12 Jan LTFF Blog: Is Tulsa TOO Humble?
By Elizabeth Frame Ellison, CEO
Driving my kids home from school last week, the song “Humble” by Kendrick Lamar came on from my Spotify playlist. (Side note, this song is not at all appropriate for young children, please don’t report me to the parenting police). My six-year-old Taylor is a new reader and all words are interesting to him right now so, of course, he asked what “humble” meant and why it preceded the command to “sit down” in the song. (His new obsession with words further confounds the inappropriate nature of this song…again, please don’t report me to the parenting police…message received!) As usual, I struggled to define the word in a way that made sense to him, but ultimately explained that to be humble means to work hard without expecting recognition or praise and realizing you always have more to learn. (My definition was SORT OF right: Merriam Webster Dictionary, a regular primary source in our household these days, defines humble as 1: not proud our haughty: not arrogant or assertive 2: reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission.)
My son, Taylor, and I
I was pretty proud of my value enforcing definition when, per the usual, Taylor served me my own slice of humble pie by asking me whether it was good or bad to be humble. Good question, kid. Putting my attorney training to good use, I responded, “it depends” and began to detail specific scenarios when it was good to be humble and others when a person should be proud. (I’m pretty sure he tuned that part out and the word itself wasn’t deemed deserving of his “word list” that currently includes sarcastic, precisely, expletive, and simultaneously so I guess my value enforcing definition wasn’t so valuable after all. #momfail) This is likely the point in LTFF blog post number one when you’re thinking, “why the hell is this woman telling a story about her kid instead of talking about her job and the Foundation’s work?” Stick with me folks, there IS a point to this story.
Recently, I attended a Tulsa Chamber lunch for the Crystal Star Awards during which the keynote speaker Ann Rhodes reminded the audience to stay humble. Ann told the story of a time she went to a meeting and instead of receiving an expected compliment, a colleague told her she still had foam rollers in her hair. “When you think you’re hot, you’re not,” Ann said. I agree with Ms. Rhodes. I have a framed poster in my office that says “Work hard. Stay humble” and I think it is important to focus on working hard and making a difference — as opposed to focusing on the accolades and recognition that come with hard work.
As Taylor asked the question about whether humble was “good” or “bad,” I realized there is such a thing as “too humble.” Being too humble can be bad, because it prevents others from recognizing the value of your hard work. Statistically, women are in fewer leadership roles and evidence shows this is often a result of their failure to advocate for themselves in the workplace. Similarly, I think our wonderful city of Tulsa may be guilty of too much humility.
In the 1930s, Tulsa’s terrible economy and weather were enough to beat down even the most determined Oklahoman. Declining agriculture prices, the petroleum glut caused by the opening of the East Texas oilfield and the reverberations of the Great Depression meant nearly 40% of the state’s population was unemployed. The Dust Bowl only amplified the already depressed state as the 1.5 million rural Oklahomans saw farm income fall around 64% in the 1930s. The New Deal, a program developed under President Franklin D. Roosevelt which created the system of public welfare, didn’t go into effect until 1933. Communities raised funds to help those in need through charity and innovation. Oklahomans like Will Rogers and Woodie Guthrie gave benefit concerts, and other community fund organizations like Red Cross and The Salvation Army doubled down on their fundraising efforts. Tulsa issued “scrip”, a local currency, that was redeemable at a central commissary. Tulsa’s innovative program was nationally acclaimed and replicated in several other cities. Many Oklahomans fled the state in the 1930s, but those who remained humbly practiced generosity and innovation – even as they suffered immensely.
1930’s Blue Dome District!
In the 1950s, Route 66 reframed Oklahoma by altering its perception as place of economic depression and desperation into a conduit of commerce and opportunity for enterprising Oklahomans. Forward thinking Oklahomans opened retail shops and restaurants along the “Mother Road” to capitalize on the increased traffic, and Oklahoma became a crossroads of the country, which created jobs in shipping and transportation. Although Route 66 was decommissioned when the interstate highway system was complete, Oklahoma still has the most drivable miles of Route 66 in the United States. This stretch of road serves as an important reminder of what the Mother Road represents: the importance of people championing over institutions, and the need for freedom, innovation and the humble generosity of community.
Through the good times and the bad, the humble, generous and innovative character of Oklahoma has never wavered. Today, Tulsa is known as the most generous city in the United States. We are incredibly fortunate to have immense amounts of philanthropic wealth dedicated to making our city better. When used properly, this philanthropic money can be viewed as risky capital. Philanthropic money can be used to test a program, to create innovative solutions, and to prove which ideas are impactful. That is why Tulsa has one of the best early childhood education programs. It is why Tulsa has generated the state’s first entrepreneurial resource center at 36 Degrees North, and the state’s first kitchen incubator at Kitchen 66.
In 2018, I hope Tulsa can be a little LESS humble as a city. I want to start making sure the nation recognizes the incredible work of the citizens that have dedicated their lives to making Tulsa a better place to live, work and play.