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Crimson Quarterly is a publication of University of Oklahoma Student Media. Nick Jungman, director of Student Media, authorized printing of 1,000 copies by University Printing Services at no cost to the taxpayers of the State of Oklahoma.
Star Skate The next generation of us We care about our neighbors
Editor-in-Chief Jordan Miller
Enterprise/Features Managing Editor Beth Wallis
Assistant Enterprise Editor Donna Edwards
Visual Editor Trey Young
Joe Jon Finley
Copy Chief Francisco Gutierrez
Art Director Megan Foisy
Designers Rachel Lobaugh Alayna Weldon Cameron Brown
STAR SKATE BY ABBY TOW
‘It’s just not going to be the same’: Normanites of all ages reminisce about cultural significance of Star Skate, reflect on memories made following untimely closing In 1963, a skate rink on Lindsey Street opened its doors with the name “Skateland.” In those days, said local retiree Steve Guthrie, Highway 9 was new and without so many traffic lights — Norman was just a small town. Now, after a name change and nearly six decades, Star Skate’s cherished time in Norman is coming to a sudden close. Chris Hale, co-owner of Star Skate, said that despite the pandemic, the rink would have survived this era of economic stress. Recent renovations — new carpet, new paint and a remodeled concessions bar — had all been completed, Hale said, but the property’s landlord wouldn’t negotiate. Hale said he didn’t plan on closing until they received a 30-day notice. “If we could have gotten past some issues with the landlord, we probably would still be in there. … Also, in combination with the COVID stuff, basically, there is no other decision besides leaving,” Hale said. Star Skate held its final skate Jan. 30 before closing its doors to the public. Hale and his family have been in the skate rink business in Oklahoma since the ’80s. Prior to acquiring the Norman location, the Hales opened skate rinks in Ada and Shawnee and have since also opened a location in Midwest City. Although COVID-19’s economic impact wasn’t the determining factor in closing the
skate rink, Hale said Star Skate’s last summer brought in only a fraction of its usual business. Greek organizations at OU were major patrons of Star Skate for mixers, Bid Day activities and other events, but this year, there were none. Other groups that use the rink, including speed skating, roller derby and roller hockey teams, will now have to travel further outside of Norman to access a rink, Hale said. While interest in skating has taken somewhat of a “downturn” as the world has entered the internet age, Hale said, Star Skate provided the community with a special kind of meeting place. “We are one of the few places that you can actually go and interact with somebody socially and not be on a computer,” Hale said. Hale said he wants people to know that Star Skate isn’t closing due to a lack of community demand for a place to skate, and that it’s a misconception that the activity has fallen out of popularity. “Skating has not lost interest and has not gone away,” Hale said. Norman has lost its only skate rink, and with it, the site of so many memories for Normanites old and young. Guthrie grew up in Norman when the local skate rink was the place to be if you were a kid, he said. Before you were old enough to drive a car or head to the bars, Guthrie said, Skateland provided a place to be. One summer during Guthrie’s elementary
Photo illustration by Rachel Lobaugh
school days, his babysitter’s boyfriend worked at Skateland, so Guthrie found himself there most days, he said. While not an avid skater as a teenager, Guthrie wound up at a church event hosted at Skateland a few years later in high school. “That’s where I actually met my first real girlfriend,” Guthrie said. Memories of Skateland exist against the soundtrack of the “Hokey Pokey” and “Telstar” by The Ventures for Guthrie, along with the fizzy taste of a “suicide” — a concoction of every soda syrup the rink served, he said. Tony Hughes, a 1984 OU alumnus, started skating in high school before he moved to Norman for school in 1979. Hughes skated at the Norman rink and worked there as a floor guard. “I always left with a smile, and it was pretty good exercise due to the footwork,” Hughes said in an email to The Daily. Hughes learned to skate after a first date took a turn for the worse when he was 16. “I was doing OK until we decided to get drinks at the concession. I told the girl to go find a seat, and I would bring over the colas. Needless to say, but I did not make it to the table with the drinks,” Hughes said. “Yep, on the floor with the colas all over me. I decided right then that that would never happen again and started going back just about every week to learn how to skate.” Hughes said there are two key steps to being a good skater, which he learned in his self-taught skating journey.
“First, get your own skates that fit well, have good wheels and have the trucks loosened to your abilities. … Second, learn how to fall without hurting yourself, usually by rolling. Once you lose the fear of falling, you hardly ever fall,” Hughes said. Later, in 1992, Hughes brought his girlfriend at the time to the rink where his favorite memories of Skateland were made. “She was pretty good, and we would act out the Meatloaf song, ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light.’ Among other things, we would sing the male and female lyrics to each other ...,” Hughes said. Younger Normanites are also losing a classic Norman establishment that served as a birthday party favorite, greek event location and general hang-out spot. Political science junior Becca Yanez met her middle school trio of friends at Star Skate. Yañez said memories of Star Skate include childhood birthday parties, couples’ skate in middle school, her “death
just falling and embarrassing myself publicly,” Yañez said. For Yañez, Star Skate represented a piece of Norman’s identity —, a piece that the town has now lost. “I think that without it, it’s just not going to be the same. It’s just another thing that made Norman, Norman,” Yañez said. The hope right now, Hale said, is that after the economy recovers from the pandemic, he can open another rink in Norman. Until then, the city is losing a ubiquitous establishment in the town’s collective memory. “You’d have to be older than 60, basi- cally, to remember a time before the rink was there,” Hale said. “Everybody’s losing something. … It’s not just me that’s losing a business, but it’s the community as a whole. … A part of their life will not be a part of their life anymore.”
