Ginnie Graham: MVP: Fatherhood Weekend highlights men as parents, mentors

By GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer | 1 comment

Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised anyone when more than 550 people packed into a church last year to talk about fatherhood and single parents.

After all, about 40 percent of births in Oklahoma are to unmarried mothers.

Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised anyone when more than 550 people packed into a church last year to talk about fatherhood and single parents.

After all, about 40 percent of births in Oklahoma are to unmarried mothers.

That inaugural MVP: Fatherhood Weekend was to serve two goals: Get more men involved in the lives of their children and train more men as mentors, said founder Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons.

The service capped a weekend filled with honest discussions about children and absent fathers.

Featured was Etan Thomas —— NBA veteran, Booker T. Washington High School graduate and Syracuse University defensive standout —— who has written books and speaks on this subject, but it also attracted a large number Tulsa leaders.

“It exceeded my expectations,” Solomon-Simmons said. “We had more than 200 black men show up to participate as mentors and stayed the whole day on Saturday. We had more professional black men in one place than I had seen in Tulsa. The energy was unbelievable. We want to build upon that and keep the momentum going.”

This weekend continues the work in the second MVP: Fatherhood Weekend, which added a couple of new components.

More than 50 mentors will be trained then paired with a child on the Big Brothers Big Sisters waiting list. Also, a session will be available for single mothers.

“We want to move from talk on one day to sustainable action year-round,” Solomon-Simmons said.

First-hand knowledge: Growing up a child of a single parent presents challenges, and a census report released last May found several social disadvantages.

Parents having children outside marriage are generally younger, have less education and have lower incomes. Children are more likely to live in poverty and have poor developmental outcomes.

But that’s a broad brush and not the experience of a lot of families.

The statistics should not be used to castigate single parents but should show its unique obstacles.

“I was raised by a single mom and she did a fantastic job,” Solomon-Simmons said. “I was fortunate there were a lot of men in my life my mom could point to or send me to, but a lot of women don’t have that.”

Oklahoma faces some social problems we can no longer afford to ignore: No. 1 in female incarceration, No. 4 in male incarceration, No. 4 in teen pregnancy and No. 49 in education funding.

“I want to see our African-American boys reading and graduating at the same level as everyone in Tulsa and to understand academic excellence and life skills are much more important than athletic achievement and rapping,” said Solomon-Simmons.

“I want to see more men step up to be leaders in their homes and communities, have more respect for women and be more visible and successful.”

Time to step up: This doesn’t always mean marriage, said David Miller, founder of the Urban Leadership Institute and scheduled guest speaker. Thomas also will be returning to lead a session.

“Even though mom and dad are no longer together, how can you co-parent?” Miller said. “You may not be romantically involved, but the two of you produced a child. A child needs both parents to have an increased likelihood for academic and social success.

“A lot of men have grown up in a cycle without mom and dad on the same page. When you look at the divorce rate and value-system change, you see a lot of men who grew up without a relationship with their fathers.”

This is why events like MVP: Fatherhood Weekend are important. It gives men confidence to be mentors.

“I’ll meet men in their 40s in corporate America who never met their biological father, … ” Miller said. “We are asking fatherless, adult men to mentor boys in their same situation. … There is a struggle being part of the absent daddy club.”

Forgiveness and responsibility: A breakfast for single moms will feature counselors and pediatricians for health questions and a family-law attorney for financial issues. Sometimes, money becomes a wedge.

Miller said to deal with child-support disagreements directly and an open mind.

“While you need that money and you are owed that money, the most important thing in the relationship is to move forward … ,” he said. “The central issue has to be forgiveness and redemption. And for dad, that means being willing to make a change and show consistency.

“That is the painstaking, day-to-day work to repair a family. You may not think it’s fair. But you have a child and you have to pay child support.”

The Tulsa fatherhood event hit on something, and the public clearly wants this discussion.

“We need to talk to sons about what it means to be a father and what it means to be a man,” he said. “The first rule of manhood is responsibility. We need to put that into young men at an early age.”

MVP Fatherhood Weekend

Black Male Mentoring Summit: 6:30-9 p.m. Friday, featuring David Miller of the Urban Leadership Institute. Space is limited. Registration required.

Parent Breakfast: 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, hosted by Tulsa journalist Mia Fleming. Open to all single mothers.

Fatherhood Summit: 1:30-3:30 p.m. Saturday, featuring former NBA player Etan Thomas.

Fatherhood Church Service: 11 a.m. Sunday, featuring Dr. Boyce Watkins, finance professor at Syracuse University and the founder of the Your Black World Coalition.

The sessions are free and held at the Metropolitan Baptist Church, 1228 W. Apache St. For more information, email or call 918-810-7253.