General manager Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder are the driving forces in the development of a new academic center to be built in Tulsa’s Greenwood District. 


To commemorate the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti drove to Tulsa for a tour of the site of that tragedy — the Greenwood District and Black Wall Street.

As Presti became more enlightened about Tulsa’s history, the Thunder organization decided to invest in Tulsa’s future.

On Tuesday, the Thunder and CAA Sports (a division of the Creative Artists Agency) announced the launch of the Thunder Fellows Program. According to a Thunder press release, the program is “designed to unlock new opportunities in sports, technology, and entertainment for Black students in the Tulsa area.”

With oversight provided by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, the program will involve two groups of students: Fellows (Black students from regional colleges and universities) and Young Leaders (Black students from the eighth through 12th grades in Tulsa-area schools).

As a nonprofit organization that begins operation in 2021, the Thunder Fellows Program will be headquartered in the Greenwood District. The George Kaiser Family Foundation will provide additional guidance for the program.

The Thunder and CAA Sports are working with the Race Massacre Commission to identify a Greenwood District location on which a Data & Analytics Center can be built.

Each year, one Thunder Fellows Program board seat will be occupied by a member of the Thunder basketball team.

“May 31, 2021, will mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre,” Presti said. “It is time for us to come to terms with the devastation of this atrocity.

“Our hope is that the Thunder Fellows Program captures the spirit of the Greenwood District while helping to launch and create future opportunities for local area Black youth. Our goal is to effect long-term, sustainable change in our entire state and provide future-proof skills that can be leveraged for economic empowerment and mobility.”

“We are grateful for the partnership with CAA Sports,” Presti added, “and thank the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission and the George Kaiser Family Foundation for their guidance as we look forward to being a part of a change that is long overdue.”

Within the release was a statement form Thunder Chairman Clay Bennett: “Our organization is deeply committed to social justice and the actions that are necessary to create better opportunities for the Black community, now and in the future.

“I am proud that the Thunder Fellows Program will both provide tangible learning for the future and also serve as a symbol in the Historic Greenwood District. We will work tirelessly to make this a program that will create change for generations to come.”

The mission statement, according to the release, is to “(create) a clear path to future career opportunities in professional sports and other lucrative industries.”

ImpactTulsa, a partnership of leaders from education, business, philanthropic, nonprofit, civic, and faith communities representing more than 170,000 students in the Tulsa region, will help identify students to be part of the program.

The Thunder press release shared data from the Oklahoma State Testing Program. It indicated that the eighth-grade math proficiency of Black students in Tulsa County was 9%, and dropped to 7% for economically disadvantaged Black students.

The gaps were amplified when evaluating SAT/ACT data for Tulsa County 11th-grade students for the 2018-19 school year. Only 7% of Black students met college-readiness benchmarks in math, while the proficiency of economically disadvantaged Black students was at only 5%.

“I am thrilled that the Oklahoma City Thunder and CAA Sports developed this groundbreaking opportunity for Tulsa’s Black youth,” said state Sen. Kevin Matthews, who serves as the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission chairman. “Economic development is among the key tenets of the Centennial Commission’s guiding philosophy. We see the Thunder Fellows Program as a phenomenal beginning.

“We expect that many more organizations will want to lend their expertise and energy to boost Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District economically. We are grateful.”

Tulsa Race Massacre: Frequently asked questions answered

Bill Haisten


Twitter: @billhaisten

Sports Columnist

Bill joined the Tulsa World in 1990. Prior to having become a sports columnist in 2016, he was the only sports writer in Tulsa World history to have covered OU, OSU, the University of Tulsa and Oral Roberts sports on an everyday basis. Phone: 918-581-8397