grip” on the walls of the rink and her friends trying to teach her how to skate. “There have been several accounts of me
THE NEXT GENERATION OF US
BY BLAKE DOUGLAS
BERT sit-in, one year later
TREY YOUNG/THE DAILY
The eyes of the OU community were locked intensely on Evans Hall roughly a year ago when the culmination of several semesters of racist incidents on campus finally arrived. On Feb. 26, 2020, members of OU’s Black Emergency Response Team gathered on the steps of Evans Hall to deliver a simple ultimatum — “meet our demands or starve us of our freedom.” After two professors in two weeks used a racial slur in class — once when a professor compared the word to the phrase “OK, Boomer” and again when the slur was used repeatedly while reading from a historical document — BERT leadership decided on a higher-profile response than previous press conferences and marches. “It was necessary for us to do something different,” Miles Francisco, OU graduate and former BERT co-director said. Francisco was one of several BERT members who participated in a hunger strike in addition to the sit-in. The “anxiety-inducing” first moments of walking into Evans Hall were fueled only by the Slim Chickens meal he’d had the night before. Destinee Dickson, also an OU graduate and former BERT member, marched into Evans Hall powered by a Crossroads dinner the night before. Neither would break their hunger strike until the sit-in ended at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 29. “I didn’t have any breakfast that morning,” Francisco said. “I was too nervous.” Dickson and Francisco each said the nerves of the moment began to subside when what began as roughly 40 protesters at the sit-in’s 8 a.m. kickoff grew to over 100 students, a crowd that occupied all three floors and the basement of Evans Hall. The historical moment wasn’t altogether unprecedented at OU, but it did boast one key difference from previous racial justice demonstrations. George Henderson, OU professor emeritus, civil rights scholar and founder of OU’s human relations department, said the diversity of support the sit-in garnered was unlike anything he’d seen prior in his 60 years at
OU. “They apparently had read extensively about what the students did in the 1960s and the strategies growing out of that,” Henderson said. “They took that blueprint and ran with it quite well. When (previous civil rights demonstrations) started, it was primarily Black people, let’s be honest — this time, just going through Evans Hall and seeing the individuals sitting in the provost’s office, it looked like a little United Nations. That was beautiful.” Despite the diversity of support and the knowledge of civil rights experts the sit-in was launched from, BERT leadership presented lofty demands — including the resignation of Kyle Harper, then-provost and senior vice president. Henders on said despite the high-profile demands, he urged the students to remain focused on their goals regardless of the pushback they may receive from the administration. “They looked at me and I gave a thumbs up, I said, ‘Hold your ground. Whatever it takes, hold your ground. And by all means, have a clear chain of responsibilities,’” Henderson said. “For me, that was the culmination of 50-plus years (of civil rights experience).” One year after the BERT sit-in, some of the demands have morphed, while others have been implemented outright. Some previous BERT members, like Francisco and Dickson, expressed their frustration at the “watering down” of sit-in demands. Current BERT members, like co-directors Jamelia Reed and D’India Brown, maintain a level of trust in OU’s current administration to see their demands through. What exactly has changed at OU in the wake of Evans Hall’s three-day occupation? Which of BERT’s original demands and its recently released final demands will the OU community see come to fruition?
#HARPERHASTOGO While Harper did not leave his position immediately following the conclusion of the sit-in, the demonstrators’ top demand was eventually fulfilled when he exited the provost position July 1 to return to teaching. Harper then took sabbatical leave — which will end June
7 30, 2021 — with his full pay of $329,086. During Harper’s tenure, community members voiced grievances on his silence in the face of repeated racist incidents on campus during his tenure. Leading up to the sit-in, though his office did comment after OU history professor Kathleen Brosnan repeatedly used the N-word in her classroom while reading a document, Harper did not comment after Peter Gade, director of graduate studies for the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication and Gaylord Family endowed chair, used the word a week prior. In a social media graphic shared by BERT, circulated through the hashtag #HarperHasToGo, the group lamented Harper’s lack of engagement with previous demands made to focus on retention of Black students and faculty. Other students and faculty came forward with their own criticisms of Harper, including his alleged acceptance of a resignation letter from a faculty member accused of raping a student during a study abroad trip before a Title IX investigation was completed, and pre-hiring concerns about his commitment to diversity and inclusion initiatives. During the sit-in, documents from the 2015 conclusion of the senior vice president and provost search which ended in Harper’s hiring were shared on social media. In the documents, the co-chairs of the search — Suzette Grillot, international area studies professor and former dean of the international area studies college, and Berrien Moore, dean of the College of Atmospheric & Geographic sciences — evaluated the three finalists for the position, which Harper had been filling as an interim. “(Harper) is occasionally perceived as being evasive and not always direct when answering specific questions of academic importance or when asked to outline solutions to specific problems,” the evaluation of Harper’s weaknesses read. “(Harper) is seen by some to make decisions without full information and without consultation with relevant stakeholders. This is likely an issue of experience. There also remain concerns by a few about (Harper’s) commitment to diversity issues of equity.” Since Harper’s departure, current interim Provost and Senior Vice President Jill Irvine has filled the role. Reed and Brown said they were
encouraged when they discovered Irvine would become interim due to her background in social movements and women’s and gender studies. Although OU President Joseph Harroz wrote in a June 17 statement following Harper’s departure from the position the search for his replacement would begin “immediately,” Dean of Students David Surratt — who is chairing the search alongside David Wrobel, dean of the OU College of Arts and Sciences — wrote in an email to The Daily the search is “ongoing” and began in 2021 “given the likelihood of reaching a far more competitive candidate pool at this time of the academic hiring calendar.” Surratt also wrote “immediate” timing may not indicate “the start of an ad placement, etc.,” but could also refer to “(steps as) mundane as thinking about how to move forward administratively, review of potential search firms” and other processes leading up to the search. The search will be conducted by the search firm Greenwood/ Asher & Associates LLC, according to a LinkedIn job posting for the position. Surratt wrote the search committee will be made up of “representative members from the faculty, staff and student body,” and candidates’ names will not be shared until finalists are announced. “At that time, the Norman campus community will be invited to hear from and engage with the candidates through a series of talks,” Surratt wrote. “Assuming our schedule is not delayed, we hope to identify finalists for the position by sometime in April.” According to the job listing, a successful candidate “must be visionary, politically astute, and committed to public service and diversity, equity and inclusion necessary to advance the university and inspire its multiple constituencies.” Dickson said following BERT members’ private meeting with Harper during the sit-in, she felt Harper would eventually leave the position. “I think Provost Harper knew for a while that he probably should resign from his role. I think they
EDWARD REALI/THE DAILY
Members of the OU community and the Black Emergency Response Team sit inside of Evans Hall on the 2nd floor during a silent sit-in on Feb. 26, 2020.
