How the Last Three Tulsa Massacre Survivors Were Finally Paid – By New York Donors

One hundred and one years after the fact – but just weeks after another act of racist terrorism claimed the lives of 10 black people in Buffalo – the three remaining survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre have finally received a real reward.

Centenarians Viola Fletcher, Lessie Benningfield Randle and Hughes Van Ellis are the last three living black residents of Tulsa who witnessed the violent destruction of the predominantly black neighborhood of Greenwood, a prosperous neighborhood known at the time as “Black Wall Street,” at the hands of a white mob.

In two days, as many as 300 black residents were murdered, thousands of businesses were burned down, and nearly 10,000 people were left homeless. No white people have ever been arrested or charged, and the tragedy was largely unknown in the United States until recently; attempts to obtain reparations for the survivors from city and state coffers proved futile.

“It was like the powers that be in the state were trying to run out of time for these people,” Ed Mitzen said. in the New York Times. Based in Saratoga Springs, New York, Mitzen and his family have no known personal connection to the events in Tulsa a century ago. And yet, they were the ones who ultimately gave Fletcher, Randle and Van Ellis substantial compensation in the form of a million dollar donation to benefit the three survivors and their families.

It’s a story we see all too often in American philanthropy: private wealth takes on an injustice that the government has been unwilling or unable to address. And while this falls short of large-scale demands for reparations and healing – donors point out that this is not the same as reparations, which survivors still seek – it is nevertheless an encouraging sign, and may – be a step in the right direction. direction, one that more donors can take.

“We just want to help”

Ed and Lisa Mitzen, who are white, provide the funding through the Business for Good Foundation, Inc.a 501(c)(3) granting organization they formed in 2020. Founded on the wealth derived from the success of several healthcare marketing companies founded by Ed Mitzen, the family’s growing philanthropy is centered in and around of the capital region of Albany in New York.

“We are just trying to help some people. We are not trying to be white saviors or political platforms. We just want to help,” Mitzen told the Washington Post.

While the Mitzens’ gesture was well-received, the fact that it took upstate New York donors to ultimately compensate the Tulsa centenarians doesn’t reflect so well on philanthropic giving closer to home. The donation also does not replace broader government-funded reparations for racial violence and racial injustices, including, but not limited to, slavery. It’s a cause that still faces significant headwinds, despite a slight increase in philanthropic support that Intellectual Property has recently highlighted.

According to Ed Mitzen, the family came up with the idea of ​​giving these three strangers living over a thousand miles away after reading an article by Washington Post journalist Deneen L. Brown on survivors’ thwarted efforts to receive just compensation. When Mitzen contacted Brown, she put him in touch with Oklahoma State Representative for the Greenwood Historic District, Regina Goodwin. Goodwin then set up a meeting to discuss the donation, which will go through a nonprofit entity called Tulsa STEPS (Serving To Empower People Successfully), which has handled fundraising for massacre survivors in the past.

The three recipients will share the million dollars equally, and one parent expressed hope that the resources will help them live better and travel a little in their later years. A part is also intended for the university education of the young parents of the three survivors.

business for good

The donor story was local until now. The Mitzens’ great gift to survivors of the Tulsa Massacre is their foundation’s first significant contribution outside of New York State.

A serial entrepreneur, Ed Mitzen founded several successful medical communications companies, including Creative Healthcare Solutions, Palio (later sold to InVentive Health, where Mitzen worked for a time) and Fingerpaint Marketing, which he is currently CEO. Lisa Mitzen, whom Ed met in Saratoga Springs, New York, worked in mortgage leasing and now pursues causes like community service, animal rights and homelessness.

The couple founded the Business for Good Foundation in 2020 with an initial contribution of around $12.2 million. Today, the growing organization has 10 employees and claims to have donated $5.4 million “across New York State so far.” In addition to Ed and Lisa, the couple’s children Grace, Emily and Nick complete a family council.

Business for Good describes itself as venture philanthropy. Part of his work has focused on buying local businesses and operating them so that some or all of their profits go to charity – hence the organization’s name. The inspiration for this approach apparently came from Ed Mitzen’s time on the board of Double H Ranch, co-founded by Paul Newman. Famously, Newman’s Own operates on a similar model, donating profits to charity.

Supporting racial equity in entrepreneurship has also been a notable priority for the Mitzens. Business for Good provides support to local entrepreneurs, including a law firm run by black women.

On the subsidy side, Beneficiaries of Business for Good include arts groups, homeless services and several racial justice organizations, including Capital District LATINOS and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | ACCA. Business for Good also donated $350,000 to support the Albany Black Chamber, a new chamber of commerce that brings together two existing chambers founded to promote Black and Latino-owned businesses. Animal rights and animal advocacy are also front and center for the Mitzens – earlier this year they donated $1 million to the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, the largest donation in its history.

These are not repairs

Aside from their giving to Tulsa survivors, the Mitzens’ philanthropy is local and may well remain so. On the other hand, Business for Good press release announcing the donation begins with a statement that the organization’s philanthropic reach “knows no bounds,” so who can tell? The National Spotlight on Tulsa’s Giveaway – and recent recognition in fast company — suggest that this family backer may be looking to broaden his horizons.

Still, Ed Mitzen insisted that Tulsa’s donation does not constitute reparations. What could do that – and what has since proven elusive – is monetary compensation from municipal or state authorities, a goal that the three surviving centenarians and descendants of victims continue to pursue via litigation.

There may be something unsatisfactory about these philanthropic fixes, instead of broader reparative acts, and views differ among reparations advocates on whether the government is the only actor accountable for these payments. . But the Mitzens’ gift isn’t the only recent case where a donor or private institution has offered some form of targeted reward for past racial injustice. The Decolonizing Wealth Project’s Liberated Capital fund, for example, follows a “reparations model” aimed at racial liberation and healing. We also recently covered the growing “land tax” movement, in which institutions operating on traditional tribal lands make recurring payments to Native American communities.

Meanwhile, Tulsa’s philanthropic community has not been entirely silent on the issue. Some local funders, like the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation, have taken a similar route to the Mitzens in New York, supporting racial equity in entrepreneurship. Another funder, the Zarrow Family Foundation, established a fund to honor victims and address social injustice affecting people of color in the region. Donors have also signed on to efforts like the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, a donor-designated fund established in remembrance of the tragedy.

Coming from across the country, the gift of the Mitzens is another encouraging sign that the national erasure of one of the worst episodes of racist violence of the 20th century is coming to an end. But even as national funders like MacArthur, Hewlett, Omidyar and the William T. Grant Foundation continue to support the broader reparations movement, it behooves local funders to interrogate their own history and ask themselves how they can support survivors of racist violence – and those survivors’ descendants – in their own backyards.


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