Oklahoma City is a vibrant, dynamic city. MAPS, new businesses and the NBA Thunder have reinvigorated a once almost vacant downtown. This city now boasts Bricktown, the Peake, a new library, the renovated Deep Deuce, the Oklahoma River and the landmark Devon Tower. Once only a destination for commuters from the suburbs, Oklahoma City is on the move and on the map. For most residents, it is a great place to live.
We take pride in our city emerging as a model for others, yet just beyond the lights of the skyline there is serious unfinished business.
Many living only blocks away see the skyline daily, but what it stands for in economic prosperity seems a million miles away, hopelessly out of reach. The skyline casts long shadows of darkness for those in poverty. Their days are marked by immeasurable challenges including hunger and homelessness. Our city’s success is remarkable, but for these folks it is a reality they only dream of. The Devon Tower symbolizes the strength of commerce. Companies like it employ thousands. But for those in the shadows, any job, any help would do.
Strong and compassionate people, we unite in crisis, whether the tragedy of the 1995 Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing or havoc wrecked by weather. We lift ourselves and each other up and go forward together. This is evident by the changes in the skyline. Our focus has been developing greatness. But in the neighborhoods nearby, we seem to have forgotten folks in the depths of poverty. To change their plight is our most important challenge. Then we can claim greatness as a city.
Out of sight and out of mind, public education is under siege by shortages of money, low teachers’ salaries and lack of resources for hungry and homeless children. For these kids, schools are their only lifeline. Ninety-eight percent of our city’s 42,000 school children are on free and reduced lunch. This is a cancer at the core of Oklahoma City. Unless we address this problem, the skyline is only a facade. Our success is incomplete. School officials are dedicated to teaching these children but are also called to ensure students are fed and to act as caregivers and caretakers. On weekends, many students leave uncertain of bare essentials. Teachers are unsung heroes, committing their life’s work to these children. We must do the same. Shame on us if we do not try. These children need our help. We must choose to recognize it. It is unacceptable to ignore it.
Oklahoma City can truly emerge as a magnet for new business, entertainment and expansion by solving underlying burning issues of poverty and education. We can do this. These families’ future and ours is intertwined in the classrooms, not the streets. Opportunity fosters unforeseeable positive change. Building a great city is also about making a larger difference in people’s circumstances. We can offer hope equaling the impact of our beautiful skyline. For us now, legacy in constructing lives is as important as constructing buildings.
PHIL G. BUSEY SR., an Edmond resident, is chairman and CEO of The Busey Group of Companies and DRG, an Oklahoma City-based defense contractor.