were just waiting for the opportunity for him to do it,” Dickson said. “I wish Provost Harper would have just resigned (after the sitin), but I had
a feeling that his resignation was going to come soon after, which we saw happen that summer.” Reed said she felt the sit-in had an impact on Harper’s decision to step down. “When I first found out about it I couldn’t really say for sure, but I’d like to think that’s something we did,” Reed said.
MULTICULTURAL CENTER AMID COVID When the sit-in came to a close, university administrators had agreed to the formation of a feasibility committee to examine spaces on campus that could be utilized for BERT’s proposed multicultural center. A new space, Surratt said, was out of the question from the beginning. “When we had talked about it, I was very honest with them that the amount of debt load that would have to be taken on to actually create a whole new space was not a way for us to even start a conversation on that,” Surratt said. “So what we focused on was doing a feasibility study and then at least look at ways we can repurpose existing space to where, programmatically, it serves the same purpose.” Another important aspect of fulfilling the demand, Surratt said, is ensuring there is a clear vision for what the university hopes the new space will accomplish. “I think that I’ve worked at a lot of universities and colleges, and there’s sometimes this idea to benchmark and try to get a space that you call a multicultural space, but not really thinking about what outcomes you’re hoping to achieve,” Surratt said. “We are still in the process of actually looking at developing a master plan that incorporates the idea of trying to activate existing space in a way that serves that purpose of providing multicultural space while also supporting our students holistically.” The administration is taking into account the potential effects on other student populations if existing spaces are repurposed, Surratt said, adding another dimension to the decision. “There are domino effects for any conversation
8 about changes in space that could help one group or one population of students but then possibly disenfranchise another,” Surratt said. “We have to be really intentional with this idea of space to achieve the outcome of trying to create a sense of increased belonging without harming others unintentionally.” Alongside a multicultural center, BERT’s finalized demands included “additional funding and assistance for all multicultural communities” at OU. Surratt said following the sit-in, he assisted in identifying funding for “keynote” multicultural events from OU’s cultural organizations — like AISA powwows, the AASA lunar new year events and HASA Day of the Dead celebrations. That temporary funding and many of the events were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, however. While no specific amount of funding has been discussed as part of the demand, Surratt said this year he aims to help develop a budget proposal to identify further additional funding for cultural organizations.
PERSONNEL REVIEWS AND COMMUNITY TRAINING One aspect of BERT’s original sit-in demands was already in development prior to the protest itself according to Belinda Higgs-Hyppolite, OU’s Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Training for faculty and staff based on diversity and inclusion was included as part of the university’s “Lead On, University” strategic plan. “When I started interviewing at the University of Oklahoma, which was in the middle of 2019, there were conversations about really wanting to infuse (diversity and inclusion) initiatives into the fabric (of OU),” Hyppolite said. OU announced its new online training diversity training modules in August 2020 as students returned to campus. “That was a presidential mandate — we rolled it out to faculty, staff, and students, it’s self-paced because we wanted to create something that people could do in their homes, on their own, at their pace without feeling guilty, or called out or anything like that,” Hyppolite said. “The important thing was about making it accessible, and making it less intimidating so that everyone can lean into the work in some way.” The request for proposal process to hire a developer for the university’s online training was completed in April 2020, Hyppolite said, when OU decided on Everfi as its provider for a base training with customizable elements specific to OU and Oklahoma. “BERT bringing that as a demand, to us, affirmed that what we were trying to do was on the right path, but we needed to kick it into high gear,” Hyppolite said. “Let’s make sure we get this done, let’s make sure that this is launched as soon as possible.” Students have an academic year to complete the training, with faculty given a semester to do so. The training must be completed every three years. Community feedback on the course has been “overwhelmingly positive,” particularly on the new ways it presents diversity information, though other negative feedback has been focused around time commitments for the course, Hyppolite said. Beyond this recurring online course, a “Gateway to Belonging” semester-long course is currently being developed and is planned to launch in fall 2021, Hyppolite said. “We’re looking for that to be a part of the general education curriculum,” Hyppolite said. “The
academic side of the house going through all of those committees to lift that course up, we’re in the process of trying to hire elite faculty for that now, so I would say lots of momentum, lots of good things are happening.” The hiring of a faculty member to help head the development and teaching of the course is underway through a search committee, Hyppolite said, with applications currently being collected until roughly the end of February. The hire is projected to be made before next fall. Irvine said the course has been developed through recommendations from a faculty task force formed in March 2020 co-chaired by herself and Hyppolite. “We will draw on the exceptional talent of our faculty at OU to assist in providing instruction, whether through guest lectures or teaching individual course sections, and hire additional instructional faculty and postdocs to teach the course,” Irvine wrote in an email. “We anticipate that this course will provide an introduction and a pathway to the many, primarily upper-level, courses that are currently offered in departments that focus on particular aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Irvine also confirmed the fulfillment of another BERT demand — the creation of a new faculty position: the associate provost for inclusive excellence. The position is currently held by Jane Irungu, who previously served as interim vice president for diversity and inclusion. Not all personnel actions from BERT’s demands have been completed, however — Surratt said the “360 review” of senior administrative positions at OU has been delayed due to COVID-19. “With (COVID-19), the amount of infrastructure tied to opening campus and being able to actually have classes and operate the campus, that was the focus, following the sit-in,” Surratt said. “I think that’s still delayed … the idea of doing a real, thorough 360 evaluation also requires IT support and infrastructure to actually do that in a way that protects the confidentiality of those who are providing feedback on executive leaders, and all of that infrastructure, all of those resources were basically tied up and trying to keep the campus going forward and managing COVID.” Surratt said Harroz is “still committed” to the review process however, and the scope has been expanded beyond what BERT originally asked for. “When we had further conversations, we just thought that when you talk about reviews, or personnel reviews that have pretty significant impacts on people in their jobs, you want to figure out a way to do it in a way that feels fair and equitable,” Surratt said. “At the end of the day, I think that there was understanding that you can’t necessarily target then-Provost Harper, but you should rather look at all the systems that actually hold people broadly accountable.”
