When President Donald Trump announced he would hold a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., on June 19, Black Americans and advocates nationwide were aghast. The time and location chosen seemed impossibly bold. A rally on the slavery emancipation holiday Juneteenth? At the site of one of U.S. history’s ugliest racist massacres that left 300 Black Tulsans dead?
Trump has since moved the rally to the following day, insisting it was all a coincidence. But Black Tulsans were angered—and skeptical, given Trump’s history of referring to white supremacists as “very fine people” and to African and Caribbean nations as “shithole countries.”
For Small Girls PR, the news presented an opportunity. Led by vp of strategy Jasmine Teer, the New York-based firm went to work quickly on a multiagency effort to launch a virtual event to compete with the Trump rally, bringing together partners Tulsa agency Gitwit, Brooklyn production house Showstream and a number of Tulsa community groups to create the Tulsa Juneteenth Block Party.
The resulting nationwide virtual event came together in just four days, and the list of participants is impressive. From political leaders like Sen. Kamala Harris and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to Hollywood celebs like Alfre Woodard and Sophia Bush, the event is jam-packed with high-profile speakers guaranteed to at least partially draw the nation’s watchful eyes away from the spectacle of the Trump rally.
Saturday’s rally kicks off at 6 p.m. CT, an hour before Trump’s rally.
Teer, who has worked on the Tulsa account for two years and says Small Girls has “become part of the community,” said the city is currently teeming with energy. And the local marketing pros are not wasting any time when it comes to capitalizing on this moment for the greater good.
“Tulsa’s been in the national news spotlight in an unprecedented way the last couple weeks,” Teer said. “As marketers, we talk about the headlines we see, then we figure out how we’ll use our tools—event marketing, storytelling and activism—to connect outside organizations and people to the good that’s going on in the city, things that inherently may not attract the same attention.”
Teer’s community partners include the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, The Black Wall Street Times, the Terence Crutcher Foundation, the Greenwood Cultural Center, the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, the Tulsa Community Remembrance Coalition, Metcares Foundation, Black Wall Street Memorial and Fire in Little Africa.
“Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom and the unyielding strength of Black Americans even in the face of the evils of slavery,” said Damion Shade, co-emcee of the Tulsa Juneteenth Block Party and a criminal policy analyst. “With this event, we hope to honor this history as well as the remarkable legacy of Black Wall Street, which persists in the businesses, artists and the spirit of Black excellence in Greenwood and throughout Tulsa today.”
Many of the partner groups were already preparing for a massive event next year, also sure to draw national crowds: the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre.
The Tulsa Juneteenth Block Party won’t just be a celebrity platform; local leaders from Tulsa’s Black community will also speak about the work they do to fight for racial justice. Among them are Tiffany Crutcher, who has been leading the city’s police reform movement since her brother Terrance was shot and killed by a Tulsa officer in 2016.
Other Juneteenth celebrations were already planned in Tulsa’s Greenwood District, where Black Wall Street—alongside memorials to the Tulsa race massacre—is located. And because of the Trump rally, several counterprotests are taking place, too, including one right outside of the BOK Center, where the president will speak on Saturday. Those counterprotesters received a threatening signal from Trump, who tweeted on Juneteenth that “lowlifes” opposing his visit wouldn’t be treated gently.
A Friday rally in Greenwood billed as “I, Too, Am America” kicked off with a keynote address by longtime civil rights activist and MSNBC host Al Sharpton.
Teer said that above all else, she’s glad to see that the recent protest movement, perhaps combined with the Trump controversy, has helped Juneteenth take on “new significance for people outside the Black community.”
“Our country is opening its eyes to the realities that Black people have lived for centuries,” Teer said, “and the sad truth is that it has been easy for people of privilege to live their lives without learning crucial parts of American history.”