Source: Kendrick Marshall/Tulsa World
Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons still can remember looking to the bleachers during sporting events as a young athlete and his father being nowhere in sight.
He wasn’t there when Solomon-Simmons starred in high school. The man who helped bring him into the world wasn’t even there when he earned football honors at the University of Oklahoma.
It was the feeling of abandonment that made Solomon-Simmons vow to reach out to young black males who desire male guidance.
It’s a cause he, and other mentors like him, value even more during Black History Month.
“I grew up without a father,” Solomon-Simmons said. “I wanted that interaction with my father, because I saw how powerful having that male influence was.
“I said when I got the opportunity I would give back and provide that love for those young men.”
While at OU, he started a mentoring group made up of black male athletes.
Since then, Solomon-Simmons has been involved with or spearheaded outreach initiatives customized for black youths in Tulsa, such as the annual MVP Fatherhood weekend each May that emphasizes responsibilities fathers have to their sons and provides support for kids trying to find their way.
“African-American young men are having the toughest time in America,” Solomon-Simmons said, citing high incarceration rates, and wealth and employment gaps that disproportionately affect the demographic. “We have an obligation as black men to marshal other resources to help them. If not us, then who?”
One of those young people who has benefited from being part of a mentoring program is Darrell Mercer, a student at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa. He has been lucky enough to be guided by a mentor for the last few years.
“It’s been fulfilling,” Mercer said. “I wanted a mentor because there is just so much I can do myself.”
Now a graduate student, Mercer has forwarded the life lessons he has learned to young men he currently mentors at KIPP Tulsa College Preparatory school. KIPP stands for Knowledge Is Power Program.
“Having a mentor pushes you along,” he said. “It advances your trajectory. It’s like an extended parent.”
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