VPAC One of BERT’s final demands was the creation of a “Provost and President Advisory Board,” which would provide students with greater access to university administration and allow students more “multicultural representation” in the president’s and provost’s offices. This demand, and the proposed responsibilities of the body, would eventually be deemed consistent with the mission and responsibilities of the Vice President’s Advisory Council. “As the conversations evolved over time, there
was a realization that there are advisory councils that consist of students that could serve this purpose,” Surratt said. “We later agreed that the Vice President’s Advisory Council that’s within Student Affairs, which engages senior administrators from the president’s office on down and incorporates elected leaders and student government leaders as part of that body would be an appropriate group to meet with and engage with the provost’s office.” Kristen Partridge, associate vice president for student affairs and associate dean of students, said VPAC is composed of around 35 students representative of various registered student organizations. The OU Student Government Association president and vice president, the undergraduate student congress chair, the graduate senate chair, the president of all five greek life councils, leaders of faith-based organizations like the Muslim Student Association and representatives from OU’s four major cultural organizations — the Black Student Association, the American Indian Student Association, the Hispanic American Student Association and the Asian American Student Association — are present as well. Partridge said VPAC is an effective forum to deal with BERT’s demands, as many of the demands are things student leaders on VPAC also view as priorities. “I definitely feel like the things that BERT has asked for are in line with what our other student leaders feel is really important at the University of Oklahoma, which is inclusion for everyone,” Partridge said. “I don’t feel like BERT is alone in what they’re saying that they need. Our students really feel, for the most part, a great amount of solidarity about wanting inclusivity and a safe place for students, no matter what you look like or where you’re from.”
“ k c m d n
9 While BERT as an organization is not permanently represented on VPAC since it is not a registered student organization, Partridge said BERT members have previously been on the council. Dickson, however, was skeptical of the council’s ability to fulfill the same role as the separate body BERT envisioned in its finalized demands. Dickson said she attended several meetings as an SGA member when VPAC was being revived in 2018. “If you know what VPAC really is, this is the opportunity for the administration to get a whole bunch of student leaders together on a Zoom call currently and say what great things they are doing to try to fix COVID-19 relief,” Dickson said. “Not really, truly giving the opportunity for students to actually check the system we live within.” Partridge said she didn’t believe the other items VPAC addresses would make it ineffective in dealing with grievances against university administration or other issues. “I don’t feel like we’re bogged down. I mean, VPAC, our primary focus is academic success for students, co-curricular success for students and health and wellness, so I really do feel like it fits
nicely with our mission,” Partridge said. “If the university decided they wanted to have a separate advisory committee, I think that would work too. I just know that this was a body that we knew where we already had an engaged group that would be willing to share their thoughts.” VPAC has met four times since the BERT sit-in, Partridge said — once in summer 2020, twice in the fall and then once in spring 2021. Independently of VPAC meetings, Brown said BERT leadership met with university administrators biweekly following the sit-in and throughout the summer, up until November 2020. BERT will aim to continue regular meetings with administrators in the spring semester, Brown said.
‘THE NEXT GENERATION OF US’ PaShioun Young, BERT’s university grievances officer, said the organization is moving forward optimistically in its continued work with the OU administration to see through its demands.
“We entered this thing knowing that it was going to cost us time, maybe money, maybe our lives, but what did we enter it for? For the next generation of us.”
