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OKC Thunder, CAA Sports create Thunder Fellows Program for Black students in Tulsa

Sam Presti, during the height of protests following the death of George Floyd, was asked what an NBA team owes its community to fight systemic racism. 

The Thunder general manager didn't try to impress with a fast answer. 

"To give you a concrete example today would almost feel like I'm falling into the short-term trap of a solution for what is a centuries-old issue, and we haven't gotten where we want to go with that," Presti said. "I think we're going to come up with a very sustainable action plan, and we're working on it." 

That plan was announced Tuesday. 

The Thunder, with CAA Sports, will launch the Thunder Fellows Program, a nonprofit organization designed to create opportunities in sports, technology and entertainment for Black students in the Tulsa area. 

"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," Thunder chairman Clay Bennett said in release. "We will work tirelessly to make this a program that will create change for generations to come." 

The program, guided by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, will be comprised of two groups of students: Fellows, Black students from regional colleges and universities, and Young Leaders, Black students in the Tulsa area from grades 8 to 12. 

ImpactTulsa, which focuses on improving education, will help identify students for the program that will launch next year. 

"I am thrilled that the Oklahoma City Thunder and CAA Sports developed this groundbreaking opportunity for Tulsa's Black youth," said Oklahoma State Senator Kevin Matthews, chair of the Centennial Commission. 

The Thunder Fellows Program will be located in Tulsa's Greenwood District, the site of the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921 when white mobs killed hundreds of Black people and destroyed homes and businesses in what was known as Black Wall Street. 

May 31, 2021 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Presti drove to Tulsa last month to visit the Greenwood District. 

"It is time for us to come to terms with the devastation of this atrocity," Presti said in a release. "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." 

The Thunder partnered with CAA Sports, a division of the Creative Artists Agency, to create the program. 

"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," CAA Sports executive Mike Johnson said in the release.

The Thunder and CAA Sports are working to identify a location to build the Thunder-powered Data & Analytics Center within the historic Greenwood District. 

"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," said Phil Armstrong, project director for the Centennial Commission. 

The George Kaiser Family Foundation will provide additional guidance for the program, according to the release. 

A Thunder Fellows Program board seat will be reserved each year for a Thunder player. 

Related Photos
Street signs in the historic Greenwood District in North Tulsa, known at the time as the Black Wall Street, the site of a massacre of African Americans by a white mob, resulting in hundreds of deaths in 1921, in Tulsa Friday, June 12, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]

Street signs in the historic Greenwood District in North Tulsa, known at the time as the Black Wall Street, the site of a massacre of African Americans by a white mob, resulting in hundreds of deaths in 1921, in Tulsa Friday, June 12, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-8dd0ab6645f46f9545273f743e0264b1.jpg" alt="Photo - Street signs in the historic Greenwood District in North Tulsa, known at the time as the Black Wall Street, the site of a massacre of African Americans by a white mob, resulting in hundreds of deaths in 1921, in Tulsa Friday, June 12, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]" title="Street signs in the historic Greenwood District in North Tulsa, known at the time as the Black Wall Street, the site of a massacre of African Americans by a white mob, resulting in hundreds of deaths in 1921, in Tulsa Friday, June 12, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Street signs in the historic Greenwood District in North Tulsa, known at the time as the Black Wall Street, the site of a massacre of African Americans by a white mob, resulting in hundreds of deaths in 1921, in Tulsa Friday, June 12, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-ad1b60d180a885f75447f0fd978a3cbf.jpg" alt="Photo - A Black Wall Street mural on the north side of I-244 highway that runs through the historic Greenwood District in North Tulsa, know at the time as the Black Wall Street, the site of a massacre of African Americans by a white mob, resulting in hundreds of deaths in 1921, in Tulsa Friday, June 12, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]" title="A Black Wall Street mural on the north side of I-244 highway that runs through the historic Greenwood District in North Tulsa, know at the time as the Black Wall Street, the site of a massacre of African Americans by a white mob, resulting in hundreds of deaths in 1921, in Tulsa Friday, June 12, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>A Black Wall Street mural on the north side of I-244 highway that runs through the historic Greenwood District in North Tulsa, know at the time as the Black Wall Street, the site of a massacre of African Americans by a white mob, resulting in hundreds of deaths in 1921, in Tulsa Friday, June 12, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3b0b083be6abbeaee9c8fec62eb8e313.jpg" alt="Photo - A family from Kansas City poses for a photo in front of the 1921 Black Wall Street Memorial in the Greenwood District during a Juneteenth celebration in Tulsa, Okla., Friday, June 19, 2020. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]" title="A family from Kansas City poses for a photo in front of the 1921 Black Wall Street Memorial in the Greenwood District during a Juneteenth celebration in Tulsa, Okla., Friday, June 19, 2020. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>A family from Kansas City poses for a photo in front of the 1921 Black Wall Street Memorial in the Greenwood District during a Juneteenth celebration in Tulsa, Okla., Friday, June 19, 2020. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-1c57a122e85fe5d5f752f78f43373b85.jpg" alt="Photo - Regina Goodwin, SH 73, speaks with Ajay Pittman,, SH 99, Jason Lowe,, SH 97, Monroe Nichols, SH 72, Alicia Andrews, Democratic Party Chair, and Sen. Kevin Matthews, Greenwood District 11, in the background, at the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus press conference about Juneteenth at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa Friday, June 12, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]" title="Regina Goodwin, SH 73, speaks with Ajay Pittman,, SH 99, Jason Lowe,, SH 97, Monroe Nichols, SH 72, Alicia Andrews, Democratic Party Chair, and Sen. Kevin Matthews, Greenwood District 11, in the background, at the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus press conference about Juneteenth at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa Friday, June 12, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Regina Goodwin, SH 73, speaks with Ajay Pittman,, SH 99, Jason Lowe,, SH 97, Monroe Nichols, SH 72, Alicia Andrews, Democratic Party Chair, and Sen. Kevin Matthews, Greenwood District 11, in the background, at the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus press conference about Juneteenth at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa Friday, June 12, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure>
Joe Mussatto

Joe Mussatto joined The Oklahoman in August 2018 to cover OU football, men’s basketball and softball. He previously covered University of Kentucky football and basketball for SEC Country. Mussatto is from Oklahoma City and lives in Norman. Read more ›

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