In the early 1990s, an American journalist went to Moscow to begin researching the life of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. But he soon found his attention diverted by the dramatic changes that were occurring in the centuries-old Russian capital after almost eight decades of communist rule.
Hundreds of workmen were busily renovating buildings there and the sound of power saws filled the air. Moscow, he concluded, “Was in the fury of the present tense.”
A somewhat similar observation can be made about the Oklahoma communities that are affiliated with the Oklahoma Main Street Program and were honored at a recent dinner at the Oklahoma Cowboy Hall of Fame.
One of the speakers at that event was Patrice Fey, President and CEO of the National Main Street Center, Inc., who seemed to capture the mood of the dinner when she said “downtown is where its happening.” Her sentiments were echoed by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin who reported that while Kevin Durant was recognized as the “Most Valuable Player” by the NBA, the people of Oklahoma’s main streets are the state’s most valuable players.
The attendees at that event were shown a video that highlighted some of the developments that were occurring in individual main street communities that had been nominated for awards. They included Christmas window displays on the Town Square of Altus that reflected the warmth and good cheer of the holiday season and an ambitious free wifi system that was put in place in downtown Durant.
In recent years, the program has grown to include several communities in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City and several of them were recognized as well.
In addition, some of the attendees themselves were a reflection of the changes that are occurring in Oklahoma’s main street communities. Much was written in the last several years about the so-called “Lost Boys of Sudan” who fled an ongoing war in that African nation and made their way to the U.S. and impressed the Americans who they came in contact with by their industry and decency. They have been featured in films, books and television shows.
One of those lost boys, Fidel Lual, now resides in Guymon and was part of the delegation from that community at the dinner like most of his counterparts around the nation. Lual has endeared himself to the people of his new home.
According to Melyn Johnson of the Guymon Main Street Association, there are now more than 600 Africans residing in Guymon and the local Presbyterian Church there now offers a service in the African language of Dinka as a result.
There is also a Sudanese store and restaurant in operation there as well.
Guymon was recognized for the African Festival that it held last year and Johnson spoke of the goodwill that was generated as Africans offered their food to the attendees. She also said that they intend to make it an annual event.
Delegations from the communities of Frederick and Yukon, which are not yet full-fledged members of the Main Street organization, were also present and they seemed to enjoy the sense of pride and accomplishment that was in evidence at the dinner.
William F. O’Brien is an Oklahoma City attorney.