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Ginnie Graham: Most pressing issues in Tulsa are growing divides
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Ginnie Graham: Most pressing issues in Tulsa are growing divides

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Skyline

Clear skies surround the Tulsa skyline on Aug. 23.

In the past month, five people have asked about what I thought were the most pressing problems Tulsans face.

It’s a big question that has my mind spinning with answers. After 27 years of writing about Tulsa and Oklahoma issues, there isn’t a single or easy response.

Everything is connected.

Reducing the crime rate starts with an equal, equitable and quality education. That requires students to arrive healthy, well-nourished and from homes with little to no dysfunction.

To do that, parents need to have consistent employment with a living wage and health benefits with mental health parity. They need flexible schedules. Affordable child care and after-school programs are needed as work supports.

Transportation is a must in middle America, and internet access is no longer a luxury in an economy relying more on digital communication. Residents need ways to exercise and get regular health checkups.

That’s not reality.

Oklahoma continues to face high rates of incarceration, teenage births, serious mental health diagnoses, physical inactivity, obesity, youth suicide and food insecurity.

Social nets to catch people when they are down are sometimes full of holes. In some cases, public investment goes down, putting more pressure on philanthropic generosity.

To focus on one problem doesn’t address the whole. All these things affect one another.

But within each area, divides exist. There are trends and patterns that can help lead the way.

Some divisions fall between the rich and poor.

Higher-income Oklahoma high schools receive School Report Card scores 2.5 times higher than lower-income schools.

The average CEO salary is 299 times higher than what the average American worker makes.

Some divisions appear along race or ethnic lines.

Tulsa homes in majority Black neighborhoods are valued at 40% less than those where less than 1% of residents are Black — a difference of $23,388.

Indigenous youths in Tulsa are twice as likely to experience homelessness. White Tulsans are 2.5 times more likely to be in high-wage jobs than Hispanic residents.

Some differences show up between gender.

In Tulsa, men are 75% more likely than women to be business executives. Oklahoma working women earn 77% of what their male counterparts are paid.

Women make up only 21% of the Oklahoma Legislature. Oklahoma has led the nation in female incarceration for at least 25 years.

Those are measurable outcomes. The gaps are based in facts and statistics.

More difficult are the philosophical differences turning Americans aggressively against one another.

The U.S. has always been a stew of opposing ideas and beliefs. Strength comes from figuring out how to make seemingly incompatible thoughts into working relationships.

It’s easy to ignore something; that’s the weak way out.

Famous media personalities and ambitious politicians ramp up the differences to their advantage, the attention making for profitable entertainment and increased power. But it’s harmful and unproductive to keep widening the polarization.

This past week, I accepted the position of editorial editor, replacing my longtime boss, colleague and friend Wayne Greene. For 27 years, he encouraged me to explore these challenges.

That’s a big part of what journalism is supposed to do: point out problems and seek answers and solutions.

The Opinion pages host differing thoughts rooted in meaningful dialogue. This space has higher standards than the anonymity and meanness flourishing on social media and cable news programs.

Readers will wonder if the change means shifting more liberal or conservative. I do not plan for that to happen, in either direction.

Our Editorial Board seeks consistency and progress in determining positions, columns are chosen to reflect different perspectives, and letters meeting basic guidelines are published.

My interests are in local and state issues. Those affect us more and get little attention.

The existing divides didn’t start as unavoidable schisms. They crept up unnoticed.

We need spaces for people to air their viewpoints and experiences in thoughtful and respectful ways. We cannot move forward if we dismiss or ignore each other.

That’s why these growing divides are the most pressing issues we face. That’s where the Opinion pages have worth as a meeting place.


Featured video:

Editorial columnist Ginnie Graham explains how students will dictate the spread of COVID-19 this fall.

 

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"But my heart and my head, and those of many Americans, align in believing that we have to stop identity politics, treasure our American identity and explain to the world that the U.S. isn’t open to all, otherwise all would come," says Llewellyn King, executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS.

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