Akia Walker Is Giving Black-Owned Events Excellence And Expanding The Legacy Of Tulsa's Black Wall Street
Whenever Tulsa, Okla. is mentioned among circles of Black folk, there's often a raised eyebrow, a puzzled look, or a memory of the depiction of the murder and devastation of the horrific 1921 massacre on Black Wall Street a la Lovecraft Country. For Akia Walker, born and raised in Tulsa, the history and impact of the Black community, culture, entrepreneurship, and excellence is engrained in her heart and work.
The old common saying made famous by several Black queens before us, including the great Auntie Maya (Angelou, that is), rings true here: You can't really know where you're going until you know where you've come from. In the early 1900s, Tulsa's Greenwood neighborhood was a thriving center of Black commerce, community, ownership, and pride, with beautiful homes accenting the streets lined with Black-owned hotels, barbershops, grocery stores, billiards, theaters, churches, and doctor’s offices.
Within 24 hours, on May 31, 1921, Tulsa's Black Wall Street businesses and its neighboring community all went up in flames and destruction. Hundreds of residents were brutally attacked and killed by a mob of white terrorists. The financial toll was an estimated $1.8 million in property loss claims of the time, according to reports, (accounting for $27 million as of 2021).
In the same vein, Angelou also famously said, "But I'm a person of the moment. I'm here, and I do my best to be completely centered at the place I'm at, then I go forward to the next place." As the founder of Kia Cole Events—a premier event planning company that boasts working with organizations including the multimillion-dollar nonprofit, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and leading events for heavyweights like For(bes) the Culture, the Black Owned Media Equity and Sustainability Institute (BOMESI)—Walker is more than aware of Tulsa's tragic history of a town disseminated, and she wants to thrive in a way that shifts the narrative and adds to the legacy today.
She's seen her fair share of career transitions in the process, led by what she calls a "pursuit of purpose and passion." As a teen, she took the traditional route, trying her hand at higher education, but found that, even after thriving her first semester as a freshman, she wanted to take a different direction. She then ventured into banking, where she'd seen an aunt find success, and moved from working as a teller to handling mortgages, before having an epiphany. "I started volunteering at my church, and that triggered something in me—that maybe there's a little more to life than just 'making it,' because for me, when I left school, I thought there’s only two ways this can go: I can be a stereotypical failure or I can exceed and excel and be more than what I think or what the world tells you you can be without degrees."
She'd eventually move on to take a job as an executive assistant for a substantial and successful ministry, where one of her duties was to lead in organizing large-scale events.
"I initially said I’d do events when I’m retired, for fun. I didn’t want to put the pressure on events to provide for my life—like a job—because I wanted to have fun with it. Then, my friend was like, 'Why do it then when you can do it now?'"
"So, I said let me set aside the things that can sustain me and make me money and do things I’m passionate about. I’m good at administration and organization but it was like this drag, like, 'Gosh I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to send this email.' It wasn’t a passion. And that’s what encouraged me to go ahead and launch this events company."
Check out three key lessons that have helped forge early success for Walker that you can also be inspired by as a businesswoman (or aspiring one):
1. Determine what really motivates you and stick to that as a foundation for why and how you do business.
Walker says she's hugely influenced by the bond she has with her large family. "I have a really big, close family here in Tulsa, and the motivation to do it for them, and the motivation that they give me. My mom had me when she was 18 years old, and we’ve always done so many things together. [I've always] wanted to give something to do them to be proud of. We have a ton of kids in our family, and I wanted to give me and exemplify for them, [something] different, more, better. So that keeps me pushing."
She also enjoys the simple act of helping people and being of service. "I knew from a very early age that I cared about people deeply. [I enjoy] being able to create environments for people to be seen to be heard. My most favorite thing is when people say, ‘I feel so special,' or ‘I feel so important,’ and that lets me know that you’ve done your job well when you’ve created this atmosphere and environment for a single person to feel like it was just for them. That’s exactly why I do what I do."