George Henderson, OU professor emeritus,
quoting Martin Luther King Jr. on civil rights activism
“For me personally, I am continuing to remain optimistic with this administration,” Young said. “Although progress is happening at a slower rate than anticipated, we have seen the engagement of this university’s administration, and we hope that they, whether a (person of color) or not, will do their part in making this university the best and inclusive it can be for the students.” Brown said as meetings with administration about the sit-in demands have continued over the past year, BERT leaders have moved forward with “an open heart, but a strong back.” “That means we’ve essentially gone into these meetings hoping for the best outcome but prepared for worse (outcomes),” Brown said. Moving forward on good terms after the sit-in was not difficult, Surratt said, partially because of the relationships he had already built with many of the protest’s organizers. Those relationships have continued to help build trust between BERT leadership and OU administration as demands are morphed and implemented, he said. “I was fortunate to have had a relationship with a lot of the leadership before this event occurred. And I think, in the end, I trusted that they were earnest in their demands and their rationales and the way that they were organizing,” Surratt said. “There has to be mutual trust for us to kind of walk away from that feeling better. Because at the end of the day, when you think about activism, there has to be reconciliation of some sort in the end.” Despite the overall positive working relationship cultivated over the past year between BERT and the OU administration, Reed said the organization remains more than ready to act against injustices on campus. “At the end of the day, I can go hungry again if I need to,” Reed said. “That’s not a problem for me.” The student organizers who continue to engage with OU administration have continued the ongoing civil rights campaign in the way they need to in order to be taken seriously and accomplish their objectives, Henderson said, a bright indicator for any future efforts. “(They are) not young, unorganized students just doing something for the sake of doing something,” Henderson said. “The way that they’ve landed the timing, the coordination, and the civility — that was key for me, that was always key for me.” Henderson said the student activists who led the sit-in — and their continued activism and drive towards their goals after the sit-in was over — stirred memories of a moment he shared with civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. decades prior. “(King, myself and other organizers) had a ‘come to Jesus’ moment because some of us were complaining about the lack of respect that we were getting in our initiatives, the hours that we were spending most days,” Henderson said. “(King) looks at us all and says, ‘We entered this thing knowing that it was going to cost us time, maybe money, maybe our lives, but what did we enter it for?’ And he looked at all of us and he said, ‘For the next generation of us.’” The BERT sit-in and its organizers — another echo of civil rights leaders and initiatives that came before — has been part of the successful progeny King envisioned, Henderson said. “In my career,” Henderson said, “I’ve seen that the next generation of me has done quite well, thank you.”
TREY YOUNG/THE DAILY Members and supporters of the Black Emergency Response Team protesting with signs outside of Evans Hall on Feb. 26, 2020.
‘WE CARE ABOUT OUR NEIGHBORS’ BY ARI FIFE
City of Norman collaborates with nonprofit for strategic plan to curb homelessness, examines additional approaches When Ward 7 councilmember Stephen Holman was first elected to the city council in 2013, he said his father didn’t have permanent housing and was living at the Jesus House — a Christian nonprofit that offers food, shelter and resources to those experiencing homelessness — in Oklahoma City. Holman said he remembers making the drive from Norman to pick him up to attend his swearing-in ceremony. His father ended up working for the Oklahoma City Jesus House, then worked at the Jesus House in Jacksonville, Florida, and moved back to Norman — where he now has housing — over a year ago. “Having dealt with it from a personal standpoint, that makes it important to me, but also just general care of our city, of our community and all the people that live here — whether they live in a structured house, or they live on the streets,” Holman said. “We are all citizens of Norman, so I think it’s in the best interest of everyone if the city government is doing everything we can with our resources to try to address the issue of being unhoused.” On Jan. 12, the Norman City Council approved a $100,000 contract to develop a strategic plan addressing homelessness in collaboration with Homebase, a San Francisco nonprofit dedicated to “building community capacity to prevent and end homelessness,” according to its website. To create the strategic plan, project members plan to meet with focus groups consisting of individuals experiencing homelessness, providers and stakeholders. Holman has often referred to homelessness as one of the biggest problems facing Norman, including in his recent campaign to retain his city council seat. He supports the plan, as he said it can provide a more holistic view of the contributing factors. Norman Mayor Breea Clark said the plan is needed, especially as homelessness is increasing across the country.
“We have to do better, and I think the best way to tackle such a big issue is to have a good plan,” Clark said. “I know Norman does a lot of plans, but this one, I wholeheartedly think is the right thing to do. Oklahoma City did it, Tulsa did it — and so we just want to come up with the best long-term solution possible.” Nationwide waves of evictions caused by COVID-19 threaten a “catastrophic housing displacement,” according to Reuters. As increasing pressure is placed on city infrastructures, some experts say the $4 billion provided in March 2020 through the CARES Act bailout and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is running out. Holman said efforts in Norman to curb homelessness began in the late 1990s, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development demolished a decaying apartment building and sold the property to the city government for $1. City leaders were able to sell the property to a developer and have been using the proceeds from the sale to help the local unhoused population since. Holman said several initiatives to provide more consistent housing have been passed during his tenure on city council, including approval and zoning for a new Food and Shelter campus. The campus includes 32 tiny homes that are currently in use, he said, and the project anticipates a second phase with 32 more tiny homes soon, although fundraising efforts have been hampered by COVID-19. Holman said the council has also approved funding for the purchase of a building on North Porter Avenue, which it plans to convert into a permanent overnight warming shelter to operate during inclement weather and a centralized hub for local nonprofit service providers. Despite these efforts, he said a strategic
A sign on the entrance of the Norman warming shelter on Feb.12.
