U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh was in Tulsa to tour the historic Greenwood district on Feb. 9. Area college students were invited to meet with Sec. Walsh during his visit. Those students were from Tulsa Community College and its media group, TCC Connection; TCC African American Student Association (AASA), Oklahoma State University, and Tulsa Job Corps. The students met with Sec. Walsh at the Greenwood Rising History Center.
Prior to touring the Greenwood district, Sec. Walsh was provided a tour of Greenwood Rising by its curator Hannibal Johnson. The visit to the center allowed Sec. Walsh to meet with descendants of the 1921 Race Massacre. As the secretary toured the museum, he learned firsthand about the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of Greenwood.
Sec. Walsh then met with TCC staffers during a question-and-answer session with other students and members of the community. With years of experience in labor unions, Walsh provided advice to college students going into the workforce. In his remarks, he emphasized the importance of a college education.
“Education is important. Degrees are important. But keep an open mind to what you might want to do in your life. Realize that what you went to school for may not be what you end up doing. At some point, being satisfied and having gratification for what you are doing is just as important,” said Sec. Walsh.
Walsh explained that his college experience was met with challenges. Those challenges led him to question his own future. He said students should not despair at the uncertainty they may face.
“When I was growing up, I wanted to be in politics. I went to college and really didn’t know what I was going to do there. I dropped out and then came back. So, understanding that life changes, things change. Also, students, don’t be afraid to rethink the way you think about things, meaning if you might have a certain understanding of something, whatever that might be, it’s okay to change your mind,” Walsh replied.
“It’s understanding that you should learn and have conversations. You get a lot of education in the classroom, but you get a lot more [with] on-the-job training.”
He said learning on the job, hands on, can be just as beneficial as what you learn in a classroom. Solid advice for any student to consider when wondering about [his/her] own career. Walsh also offered advice when sending out resumes and looking for jobs.
“Don’t be afraid to ask. A lot of people don’t ask. And when you meet somebody face to face, send them a note; don’t send them an email. Because that’s a lost gift. Because what do you do with emails? You might read it; you might delete it. If they get a letter, they are going to open it and think that’s impressive. A simple but strong message to send to potential employers when searching for a job,” said Sec. Walsh.
Sec. Walsh also answered questions about his time spent in the Greenwood Rising exhibit and with descendants of the massacre. One of the descendants that he met was Heather Nash, who is the granddaughter of Ruth Dean-Nash. Her grandmother was seven years old when her family’s home was burned down during the massacre.
When asked how his trip to Greenwood Rising inspired him, Walsh said, “It’s amazing. When you come here (Greenwood Rising), you think back to not that long ago, about 100 years ago, this community, how thriving it was, the African American community, the black community. And you think about the racist, hateful attacks. Then, 102 years later, the spirit is still here.”
Nobody could deny the significant impact the Greenwood Rising History Center had on the Secretary of Labor. He said the story is important. “People understand it but don’t fully understand it until they come here, and, then it becomes personal.” He believes more people should take time to learn about the 1921 Race Massacre and the legacy of those who rebuilt it.
“Why do you see it important to address the Black history of Oklahoma and the Tulsa Race Massacre?” A reporter from the OSU newspaper, The O’Colly, asked. Walsh replied, “We learn from history, obviously that history is not always good history. But that doesn’t mean you just erase it. That means you take what you learn from it and see how you can advance it.”
Sec. Walsh was in town as other cabinet secretaries were touring the country after Pres. Biden’s State of the Union address earlier in the week. The secretary was introduced to local business owners in the Greenwood district. Serving as his guide in the area was Dr. Freeman Culver III, president of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce.
“When I met with the director of the chamber, he was talking about creating business; those businesses create workers; workers create opportunities; those opportunities are something that we can work on so it’s important for us to be here to get a full understanding,” said Sec. Walsh.
He spoke about economic opportunities for black workers as well as for underserved and underutilized communities. Sec. Walsh was followed around town by many of the local news outlets of Tulsa during his excursion. In addition to visiting Greenwood, Sec. Walsh met with Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin and other officials of the sovereign nation to discuss career preparation opportunities for students. His visit to Tulsa was an effort to continue his outreach to ensure better opportunities for Americans.
This trip came just days before Sec. Walsh would officially announce his resignation from Biden’s administration. After two years on the job, Walsh leaves to become the executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association. His time as secretary just recently saw the unemployment rate sink to 3.4 percent, the lowest rate since May of 1969, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Walsh was perhaps the best candidate for serving as secretary of labor. He was a former Boston mayor and a labor union president. He was the 29th Secretary of Labor.
To learn more about Greenwood, visit Greenwood Rising