatted with some of our members to see what it’s like to build businesses in a place where the legacy of Black Wall Street is so prominent.

In the early 20th century, the Greenwood District in Tulsa was a thriving hub of black-owned businesses before the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 which erased years of Black success. Fast forward to today and the significance of Black Wall Street continues to be felt in Tulsa and beyond. Our members and community have embraced the rich history of the Greenwood District and carry on the legacy of success that was established all those years ago.

From honoring the legacy of Black Wall Street, to creating opportunities for future generations, these entrepreneurs do it all! Meet some of the members in our community who are keeping the spirit of Black Wall Street alive.

Owon Johnson

Owon is a trailblazing entrepreneur and future midwife who was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As a descendant of Black Wall Street, she is proud of her heritage and ready to create a legacy of her own. After embarking on a spiritual journey in college, she started practicing as a doula and offering those services alongside childbirth photography in 2018.

She is currently pursuing a degree in midwifery and is on track to become the first Black woman midwife from Tulsa. Her passion for helping women give birth in a safe, empowering way is a natural extension of her desire to create positive change. Owon’s ambitions don’t stop there, though! In addition to being an entrepreneur and a student, Owon is also a devoted mother of two and owner of The Dainty Fig, a charcuterie business she started during the Pandemic.

With her unique blend of business smarts, expertise, and integrity, Owon is a shining example of what is possible when we pursue our passions!

What is it like to be building businesses in Tulsa as a descendant of Black Wall Street?

I’m actually in the middle of doing a lot of family research because my great-grandmother, who held all of our history, did not like to talk about it. I could never really get her to open up about it, so I’m doing my own research because I’ve always wanted to get to know myself in all capacities to better represent myself. Sometimes you can go through life not knowing your history or where you come from. I think it matters knowing because then it’s like I know exactly where I’m going.

Even being in midwifery school, I learned that one of my great uncles was an herbalist, and my actual very first business that I ever started was me making natural products- before I even knew that he did that.

I guess I’m the person in my family that is changing the trajectory of a lot. You know some people are like the people that are supposed to change their family- that’s me and my mom. Also, going to midwifery school, I’ll actually be the first certified, professional black midwife from Tulsa Oklahoma- and that’s where the pressure comes from.

I’m making sure I’m setting myself up so that I can start training others to come behind me because I know how important that is. I don’t want to do this by myself either! The 36 Degrees North and Tulsa Remote community helped me through this journey by giving me access to so many different resources like a community to network in, workshops, and even our slack channels are super, super helpful!

Support Owon’s midwifery journey - Owon’s Birthwork - The Dainty Fig

Ray’Chel Wilson

Originally from Ohio, Ray' Chel made the move to Tulsa after joining Teach for America, an organization that aims to improve educational outcomes in underserved communities. After working in education, Ray' Chel decided to pursue her passion for personal finance and founded Raise The Bar Investments.

The company is dedicated to providing financial education and resources to minorities, particularly people of color. In addition to her work at Raise The Bar Investments, she is currently prototyping an app called For Our Last Names. The platform is designed to help minorities build generational wealth by providing tools and resources to help them make informed financial decisions. 

Ray' Chel is a passionate advocate for education and the potential of Black entrepreneurship in Tulsa to inspire and empower young people. She is a dynamic and visionary leader who is making a real difference in Tulsa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem!

What's it like being a Black entrepreneur in Tulsa right now?

I feel like Tulsa is the mecca for Black entrepreneurship, especially in this day and age. It's very exciting that we get to play an active role in rebuilding Black Wall Street. I also think that that's where my advocacy for education comes in. Because Tulsa is evolving so much with black entrepreneurship, but we can't forget our black youth that also want to be entrepreneurs and often don't see the value in Tulsa. So that's where I try to use my influence to also encourage our students to see the value and so that they can see that they can be entrepreneurs as well.

I mean, even when I moved here I was just planning to teach and actually had the plan to become a lawyer. But, the energy here definitely stuck with me- the best businesses solve real-world problems and being in the classroom, you get first-hand experience with those problems.

I also love our ecosystem of accelerators! I was an Entrepreneur in Residence with Build in Tulsa which led to me having the actual space to just develop my business, do research, and connect with the community and other black entrepreneurs, which I love. I was also in their Female Founders Pitch Night, which really allowed me to understand the tools needed to actually scale this.

Tell us about your role at KIPP and how that complements your mission as an entrepreneur that’s honoring the legacy of Black Wall Street.

It's very complementary because although I don't teach anymore, I currently serve as director of development. We are expanding even for our students to be able to apply their education. Even though I didn't want to initially be a teacher or an entrepreneur, I feel like education is a pathway to so many things, and for me was a pathway to entrepreneurship and being part of rebuilding Black Wall Street.