TREY YOUNG/THE DAILY
TREY YOUNG/THE DAILY
The Norman warming shelter on Feb.12.
plan is still needed so the city can make the best use of its “limited resources” to address these issues, citing the payoff long-term planning will present. “It can be much more costly down the road when a city like ours or other organizations do not have a roadmap or a solid plan of action for what to do,” Holman said. “You end up doing stuff that may not be the right thing —, and may not be the best use of your resources —, and then you’re not helping as many people in the long run.” According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a “chronically homeless person” costs taxpayers an average of $35,578 a year. Costs, on average, are reduced by 49.5 percent when an unhoused person is placed in supportive housing — which pairs affordable housing with case management and supportive services. In August 2020, Norman voters turned down a “GO Norman” bond package that included a proposition allocating $5 million for one or more homelessness structures. That proposition was defeated narrowly, with 11,579 “No” votes to 11,212 “Yes” votes. Clark said though Proposition 2 was close to passing, she believes it failed because there wasn’t a clear plan from the city. “Norman has a big heart, we’re a wonderful city, we care about our neighbors,” Clark said. “I know that some people, I think, have forgotten that a little bit with some of the things that have happened over the past year in our community — but I certainly haven’t. And that vote reminded me of that. But we need a plan.” Homebase Deputy Director Carolyn Wylie said though her organization knows some best practices, it doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution to issues of homelessness. “It’s people within the community that are really
going to best understand,” Wylie said. “What we can bring is the ability to help facilitate a process that will help bring that community conversation, and then help to bring some of the knowledge and ideas that they need to maybe consider throughout that process.” Wylie said Homebase’s general roadmap to creating a strategy starts with an assessment, where they gather data and try to identify gaps in services. After this, the Homebase team fosters community engagement with focus groups, surveys and interviews with stakeholders working through the local system of care, as well as people with lived experience of homelessness. The team then looks at the data it has gathered with the community and sees what’s accurate and what’s missing. Homebase will then present a gap report that includes findings from the data, what they learned from community members and key recommendations, Wylie said. At the request of Norman leaders, plan developers will take their recommendations to the public to ensure they make sense. The strategic plan will overlap with resources that address immediate needs and will have the ability to address long-term issues, including policing, Clark said. “I think once we do a better job of addressing the overall issue of homelessness, it will actually lighten the burden on our police officers,” Clark said. “But they need to know what resources are out there, what the big-picture game plan is, so we can all be on the same page.” Point-in-time data from January of the past four fiscal years indicates that 174 total members of Norman’s homeless population were counted in FY 2017, 364 were counted in FY 2018, 347 were counted in FY 2019, and 266 were counted in FY 2020. Of these, 76 members were unsheltered in
FY 2017, 227 were unsheltered in FY 2018, 215 were unsheltered in FY 2019, and 146 were unsheltered in FY 2020. Holman said though collecting point-in-time data this year has been hampered by COVID-19, he believes the immediate needs of Norman’s homeless population have been amplified by the pandemic. The city has offered a temporary warming shelter at the old city library for the past few years, Holman said, and though that location was unavailable in 2020, city leaders were able to find a vacant building to temporarily house the shelter. He said creating a permanent warming shelter remains a top priority for local leaders, especially considering harsh winter conditions. The city council also plans to deal with an encampment in Ward 4, which Holman said presents a dangerous situation for the people living there. He encourages Normanites to get involved in addressing issues of homelessness, either by attending Continuum of Care city hall meetings or by helping local nonprofits fill immediate needs. Though he said he doubts homelessness — and the issues associated with it — will ever be eradicated, Holman said past and current initiatives indicate the level of care local politicians have for their constituents. “I think what we do have is nonprofit organizations and a city government that cares about this population of people in our city and understands that the issue exists, whether we like it or not, and whether we want to address it or not, it’s going to exist,” Holman said, “and so we should be doing everything we can with the resources we have to try to address it the best way we can.”
JOE JON FINLEY
Joe Jon Finley - who teaches ‘what it is to be an NFL tight end’ - and his beard return to Sooners on a mission
BY MASON YOUNG
On third-and-13, late in a game against Keller High, Joe Jon Finley made his checks. Finley, the starting sophomore tight end, was thrust under center after Arlington High’s starting quarterback left with an injury. As he went through his pre-snap reads, he noticed the opposing safeties staying deep and the linebackers clearing out of the middle. Before his head coach and father, Mickey, could call timeout, Finley showcased the innate football understanding that years later has him climbing college football’s coaching ranks. He audibled into a quarterback sneak. And then he ran 60 yards for a touchdown. “He’s got a good football mind,” Mickey said. “A lot of our offense, we did a lot of pairing plays, and basically giving him a menu of plays to pick from, according to what they ran on defense. That was his strong point, was dissecting the defense and picking the right plays to run against you, and making that call on the field. We very seldom called a play that wasn’t his play.” After growing up in a home dictated by football, Finley played tight end for the Sooners from 200307. After five years in the NFL, his love for the game compelled him to coach, beginning at the high school level alongside his brother, Clint. Finley has since bounced from Baylor and Missouri to Texas A&M, helping tight ends reach the NFL everywhere he’s been. Following his lone season as Mississippi’s tight ends coach and passing game coordinator, he’s now on to his next stop. A sharp offensive mind himself, he’s looking to be sharpened by another. Nearly 14 years since he played for the Sooners and nearly eight years since he was a graduate assistant at OU, Finley is returning to Norman to coach the position group he used to run with. Head coach Lincoln Riley announced Finley as associate head coach for offense, tight ends and H-backs on Jan. 19. Finley will also work with special teams and replaces Shane Beamer, who became South Carolina’s head coach in December. At some point, Finley’s likely to follow in Beamer’s footsteps. Finley’s return to his alma mater makes him the fifth former Oklahoma player on Riley’s staff. Former head coach Bob Stoops hired Calvin Thibodeaux and Cale Gundy, and Riley added Brian Odom and DeMarco Murray. Finley’s arrival is also a touchdown logistically, as the Sooners land one of the top developers and recruiters of tight end talent in the country. During his college career, Finley was a fan favorite and the total package at tight end, providing run blocking, pass protection and a large receiving target for his quarterbacks — passers like Paul Thompson, Rhett Bomar and Heisman winners Sam Bradford and Jason White. Since joining the coaching ranks, he’s instilled the same versatility in all the tight ends he’s taught. The expectations won’t be any different at OU, where he inherits a
talented room of Jeremiah Hall, Brayden Willis, Austin Stogner and Mikey Henderson. On-field improvements aren’t the only benefit of bringing on Finley, either. While he’s committed to building better football players, he’s equally committed to building better men, those who know Finley well say. Previously, OU’s H-backs had a strong, friendly bond with Beamer. Finley’s track record suggests the same connection between the new coach and his players is imminent. Friends and family say there aren’t very many people who don’t like Finley. He’s made strong bonds everywhere he’s gone during his football journey. He’s transparent and authentic, developing natural relationships with everyone he meets. From Jermaine Gresham and Mark Andrews to Trent Smith, Keith Jackson and Steve Zabel, Oklahoma has always produced talented tight ends, Finley among them. Now his job, like the trademark beard he pares down during the offseason before letting it blossom into full follicle fury, is to transform more players with raw talent into polished products like their predecessors. Like Beamer, Finley’s poised to lead a program himself someday, but for now he’s here to help OU’s tight ends — a big part of the offense — become even better, while learning directly from Riley. “‘I’ve talked to him about jobs in the past and different avenues he could go with,” Mickey said. “I think when (Riley) called him, I think you could see it in his eyes. He knew that was the right thing for him.”
