Do you hear what I’m saying?

Karen O’Brien takes oath to serve on City Council.

Not many people know that I was an interim Tulsa City Councilor. I was not elected, nor will I ever run for a political office. However because I have been an active volunteer on many committees for the benefit of Tulsa citizens, the Chair of the Council contacted me. They needed someone to help that government body conduct necessary business for the City because Councilor Patrick had passed away, and another District Councilor had resigned.

So, as a private citizen, in October and November 2018, I accommodated that request. I was placed in a position in which I would be the voice of the people of District 3.

During that short period, I was put in the media spotlight by a comment I made. That comment was taken out of context, and resulted in my being called a racist, with demands for me to apologize made by the Mayor and others. Because the comments were made in the televised meetings, I felt I should make a statement from my point of view. On November 28, I wrote and distributed the following memo to the Councilors, their staff and the Mayor. The note following this memo is my compromise verbiage to the “suggestions” that I said publicly during that day’s televised Council meetings.

I believe God put me in this position for a purpose. WORDS.

I would like to thank the media and others for bringing to my attention that a few words I spoke in a ten minute discussion with Mr. Ewing on November 7th regarding the renaming of a street could be interpreted in a way I did not intend.

While I choose not to wear the chains of Political Correctness, I do strive not to be rude or hurtful. I try to see things from more than one perspective because there is always more than one side to everything. Our life experiences guide our perspectives, and sometimes it’s hard to see any other. I appreciate the lesson I’ve learned.

People who know me know that I try to see beyond the easy answers of a moment, to try to look at the whole picture, so I ask “why” a lot. So I believe this discussion is not only about the name of a street.

If the goal is to join us together in unity, some facts should be considered.

• Humans tend to cluster together. Social, economic, religious, political – all are clusters we choose to be a part of. Even as early as kindergarten, groups are formed. A few in a group are leaders and some are misfits, but the majority are observers. And the majority of us choose to follow the powerful—wherever they lead.

• “Us” is “them” to other groups.

• None of us can change the DNA we were born with. By that fact alone, we are equal. I cannot change that I am white. I can only change the way I, as an individual, interact with other people.

Changing, covering up or erasing history is wrong. We need to have history to inform us so we don’t repeat it. Our children deserve to know history, the good and the bad and from many perspectives, because history is the ground we grow from. Tearing down statues, censoring stories, renaming buildings and streets, will all dilute our full history. Locally, the current discourse on the history of Greenwood does not include the strength of the people directly affected to rebuild their lives and regrow businesses from the ashes. And I believe that is shortsighted and self destructive.

As humans, we are all able to overcome negative situations if we choose. My hope is instead of trying to change what was, that we know and accept our past, teach our children the full story, and explain to them why we don’t want to repeat that past. Let’s not focus on trying to change things that happened with other people in another time. Rather let’s teach our children to respect others and to cultivate their own opportunities for the good of all. They are our future, and their life experiences will tear down or build up the world. If they learn from us that the past can be changed or erased, what will the future be?

True unity will only be accomplished when each one of us communicates with others as individuals. God has given all of us the ability to think. If we choose to only follow other people, without understanding what and why the cause has been brought to our attention, we are not using that Godgiven ability. If we only hear and follow someone else’s perspective, we are failing ourselves.

I believe a better tomorrow comes from remembering yesterday and connecting with each other today in dignity and respect. My hope is that those who truly want a reconciliation and racial unity in the City of Tulsa will follow the lead set by those who rebuilt after 1921.

The lesson I’ve learned is that words make a difference. Regarding the topic at hand, my difficulty is with the word Reconciliation in particular.

Reconciliation is a word used in many contexts. Divorcing couples are asked to try to reconcile. Businesses are asked to mediate toward reconciliation. The Catholic church that I was raised in changed the name of the sacrament of Confession to Reconciliation some years ago. So given those contexts, my definition of reconciliation is one party giving-in to another, either on a few points or completely. Giving-in can lead to discontent, which can lead to anger, which can lead to complete separation or destruction. And it rarely brings people together for the long term. Only respect and forgiveness can do that.

Further, I believe that the specific word “reconciliation” as the name of a street can create issues on a practical level.

• It’s six (6) syllables, too long and too hard to spell.
• It has multiple interpretations. Does it really convey the intended result?
• It impacts people who will need to change their addresses on everything from business documents to Social Security and Veterans Administration correspondence.
• Time spent is a cost over and above any dollar expense.
• It’s too long. How many people will spell it out on their cellphones when inviting friends to meet? It will then become Recon or Rec, both of which can have negative connotations of their own. (After Note: At the 1/30/19 Council meeting, on the list of new parking meter installments, “Rec Way” is used by the City as the name for the street.)

Since renaming the street is the goal, I would rather a simpler word be used that conveys what we all want to accomplish — RESPECT. One definition of respect is “the process of honoring someone by exhibiting care, concern, or consideration for their needs or feelings.” Plus we know how to spell it because Aretha sang it for us.

I realize that the question before us specifies Reconciliation Way. I don’t believe it’s possible tonight to make a change to RESPECT because of the rules for this public forum. While it may seem a simple matter, the potential ramifications to the status of the City of Tulsa have the possibility of being felt internationally. So although it will frustrate some who have spent time coming to these meetings in hopes of finalizing the renaming, I propose a no vote in lieu of further discussion.

And this is what I actually said in public:

I believe God put me here for a purpose.

I would like to thank those who brought to my attention that a few words in a discussion on November 7th regarding the renaming of a street could be interpreted in a way I did not intend. I do strive to not be rude or hurtful.

People who know me know that I try to see beyond the easy answers of a moment, to try to look at the whole picture, so I ask “why” a lot. I try to see things from more than one perspective because there is always more than one side to everything. But sometimes it’s hard to see other perspectives. The lesson I’ve learned is that words make a difference.

I believe a better tomorrow comes from remembering yesterday and connecting with each other today in dignity and respect.

I will always believe that each individual has the right to their own opinion, and that those who disagree with that person should listen to the content and context rather than only view the world through their own colored glasses.

About the author: Karen O’Brien, KanDo Organization LLC, can be reached at KanDoOrgLLC@gmail.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *