The Oklahoma City Thunder and CAA Sports, a division of leading entertainment and sports agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA), announced today the Thunder Fellows Program, a partnership designed to unlock new opportunities in sports, technology, and entertainment for Black students in the Tulsa area.
Guided by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, the program will be comprised of two groups of students: Fellows (Black students from regional colleges and universities) and Young Leaders (Black students from 8th-12th grade in Tulsa area schools). The Thunder Fellows Program will be located in the Historic Greenwood District.
“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,” said Clayton I. Bennett, Thunder Chairman. “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.”
With the goal of creating a clear path to future career opportunities in professional sports and other lucrative industries, the Thunder Fellows Program is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and will launch in 2021. 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.
“May 31, 2021 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. It is time for us to come to terms with the devastation of this atrocity,” said Sam Presti, Thunder Executive Vice President & General Manager. “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, 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.”
The Thunder Fellows program aims to help close the opportunity gap for Black students in Tulsa. In the 2018-19 school year, on the Oklahoma State Testing Program, 8th grade math proficiency of Black students in Tulsa County was 9% and dropped to 7% for economically disadvantaged Black students. The gaps increased when evaluating SAT/ACT data for 11th grade students for the 2018-19 school year in Tulsa
County, where only 7% of Black students met college readiness benchmarks in math, while economically disadvantaged Black students dropped to 5% proficiency.
“Looking closely at the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission’s mission to re-establish the Historic Greenwood District to economic viability, we saw an opportunity for the Thunder and CAA to support closing the opportunity gap for Black students in Tulsa through mentorship and skill development, while simultaneously building a pipeline for these young men and women to careers in sports, entertainment, and tech,” said Mike Johnson, CAA Sports Executive. “We look forward to working closely with the Thunder on this important program and creating career opportunities for these future graduates in our organizations and industries.”
The curriculum offered through the Thunder Fellows Program will aim to close these gaps and increase the odds of high school and college completion through mentorship, skill development, and the provision of practical experience. Students will be exposed to a variety of disciplines within Thunder basketball operations, where they will work on real-world projects for the organization.
“I am thrilled that the Oklahoma City Thunder and CAA Sports developed this groundbreaking opportunity for Tulsa’s Black youth. Economic development is among the key tenets of the Centennial Commission’s guiding philosophy,” said Oklahoma State Senator Kevin Matthews, Chair, 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission. “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.”
The Thunder and CAA Sports are currently working with the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission to identify a location to build the Thunder-powered Data & Analytics Center within the Historic Greenwood District of Tulsa, Okla. and will look to replicate the model in other cities.
“The Thunder Fellows Program is a collaborative initiative of the Oklahoma City Thunder, CAA Sports, and the Centennial Commission. It is but one of the many ways the Centennial Commission continues to engage its many stakeholders in the work we hold so dear,” said Phil Armstrong, Project Director, 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission. “This effort is of particular significance because of its potential to spur economic growth while simultaneously developing the economic and entrepreneurial skills of Tulsa’s Black youth.”
The George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) will provide additional guidance for the program, and there will be one Thunder Fellows Program board seat reserved each year for a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder roster.
“This is a great opportunity for Tulsa’s future and our kids. The sports industry is a career dream for so many young people, and this program captures their imagination, not just as potential athletes, but as future business leaders, creative designers, and technology professionals,” said Brandon Oldham, Program Officer, GKFF. “It’s incredibly special to have these dynamic institutions—the Thunder and CAA Sports—making this investment in Tulsa’s youth, and we at the George Kaiser Family Foundation are excited to be among the partners who will support them as they move forward.”