2. Seek out the richness of your culture and history, and allow those, along with your unique experiences and talent, to be a driver and inspiration.
Though she's a native of Tulsa, Walker says that the history of the massacre, as well as that of those affected by it at the time, were not known to her until she became an adult. "It’s not something that was taught in schools. It’s not something that was talked about. Specifically, the Black community has done an amazing job with highlighting it [in recent years]."
She acknowledges the trauma and tragedy of the time but wants to highlight the greatness, vitality, and drive of a grand people who existed well before the massacre and tap into that aspect of the story in order to remain inspired today. "I think a lot of times, we get stuck on the grief of it, and it’s about everything that we lost. I like to use a story to motivate me and to say, like, 'Okay, but where did I come from?' Black Wall Street—Greenwood Ave.—was an affluent community. It wasn’t just Black people owning things. They were successful. And they did things well. They did things excellent. And I want to emulate that in my business."
"For Kia Cole Events, we have values: excellence, elegance, and opulence. I feel like that speaks to who we, as Black people, were [in Tulsa] and who we are. So, when I’m curating events and I get to get a whole bunch of Black people in one space, my favorite thing to say is, ‘I love seeing Black people like this.’"
"It feels like this is where we were always supposed to be. This is where we were always meant to be. And somewhere along the line, that got ripped from us, not just in Tulsa but in other cities across the U.S.—our affluence, our opulence, our elegance, and how regal we are as a people. That got taken from us. And I want to use Kia Cole Events as a way to restore that to us."
3. Nurture a bold confidence that informs how you approach opportunity, and go for yours no matter what.
Oftentimes, there's a popularly profound narrative that centers on themes of struggle and disadvantage for Black entrepreneurs, especially for those who are women and millennials. While challenges do exist, there's another side of the coin where confidence in the abundance, vitality, and amazing factors of simply being young, Black and enterprising woman with a purpose and plan wins. "As a Black woman and as a millennial business owner, I was fighting to be like ‘I’m educated,’ and ‘I’m competent’ and ‘I can do this,’ and I was being extremely adamant about it," Walker says.
"But then I took a step back and said, ‘Hey actually this isn’t necessary. I’m going to execute my work in a way that lets people know exactly who I am and exactly what I’m capable of.’ And that’s what I’m doing with Kia Cole Events, just speaking to what we were prior to the massacre. And it was so unfortunate and so heartbreaking, but I’m grateful to be part of restoring who we are here in Tulsa and hopefully across the world."
Featured image by Rhon Starling
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What Are Intrusive Thoughts & How Do We Manage Them?
TW: some depictions of intrusive thoughts may be disturbing for readers.
Have you ever caught your mind drifting off to entertain the most disturbing scenarios imaginable? Maybe you can’t stop thinking of all the ways a loved one could pass away or worrying that you left every candle lit in your apartment to which you’d return to a home in ruins. If distressing ruminations like these have crossed your mind, you may be experiencing an intrusive thought.
What Are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are unwanted or distressing thoughts, images, or impulses that pop into your mind without your control or consent. These thoughts can be repetitive, unsettling, or even violent in nature, and can cause anxiety and frustration for those who experience them.
“Generally they're unwanted thoughts that come up in our head that interrupt what we're doing or thinking, and can feel very foreign,” says Adia Gooden, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and host of the Unconditionally Worthy podcast. “It’s any thought that intrudes or interrupts what you are doing. They can be distressing and upsetting for us because it feels like we are not in control of them, and they're coming up out of nowhere and aren’t in line with how you normally think.”
What Causes Intrusive Thoughts?
Certain trauma or stress can contribute to the development of intrusive thoughts, so having a challenging experience from the past or current life situations may trigger them to form. “An intrusive thought could come in the form of a flashback, image, or a thought about something that's happened to you,” Dr. Gooden tells xoNecole. “When it gets to the point where you feel like you can't function or make clear decisions, that's when intrusive thoughts become really challenging.”
