Ananda Lewis honors her roots in OWN Network’s new series, ‘Rebuilding Black Wall Street’
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- Published on November 3, 2023
- In Culture
The television host had a full circle moment rebuilding businesses where her family once owned grocery stores prior to the fiery massacre.
The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 has been one of the city’s most consequential events.
The hate-fueled destruction of the Greenwood District, known as Black Wall Street, left more than burned wood and debris in its fiery wake. The race riots displaced families, destroyed dreams and broke the foundations for generational wealth created by its Black residents.
In Tulsa’s Black Wall Street, Black business leaders, homeowners and civic leaders thrived. On May 31, 1921, and into the next day, a mob destroyed that district in what has been called the single most horrific incident of racial terrorism since slavery. An estimated 300 people were killed, more than 1,200 homes destroyed, and at least 60 businesses and community buildings burned to the ground.
OWN Network’s newest series, “Rebuilding Black Wall Street,” documents the district’s resurgence at the hands of natives and descendants aiming to rebuild the community. Today, the Greenwood District is a community rebuilding a journey of strength and joy examined in this unique, uplifting renovation docuseries. Throughout six episodes, host Morris Chestnut and build teams, led by designers Jon Pierre and Mary Tjon-Joe-Pin (Two Steps Home), guide viewers through Greenwood’s rich history and the personal journeys of those featured.
Detour spoke with award-winning, multi-talented television host, wellness advocate and carpenter Ananda Lewis about her role in the docuseries and how it was a full-circle moment.
While Lewis grew up in California, her roots are deeply embedded in Black Wall Street. Her great-uncle John Alexander was involved in several documentaries about the historic community and was the longest-living survivor until his passing.
“My grandmother was one of the survivors. She was a young child living in Tulsa with her family when it all happened,” Lewis said. “My great-grandparents opened a grocery store next to their home and they built a life.”
“It’s been an honor and a gift and so fulfilling,” said Lewis of the filming process. “While I was filming in Tulsa, I often imagined my grandmother just standing there nodding her head like she used to, like, ‘Okay, good.’ It feels so good. It feels like something I would love to see happen more.”
Lewis touched on the compelling stories featured this season and how they are crucial to the Greenwood District. Tulsa Race Massacre descendant Montika Collins hopes to create North Tulsa’s only natural birthing center and return the tradition of midwifery to the Greenwood District. Descendant Rachel Walker will preserve the home passed down to her through generations with help from the nonprofit, 1256 Movement. Tulsa’s complex history lays the groundwork for massacre descendant D’Marria Monday to build a haven for recently incarcerated women reintegrating into society. As part of an ongoing effort to change the food desert of North Tulsa, Rodney and Sheila Clark’s family farm will get a major upgrade and former NBA star Kevin Johnson opens Fixins Soul Kitchen.
Lewis’s carpentry skills will be showcased, assisting in renovating the historic Skyline Mansion. The mansion is a studio for the local rap group, Fire in Little Africa ,and a venue for the area. Restoring the creative space required an additional hand with just as much creativity.
“Creativity, art, and the joy of communication have always been a part of our people’s existence,” Lewis said.
“The episode I’m in is about Fire and Little Africa, led by Steph Simon, a performing artist there,” she continued. “He’s a rapper and a producer, and what he’s done is transformed this mansion where they used to hold Klan member rally meetings, called the Brady Mansion. Now it’s called Skyline Mansion, and he has a full studio there. He has a stage where you can do spoken word or anything you want. He’s reclaimed this house with such a dark, ugly history and turned it into this lovely light, high-energy space where things can grow again.”
Recalling the contributions of all these spaces, Lewis stated, “the variety of stories in this show is really mind-blowing.”
As the series follows the renewal of these much-needed spaces, it also does a deep dive into the ugly truth behind the Tulsa Race Massacres.
“When I spoke to one of the survivors, she explained that they were told to call it [a riot] and they were threatened that if they told the truth about what happened, they would come back and kill them,” Lewis recalled. “So there was a concerted effort to silence the ugly massacre.”
Lewis mentioned hearing the events referred to as a “riot” while growing up made her take it lightly, so the experience of returning to Tulsa has allowed her to change her outlook.
This series is a joint effort between Warner Bros. Discovery, GroupM Motion Entertainment and Domino’s, a participant in GroupM’s Diverse Voices Accelerator, a positive impact initiative that supports creators, writers, producers and directors from traditionally underrepresented groups in entertainment.
It is produced by Sunwise Media with Ri-Karlo Handy and Karra Duncan, a Tulsa Race Massacre descendent, serving as executive producers. Chestnut also serves as an executive producer through his MC8 Productions and Greenwood Creative Studios.
The first three episodes of the series can be found on Oprah.com, with new episodes premiering on OWN Network every Friday at 9/8 CST.
Martie Bowser is a journalist and public relations professional in Charlotte, NC. She enjoys amplifying the voices of POC and women that fill a void within their community. Her favorite things to cover include “person of interest” pieces, small business highlights, pop culture commentary, entertainment features, and everything about Beyoncé. Her bylines can be found in Blavity, Black Excellence, Signature Bride, Black Wall Street Times, and HipHop Weekly. Martie can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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