MVP Foundation Inspires, Empowers Black Men to Father Fatherless Boys

Source: GINNIE GRAHAM News Columnist/Tulsa World

Tulsa native Brian Woodard wants fatherhood taken seriously and joined a local movement to inspire that.

The 31-year-old, married father of three is giving his time to African-American boys living with single moms. This isn’t easy considering his children are 4, 2 and 6 months, and he works full time.

“I want to help out,” Woodard said. “There is not enough black males in leadership in north Tulsa. North Tulsa has been good for my family, and I want to give back.”

Woodard participates in the MVP Fatherhood Initiative launched by Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons about two years ago. It emphasizes responsibilities fathers have to their sons and provides mentor training and other support for inner-city youths.

The initiative has attracted hundreds of north Tulsa residents to workshops hosted by the MVP Fatherhood Foundation, including former NBA player Etan Thomas, who has made lessons about fatherhood a mission.

Woodard attended a two-day MVP Fatherhood workshop in April and signed up to be a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters. He expects a match in a few months.

“You don’t have to be an athlete, musician, actor or comedian to be successful,” Woodard said. “For a lot of young, black youth, that’s all they get from TV. That’s all they see.

“I saw my dad be an entrepreneur and start different businesses. So it’s important to give back and let kids know there are other options. You can grow up wanting to be something besides an NBA player.”

Sobering statistics

A lot of statistics back up why men need to get behind this initiative.

Statewide, about 28 percent of families are led by a single parent, with that ramping up to nearly 40 percent in some rural areas, according to the U.S. Census.

The poverty rate among children living with single mothers is 4.5 times higher than those in two-parent households, according to a study by the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

For black children in Tulsa, the poverty rate is nearly double at 52 percent compared to the state’s 24 percent, which is higher than the nation’s overall 15.9 percent poverty rate.

Leading to this issue are other Oklahoma social rankings of being No. 2 in teen pregnancy, No. 1 in female incarceration, No. 4 in male imprisonment and No. 2 in the prevalence of mental illness and serious mental illness.

The Brookings Institute found nine belts of extreme poverty in Tulsa County. One tract is bounded by Pine and Apache streets and Cincinnati and Greenwood avenues.

These are among the streets where Woodard wants to give black youths hope.

“A lot of my friends from north Tulsa who went to college did not come back,” he said. “They go to Houston or Dallas and feel like there are no opportunities here. Seeing that Damario stuck around and is trying to reverse that cycle, letting kids growing up here know they can stay and make a difference is something I want to be part of.”

‘A great mentor’

Woodard’s family spans several generations in north Tulsa, boasting many graduates of Booker T. Washington High School. Among them is his father, also a member of the school’s Hall of Fame.

He grew up in the Gilcrease Hills neighborhood, graduated from Cascia Hall Preparatory School and then earned an economics degree from the University of Oklahoma.

His father, pharmacist Bobby Woodard, and a physician partner founded the Westview Medical Clinic at 3606 Martin Luther King Blvd. in 1984. Now, Woodard and his brother manage the facility.

“I had a great mentor in my dad,” he said. “You notice the difference. I could lean on him for anything. Just learning to tie a tie, I could go ask him while some kids today watch a YouTube video. My dad was always mentoring kids growing up.”

His father employed neighborhood youths to work in the medical center.

“At least five or six of them went on to graduate from pharmacy school,” Woodard said. “I saw how big an effect my dad had on them. I always realized how blessed I was to have a father and have that big impact in my life.”

When Woodard and his wife went looking for pediatricians in north Tulsa, they were surprised to find none. This only motivated him.

“It was an ignored part of town as far as facilities and services provided,” he said. “Seeing how good north Tulsa has been to us, I want to stay there, grow the business and make sure options can be available. We want to stay and do our part.”

‘Have to do something’

The MVP Fatherhood Initiative is in partnership with Big Brothers

Big Sisters, which gave a status report on waiting lists at the April training.

“There were close to 100 kids who are black youth looking for Big Brothers,” he said. “There’s a lack of fatherhood in north Tulsa. Hearing that and knowing you are here, able-bodied and available to make a difference, you have to do something.”

While at OU, Woodard met his wife, who grew up with a single mother and was part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program as a child.

“My wife always talks about her Big Sister and still keeps in contact with her,” Woodard said. “She was a big impact on my wife growing up. I know through her what this means and from my dad the importance of having a father. It matters a great deal.”