While some of the 1 billion videos found under the #intrusivethoughts hashtag on TikTok would lead you to believe that these thoughts are nothing more than casual displays of our imagination going untamed. Intrusive thoughts are more than sticking your hand in a soap dispenser, wanting to cut all your hair off at 3 a.m., or having a random impulse to eat fake bread in public.
The Anxiety & Depression Association of America reports that approximately six million individuals, equating to roughly two percent of the American population, encounter intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are often linked with obsessive-compulsive disorders, but they can also manifest in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or anxiety.
Examples of Common Intrusive Thoughts
Because of the explicit nature of intrusive thoughts, they tend to cause shame and internal conflict in those who experience them. Although these thoughts can differ from person to person, these ideation can consist of:
- Violent or aggressive thoughts towards oneself or others, such as harming or killing someone;
- Sexual thoughts that are unwanted or inappropriate;
- Repetitive thoughts, such as a song or a phrase that keeps repeating in your mind;
- Contamination or germ-related thoughts or the fear of contamination and getting sick;
- Religious or blasphemous thoughts, such as questioning one's faith or having thoughts that go against religious beliefs;
- Doubts or uncertainty about one's own actions or decisions, such as fear of making a mistake or fear of not doing something right.
Intrusive Thoughts and OCD
That’s why Dr. Gooden encourages everyone to understand the difference between our fleeting thoughts and impulses and true, intrusive thoughts. “What level of distress does it cause and is it something you would never consider,” she says. “If you're finding that these thoughts are getting in the way of you living your life and that you're controlled by the thoughts, those are some signs that it would be good to get some support in navigating it.”
She also emphasizes the importance of understanding that while we may not always have control over our thoughts, we can control our behavior. “On TikTok, people are sort of blaming intrusive thoughts on their behavior, and our behavior is always a choice,” she says. “If we are in our right mind and we're not having a psychotic episode, our behavior is our choice — we are not obligated to follow any given thought that we have.”
Are Intrusive Thoughts Normal?
With intrusive thoughts, it’s natural to question whether these thoughts are “normal” to have. However, these thoughts are not meant to define who you are as a person but simply indicate that you have a functioning human mind with automated thoughts that you, or any of us, can’t control. These thoughts may come, but they don’t have to be acted upon, nor do they define who you are.
“I've worked with clients in the past who say, ‘Why am I thinking these things? What's wrong with me?’ But if you're not acting on the thought, then it's probably not a huge issue,” Dr. Gooden says. “If you are thinking a harmful thought towards yourself or someone else and you are making plans to act on that thought, then yes, we need to do something about it.”
How To Manage Intrusive Thoughts
If you are struggling with managing unwanted thoughts, Dr. Aida suggests taking these tips to help manage your mindset when they occur:
- "Recognize that it's a thought and thoughts are just thoughts. We often put a little bit too much weight on our thoughts, and that can create a lot of distress. But remember that thoughts are not facts."
- "Having a thought that's disturbing or upsetting doesn't make you a bad person, and it doesn't mean that you are suffering from a mental illness."
- "Sometimes the best thing you can do is say, 'Huh, that was an interesting thought. I'm going to let that go. That thought is not helpful for me right now."
- "Ask yourself: is this helpful? Is it helpful for me to buy into this thought and believe this thought? Asking that question can be really helpful because we are not at the mercy of our thoughts. If it's not helpful, you can let it go."
Intrusive thoughts can feel bizarre and foreign when they come up, but they aren't inherently "bad." Our minds can sometimes be filled with random and inappropriate thoughts, but that's what our stream of consciousness does: it thinks. Fortunately, we can release those thoughts at any moment; you don't have to follow through with them.
And ultimately, not every TikTok diagnosis is one that we should label ourselves with.
"It's important for people to acknowledge what they're experiencing but not run too quickly to diagnose themselves with some mental illness or disorder," Dr. Gooden advises. "It ends with confusion, and we miss the opportunity to understand the people who really do have that mental health challenge."
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