LISA HALL/OU ATHLETICS
A OU tight end Joe Jon Finley during a game against Iowa State on Oct. 14, 2006.
‘JOE JON DID ALL THREE’ Growing up, Finley was always near football. Mickey spent 38 years as a coach or athletic director. With stops at Texas towns Callisburg, Big Spring, Iraan, Cuero, and Arlington from 1985-2002, football dictated where the Finleys lived. Mickey said he and his wife, Patty, even chose the name “Joe Jon”
because it “sounded like a football player.” Clint — who’s eight years older than his brother — and Mickey recall young Joe Jon always being at the field or field house. Like a sponge, he’d soak up anything he could from his family, asking questions and learning as his father prepared for games. At Cuero, Finley was a ball boy for Mickey and Clint’s team and would play games against other school’s ball boys in his downtime. “He was always right in the smack-dab middle of everything, watching and learning and imitating all the guys that he grew up watching,” Clint said. “And he got to see a lot of really good players ahead of him. And he definitely made it a goal to be everything he could be, just like them.” Through junior high and high school, Mickey coached Joe Jon. As a senior quarterback, Finley threw for 1,626 yards and 12 touchdowns while running for 897 yards and nine more scores. Mickey’s option offense was similar to Nebraska’s under Tom Osborne and Frank Solich. Despite interest from the Cornhuskers — his brother’s alma mater — Finley committed to Oklahoma as a quarterback. But as a freshman in 2003, with White delivering Heisman football and Thompson as a steady backup, Finley’s path to playing time was minute. He moved back to tight end, but weighed only 210 pounds and had to bulk up by eating constantly. By his redshirt freshman season, Finley reached 234 pounds. In his redshirt junior year, he rose to 260. He caught just 20 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns through his first two years of playing time, but when offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson began coaching tight ends in 2006, Finley’s career took off. He was one of the oldest in the tight end room as a redshirt junior, and also the most complete. Surrounded by underclassmen like Gresham and Brody Eldridge, he could collectively block, run routes and catch passes better than anyone else. No contest better exemplified his multifaceted skills than Oklahoma’s season opener against Alabama Birmingham in 2006. Finley caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Thompson that gave OU a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Then with Oklahoma trailing 17-14 in the fourth quarter, he made the play many fans still remember him for. Thompson swung the ball out to junior running back Adrian Peterson as UAB linebacker Orlandus King converged on the star tailback. Finley came from behind and crumpled King, springing Peterson for a 69-yard go-ahead touchdown. OU escaped, 24-17, and Finley’s blocking helped Peterson run for 139 yards while Thompson threw for 227. Finley came from behind and crumpled King, springing Peterson for a 69-yard go-ahead touchdown. OU escaped, 24-17, and Finley’s blocking helped Peterson run for 139 yards while Thompson threw for 227.
13 “I blocked, (Gresham) ran routes, and Joe Jon did all three,” said Eldridge, who played for the Colts, Rams and Bears in the NFL. “When we were playing, he did a great job of that. That’s why, whenever Wilson took over, we were able to do what we were able to do on offense, because Joe Jon could do all that stuff. When we had him and (Gresham) out there, they could run every formation we had because of his ability to run block and pass protect.” Finley caught 19 passes for 241 yards and three scores as a redshirt junior, then 23 passes for 290 yards and four scores as a redshirt senior team captain in 2007. His stats improved every season, and his 62 catches and 775 career receiving yards are still seventh among OU tight ends. He went on to play with the San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers primarily as a special teams player.
