Oklahoma Christian University’s Black Student Union hosted the Occupied Space panel discussion on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020.
The panel focused on navigating public and professional spaces as a black person. Panel members included Derek Lewis, Jillian Jones, Nikki Nice and Francis Ekwerekwu.
The event allowed panel members to share and discuss personal troubles they had endured in each of their professions.
Nice, a councilwoman and retired radio personality, addressed both race and gender.
“It’s hard, very difficult, not only as a Black person but as a Black woman,” Nice said.
She also said living as a Black person in the United States is exposing “in a different way.”
According to Jones, the coronavirus has caused discussion about racial issues.
“The pandemic started and all the social injustice came to light,” Jones said.
Jones, a healthcare worker in a senior living facility, also discussed the interaction of race and gender.
“Being a female in a male-dominated industry, you have to develop grit and a sponge-like mentality,” Jones said. “I had to really hold my tongue, walk around the building a few times to cool off and had to make sure my t’s were crossed and I dotted my I’s. When I decided to go into this industry I knew everyone at the table would not want me to be there.”
Nice also spoke on the issue of gender.
“Radio in a lot of ways is a male-dominated industry as well,” Nice said. “I took a time slot nobody wanted and made it my own.”
Lewis, a retired Tulsa police officer, shared some thoughts about being a Black police officer.
“I’m doing a job to support my family and am called a sellout,” Lewis explained. “I’m this before I’m blue, and when I take that blue uniform off I’m still this.”
He also spoke about his concern for being shot while armed as a police officer.
Ekwerekwu works for the Oklahoma City Public Defender’s Office and she shared some of her experiences from the courtroom.
“I would be thanked for dressing nice and respecting the judge’s courtroom; why not thank the white person next to me?” Ekwerekwu said. “The N-word is everywhere in the courthouse.”
When asked what concerns her the most about social injustice Ekwerekwu spoke about statistics. In Oklahoma, one in 15 Black males are currently in prison.
“It’s a game to them, how many people, and Black people, can they put in prison,” Ekwerekwu said about the District Attorney’s Office.
The women on the panel said being female and being Black are two separate things.
“Being a female was one issue and being an African American was another,” Jones said.
“My show got canceled so the DJ, who was a white man, could have something to do,” Nice said.
Occupied Space also shined a light on the social hardships each panel speaker have endured in their lives.
“I am an elected official, and when I walk into a store ladies clutch their purses,” Nice said.
“I remember in my life there being colored water fountains,” Lewis said. “So it’s not that far removed, and what we are facing now is a reflection of what I experienced as a child.”