Before he was a state senator, Kevin Matthews used to own a dry cleaning store on Greenwood called Kevin’s Cleaners.
As part of his commitment, he’d donate 10% of sales to each customer’s church — a promise on which he always followed through.
So when Matthews decided to run for state office in 2008, Rev. George C. McCutchen, senior pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, was his first endorsement.
“He said he did that because he knew I was serious about what I promised people because I made that promise and I wrote him a check every week and he was appreciative of that,” Matthews said.
Since then, Matthews has put in much time and effort to revitalize the Greenwood area and push it toward a better future.
But isn’t a simple fix; the events of the Tulsa Race Massacre 100 years ago still lay a crater in people’s minds with so much hate and contempt around the event.
“I believe that we should educate people all around what happened before, during and after,” Matthews said.
From both sides, there’s so much conflict and damage. Matthews said he believes that can be solved a different way.
As part of his many projects, the biggest Matthews has had a hand in is the Greenwood history center. It’s a place where people from all over — irrespective of creed, color, class or gender — can come learn about the history of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
From how it was built to how it was destroyed to the significance, people can enrich themselves in the history. Then after the tour, everyone goes into a chamber where there is dialogue and reflection.
“The history center and the stories should cause people to not only know what should happen but have discussions around what happened and build relationships and do the kind of things that would keep us from doing that again,” Matthews said. “To stop being so divided, to stop having this habitual hate that we’ve seen across the nation the past few years. And to start to talk to each other instead of looking at our differences and hating each other.”
“Ultimately, we want to be a place of reconciliation that the world can look at as people that come from these different backgrounds and reconcile our differences.”
Matthews envisions a Greenwood where people can begin talking and genuinely healing, while the area grows and prospers.
And that’s done in more than one way. Matthews, along with being a state senator, is also the membership chair of 100 Black Men of Tulsa, a national organization that’s devoted to mentoring young men and women to put them on the right path.
One of its methods is through the Youth Entrepreneurship Shadow Program, which pairs a young man or woman with a business owner over the summer for three hours every day, in an effort to teach them how to run a business. And the organization has also sent kids to engineering firms, law firms and so on.
Sometimes it’s as simple as taking these kids to basketball games, football games, field trips, getting them on the right track.
“Their national motto is, ‘They will be what they can see,’” Matthew said. “So we’ve got to be examples and show them something other than gang violence, teen pregnancy, illegal drug dealing or any of those negative things that they might see in the community.”
Through all of these methods, Matthews hopes to see a better Greenwood.
Setting up these sorts of organizations only affects things on a micro scale, but Matthews hopes it will have a profounding effect.
“The bigger solution is for us, as citizens of this state and this country, is to create opportunities for dialogue and problem solving around race, economics and culture,” Matthews said.