‘TO BE AN NFL TIGHT END’ After his playing career, Finley wanted to stay connected to football, but college coaching wasn’t a certainty. His first post-NFL job was as Clint’s offensive line coach at Los Fresnos High School in 2011. Then from 2012-13, he was a graduate assistant at OU, but other college offers didn’t materialize. He returned to Los Fresnos as O-line coach and strength and conditioning coordinator in 2014 at an early crossroads in his career. “I think he pretty much kind of decided he was going to be a high school football coach, and he was fixing to start climbing that ladder,” Clint said. “He had a family, and at the time, things weren’t happening. Opportunities weren’t happening quick enough, and he had a family to take care of. And he pretty much made a decision, I think, that ‘Here we go, I’m gonna go down there with my brother and we’re gonna get started with this deal.’” As fate would have it though, Finley’s second run at Los Fresnos lasted only one year. Baylor head coach Art Briles hired him as an offensive quality control analyst in 2015, rebooting his college coaching career. He left Waco around the time the program’s sexual assault scandal first broke, but those close to him insist he had no knowledge of the Bears’ blight due to his role as an off-field analyst. “He would never stand for that if he knew of any of it,” Clint said. “But I can guarantee you he didn’t know anything about it or he would have done what he had to do.” Ultimately, he parlayed his lone season at Baylor into a bigger coaching opportunity and the largest sample size of his success as a tight ends coach to date. Finley arrived at Missouri in 2016, where tight ends had just 33 catches for 179 yards and one touchdown the year before. Previously, the Tigers’ tight ends were primarily used as blockers, lacking the route running and pass-catching talents that made Finley a complete player during his OU career. When head coach Barry Odom — uncle of OU inside linebackers coach Brian Odom — hired Finley and picked up former OU quarterback Josh Heupel as offensive coordinator, the philosophy surrounding tight ends changed. Finley taught his players the versatility he showed as a Sooner and they became a prolific part of Missouri’s offense. In 2016, the Tigers’ tight ends caught 50 passes for 566 yards and five touchdowns. In 2017, they had 40 grabs for 687 yards and an FBS-leading 15 scores. And in 2018, they made 72 snags for 707 yards and nine touchdowns. Despite the increased proficiency at route
running, Finley’s position group was still strong at blocking, too. Missouri never garnered less than 193.5 rushing yards-per-game or 279.3 passing yards-per-game while Finley was in Columbia, after averaging just 115.4 on the ground and 165.5 in the air in 2015. Tight ends Jason Reese, Kendall Blanton, Sean Culkin and Albert Okwuegbunam all made it to the NFL after playing under Finley. “Things that I would never have known that for me now, being in year five (in the NFL), I use day to day, like this is what it is to be an NFL tight end,” said Culkin, who played for Missouri from 2013-16 and has since played for the Los Angeles Chargers and Baltimore Ravens. “But he was kind of showing us then, and that was something that gave us a competitive advantage, I think. And you can see with his tight end groups, he’s producing tight ends that all go to the NFL everywhere he goes, and it’s pretty cool to see that.” Since leaving Missouri, Finley coached Texas A&M tight end Jalen Wydermyer, who caught 32 passes for 447 yards and a team-high six touchdowns, becoming a Freshman All-American in 2019. Then in 2020, he helped Mississippi tight end Kenny Yeboah to 27 catches for 524 yards and six touchdowns, and an SEC-leading 19.4 yards-percatch in eight games. Yeboah is projected as a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, according to NFL Mock Draft Database. Wydermyer has the potential to be a 2022 selection. Finley also showcased a growing recruiting prowess while in Oxford. He flipped No. 1 2021 tight end prospect Hudson Wolfe the day after he decommitted from Tennessee.
‘HE’S GONNA MAKE YOU YOUR BEST’ Among Finley’s most notable features is that bushy beard. It accentuates the gaptoothed smile and deep Southern drawl gracing his imposing 6-foot-6 frame. Many with a whiskery forest like his would be heavily invested in manicuring products. But he doesn’t spend much time pampering it. Those familiar with his facial hair-care regimen say it’s completely natural. At 35, Finley is the youngest coach on Riley’s staff after the 32-year-old Murray. As if he were an inactive player, he often wears sweats and a hoodie on the sideline during practice, while running around and making noise to fire up his tight ends. He pushes his players to be better in every aspect of the game. He uses football as a teaching tool to prepare his guys for life beyond football. And his experience as a tight end at the highest level makes him easily relatable to his players. “He understands what it’s like to be to be in their s h o e s ,” s a i d Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, who played against Finley at Colorado and c oa ch e d w i t h him at OU and
Missouri. “And then he holds them accountable too. He’s not afraid to tell them when they’re wrong, and motivate them, and he’s gonna be supportive of them both on and off the field.” Though most believe he’s bound to become a head coach someday, for now, Finley’s looking to leave his mark at Oklahoma. He’ll foster great rapport with his tight ends and special teams, and he’ll do it — just like he wears his beard — naturally. In fact, he’s already gotten a head start. Less than 15 minutes after Riley’s hiring of Finley was announced on Twitter, Stogner responded, welcoming his new coach and saying “Let’s go to work!” Finley’s response was an excited “Let’s play!!!” Finley already made his first recruiting moves in his new job on Monday, too. Initially, he offered 2022 tight end Oscar Delp, a four-star prospect out of Georgia. Then he displayed his range, extending an invitation to 2022 three-star New England tight end Kaden Helms. Finally, his third offer of the day went to 2022 four-star prospect Jaleel Skinner in South Carolina. Beamer was near to the hearts of his H-backs. Yet, the transition to Finley should be smooth and effortless for coach and players alike. He’ll help Oklahoma’s tight ends become better players and men, and as Beamer was, he’ll be their coach and their friend. “You’re going to feel comfortable with Joe Jon very quickly,” Culkin said. “I know people that will go their whole career having resentment and hating their coach. But I would bet to say that any player that has played for Joe Jon, that never even stepped foot on the field because he wasn’t good enough, probably has a ton of respect and comfortability with Joe Jon. “Look at his track record. It’s hard as a kid to not deny that, because there’s gonna be a lot of coaches that maybe aren’t trustworthy and are saying those things, but they can’t back it up. J o e J o n ’s gonna be who he is and he’s gonna make you your best.”
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY ALAYNA WELDON/THE DAILY
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