Join the waitlist for the For Our Last Names app and check out the work Ray ‘Chel is doing at Raise the Bar Investments.

Krystal Speed

Krystal Speed is the visionary behind Your HR Strategist, a company that empowers scaling startups and small businesses to build and cultivate strong teams. Having lived in the Washington D.C. area for 26 years, Krystal decided to embrace a fresh start by joining the Tulsa Remote program two years ago.

She comes from a family of entrepreneurs, and after joining her family’s business, she discovered her passion for HR. Her ultimate goal is to humanize the employment experience, creating a thriving work environment for all team members. Krystal finds the most joy in supporting small businesses and startups that are preparing for team growth, providing them with the necessary resources to strengthen their organizations as they scale.

Her wealth of experience and expertise enables her to help businesses navigate complex HR issues and streamline their processes. Her strategic approach ensures that her clients are well-equipped to handle any employment challenge, allowing them to focus on achieving their business goals. Krystal’s dedication to her clients and her passion for HR make her an invaluable asset to any team looking to grow and thrive…and did we mention she’s right here in Tulsa?

What has been your experience as a black entrepreneur in Tulsa, particularly in a female-dominated industry that may have biases about your role?

female-dominatedI guess I’ve always been in female dominated fields- but I have consistently been able to redefine my roles and provide a unique perspective. I have a strategic HR approach! A lot of times people just think HR is filing paperwork and pushing papers. But, I’ve always had the opportunity, which I love, to be a thought partner. I’ve been able to actually utilize the position to really help make a change in a way that’s meaningful versus being limited only to tactical execution tasks.

I feel like coming to Tulsa was the best move for my business just because of the community that exists here in Tulsa. 36 Degrees North and all the programming available for founders have been helpful in being able to get access to resources and even thinking about things I hadn’t really thought about before. Also, the different organizations here, like Build in Tulsa, have helped me grow as a founder and are doing a lot to invest in the ecosystem!

I love that in Tulsa, I can go to events and hear people speak and about the businesses they are building. I sit there and think, “Yes, I see that this is a multi-million dollar business that you’re creating,” and I love being around the energy of people who I feel like are doing great things and who I will read about in months or years from now, changing the world.

If you’re thinking about building and growing your team, sign up for Your HR Strategist’s newsletter which provides weekly tips for free + check out Your HR Strategist's Instagram page!

Tiffany and North Kaskazini

Tiffany and North Kaskazini are a powerhouse couple who have made an impact in the Tulsa community since relocating from California with the Tulsa Remote program. Along with joining our community, they launched Greater Tulsa Renovations, a thriving business that specializes in home repairs and maintenance.

Tiffany and North are also committed to investing in their community. They recently purchased an investment property in the historic Greenwood District, a vibrant community with a rich cultural history. Their dedication to the development and legacy of this community is a testament to their passion for their new home, Tulsa.

As if their entrepreneurial ventures weren’t enough, the Kaskazinis are also working on launching The Handy Woman Project, a Builders & Backers project aimed at empowering more women to enter the gig economy. The project is designed to provide women with opportunities to earn income and gain valuable skills in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

Despite buying two homes, an investment property, and launching businesses, Tiffany and North recently welcomed a new addition to their family of 6! With their drive and passion, Tiffany and North Kaskazini are setting an inspiring example for others to follow.

What does it mean to be entrepreneurs in Tulsa, where the legacy of Black Wall Street is such a significant part of the community?

Tiffany: Well, it means a lot. We recently bought an investment property in the Greenwood area and we’re currently working on that now. Even before we started that project or even knew we were going to buy a home in that area, we came here knowing we want to build on the legacy and get involved somehow.

Knowing that there’s a strong black historical presence here really attracted us. We didn’t experience that where we were from in Oakland to the same degree. We were looking for somewhere that had a fresh start where Black people were coming in to build on it.

North: For me, just rebuilding something here, regardless of if the house [we bought] was around or not, I think it’s pretty special. You know, it’s carrying on the legacy a little bit, even though we’re not directly connected to it. Just the fact that we are building somewhere that people destroyed. Every day when we get up and go, I feel like a push from behind because of what happened here. It’s motivation, for sure.

How has the Tulsa Remote + 36 community helped support you throughout the last year?

Tiffany: I think having a built-in community of trust has made it easier to launch things. People trusted North to come into their home to change curtain rods and do simple repairs in the beginning, which inspired us to launch a complete home remodeling company. I think having a tight-knit community helps with launching businesses and having people to trust off the bat.

There are so many people who are in the same situation that don’t have family or friends [in Tulsa]. So everybody jumps in to support. Even when I had the baby, one TR member dropped everything to come to my house and watch my other kids so I could go to the hospital.

Learn more about the Kaskazini’s upcoming project The Handy Woman Project + check out Greater Tulsa Renovations.