By: Ashley Strehl - Managing Editor of Digital and Print Publications
While driving down NE 23rd street in Oklahoma City, one may not notice tall buildings, malls, or event centers. However, the community is rich in one specific piece of African American History.
Located on Coltrane Rd, across from the community of Forest Park, stands Skyview Nursing Center, built, and founded by Oklahoma historical figure, Viola Watkins Stephens. At its opening on July 23, 1970, Watkins Skyview Nursing Home was the largest African American business owned by a woman in Oklahoma. “Unless they were staying with their families, there were no real nursing centers for African American citizens to go in to, but she provided that,” Stephens’s granddaughter, Brenda Burden, said in a blog by Voyage Long Term Care.
In 1998, the long-term care community respectfully changed the name to Skyview Nursing Center, after Stephens’s only son, Robert Lynch, passed. The family chose to and lease the building until 2019, when Voyage Long Term Care took over operations. Executives at the long-term care management company wanted to celebrate Black History Month 2022 with the skilled nursing community of Skyview in a significant way, given its deep historical roots.
Voyage Long Term Care invited Representative, Attorney, and Oklahoma Black Caucus Chair, Jason Lowe, and family of its founder, Stephens, to Skyview Nursing Center for a Black History Month celebration on Tuesday, February 22. Lowe spoke to the guests, residents, and team members of Skyview Nursing Center about what role the Legislative Black Caucus plays in the state of Oklahoma, his role as chair of the Black Caucus, and upcoming goals for him and the caucus.
Lowe said that one of his main focuses and objectives as chair of the Black Caucus is providing a “second chance” for young people who commit non-violent offenses. “One of my main objectives is rehabilitation, instead of incarceration,” Lowe said. “Why spend 18 to 20 thousand dollars a year housing an 18-year-old, when you can make sure they have an education, a job, and a role in their community?”
The Black Caucus chair also stated that even if the caucus has only seven members, he believes they are still a major asset to the state. “We are a small caucus, but we are also a loud caucus,” Lowe said. “We are for equality, equity, education, and healthcare access. We are for the state of Oklahoma. We want everyone to progress. I think it is important for us to come to events like this one, so that you can see that we work for you."
Lowe also explained that the Black Caucus’ role is also not only to educate African American History in the state of Oklahoma but preserve it as well. “Black history is every day, not just one month,” Lowe said. “Unfortunately, our history is graphic, but I still think we live in the best country on this planet. I think we should recognize and honor all history, Jewish history, Native American History, and African America History, to avoid those tragic events from happening again, and the way to do that is to teach history.”
After Lowe spoke, an honorary framed picture and description of Viola Watkins Stephens reading, “On July 23rd, 1970, Viola Watkins Stephens opened Watkins Skyview Nursing Home at 2200 N Coltrane Rd. In the beginning, the 13,644 sq. ft. building had 68 beds and was the largest African American business owned by a woman in Oklahoma. Her legacy has been continued by her son, Robert Lynch, his wife Betty, her four grandchildren, Phyllis Lynch Chambers, Brenda Burden, Irish Lynch, and Terry Lynch, as well as her 11 great grandchildren.” The 11x14 frame was hung on the back wall of the visiting room by one of Stephens’ great grandsons, Stewart Woods Jr.
Burden expressed her family's gratitude towards the long-term care community for hosting the event, saying that it brings them peace to know that her grandmother’s values and traditions are kept alive. “We see that the residents here are happy and healthy, and that means the world to us,” Burden said.