“To me, that basically means that they want people to forget about it and not understand it and not be educated on it,” Westbrook says, adding that “we don’t learn much” in U.S. schools about Black history.
“When I see some of that, it not just saddens me, but it puts me in a position where I feel like I have to be able to help make other people understand why this is,” Westbrook tells PEOPLE.
“It’s important that we understand and see what was here, what was our history and understand why people are trying to forget about this particular time in history, and why nobody’s talking about it, and why nobody understands it,” the nine-time NBA all-star continues.
Westbrook’s Tulsa Burning documentary recounts the horrific killings and highlights excavation efforts last year by the city and calls for restitution by survivors, their descendants and local activists.
“At the time, Tulsa was the best place in the nation for African Americans,” civil rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons says in the film.
To this day, Tulsa has not paid reparations to the survivors or their families, despite a 2001 commission report recommending the city should.
On Wednesday, three living survivors testified in front of Congress to ask that reparations be paid after the booming Black business community was literally burned to the ground.
“I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street,” Viola Fletcher, the massacre’s oldest living survivor, told lawmakers. “I still smell smoke and see fire. I still see Black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear the screams.”
“I have lived through the massacre every day,” Fletcher, 107, said.
Marco Naprin, a local descendant featured in one scene during the documentary, looking on as crews excavate the mass grave in search for bodies, says in the film: “There might not ever be no closure, but the awareness is there.”
Westbrook tells PEOPLE he’s been working with Emmy Award-winning director Stanley Nelson on the project “for a couple of years,” with the goal of releasing it on the 100th anniversary this weekend.
“I wanted to create a film that is factual and educational, and that’s inspiring,” Westbrook says. “And that’s something that I stand for and that’s something that I want to be able to show the world.”
The NBA’s 2017 MVP says that while focused on basketball, he’s working every day on social justice initiatives like Tulsa Burning or his Why Not? Foundation, which promotes empowerment and provides resources surrounding education, employment and mental health for at-risk communities nationwide.
“It’s my job,” Westbrook explains.
The NBA star says he’s “learned a lot with this project alone” in simply understanding the sacrifices the Black community has made in U.S. history and to this day.
“With this film, I hope to just inspire and educate people about what happened,” Westbrook says. “And at the same time, to see how we can help change our present and our future.”
|No. 4 – Washington Wizards|
|Born||November 12, 1988
Long Beach, California
|Listed height||6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)|
|Listed weight||200 lb (91 kg)|
|High school||Leuzinger (Lawndale, California)|
|NBA draft||2008 / Round: 1 / Pick: 4th overall|
|Selected by the Seattle SuperSonics|
|2008–2019||Oklahoma City Thunder|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Stats at NBA.com|
|Stats at Basketball-Reference.com|
Awards and honors
- NBA Most Valuable Player (2017)
- 9× NBA All-Star (2011–2013, 2015–2020)
- 2× NBA All-Star Game MVP (2015, 2016)
- 2× All-NBA First Team (2016, 2017)
- 5× All-NBA Second Team (2011–2013, 2015, 2018)
- 2× All-NBA Third Team (2019, 2020)
- 2× NBA scoring champion (2015, 2017)
- 2× NBA assists leader (2018, 2019)
- NBA All-Rookie First Team (2009)
- 2008 All-Pac-10 Third Team
- 2008 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year
- 2008 Pac-10 All-Tournament Team
- 2008 Pac-10 All-Defensive Team
- 2008 CollegeInsider.com All-Defensive Team
- First-team All-CIF Division I
- Third-team All-State
- 2× Most Valuable Player of the Bay League
Russell Westbrook III (born November 12, 1988) is an American professional basketball player for the Washington Wizards of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He is a nine-time NBA All-Star and earned the NBA Most Valuable Player Award for the 2016–17 season. He is also an nine-time All-NBA Team member, led the league in scoring in 2014–15 and 2016–17, and won back-to-back NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player awards in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, the year he won the league MVP award, Westbrook became one of two players in NBA history to average a triple-double for a season, along with Oscar Robertson in 1962. He also set a record for the most triple-doubles in a season, with 42. He went on to average a triple-double the following two seasons as well as lead the league in assists and become the first player to lead the league in points and assists in multiple seasons. After ending his triple-double season average streak in the 2019–20 season, he achieved the feat for the fourth time in five seasons in 2020–21. On May 10, 2021, he passed Robertson for the most career triple-doubles in NBA history.
Westbrook played college basketball for the UCLA Bruins and earned third-team all-conference honors in the Pac-10. He was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft by the Seattle SuperSonics, who then relocated to Oklahoma City that same week. Westbrook has represented the United States national team twice, winning gold medals in the 2010 FIBA World Championship and the 2012 Olympics. In 2019, he was traded to the Houston Rockets, playing one season for the organization before being traded again to Washington in 2020.
Russell Westbrook Sheds Light on 1921 Tulsa Massacre with Doc: ‘It’s Important That We Understand’
The HISTORY Channel aimed to coincide the documentary with the 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst acts of racial violence in American history.
“The Tulsa Race Massacre was not something I was taught about in school or in any of my history books,” Westbrook, who played for the Oklahoma City Thunder from 2008-2020, said in a release. “It was only after spending 11 years in Oklahoma that I learned of this deeply troubling and heartbreaking event. This is one of many overlooked stories of African Americans in this country that deserves to be told. These are the stories we must honor and amplify so we can learn from the past and create a better future.”
The Tulsa Race Massacre occurred from May 31-June 1, 1921 and was caused by a white mob that attacked businesses and homes in the Greenwood District, a predominantly Black district in segregated Tulsa. At the time, Greenwood was the wealthiest Black community in the United States and known as “Black Wall Street.”