What started out as football academies in north Tulsa seven years ago has become an all-day, hands-on event about the meaning of being a man and father.
The MVP Foundation’s Manhood Summit will be held from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday with sessions at the Cox Business Center and culminating at the BOK Center with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s preseason game against Memphis. The summit will feature workshops on everyday gestures like giving a proper handshake and tying a tie, to bigger issues like handling interactions with police officers.
The foundation was created by attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons with his wife, Mia Fleming, to support programs benefiting inner-city youth with an emphasis on African-American boys growing up in homes without male figures.
The first summit, themed on fatherhood, was held four years ago in a church. About 550 people packed into the building for that summit, and the event has expanded each year.
Solomon-Simmons said the annual summits started after he learned about the career plans of youths in north Tulsa neighborhoods.
“I was frustrated after hearing so many times, particularly from young black boys, that their goals were to go to the NFL or NBA. There is nothing wrong with that. But that’s a plan B, and you need a plan A,” Solomon-Simmons said.
“My wife pointed out that while I was saying that, we were holding football academies. We were focusing on athletics. My wife made a light bulb go off for me, and I knew we needed to shift the focus.”
Etan Thomas — NBA veteran, Syracuse University standout and Booker T. Washington High School graduate — has written books and spoken publicly about the fatherhood movement. He has been part of each summit and will be giving a workshop called “Control Your Destiny.”
Other sessions will include how to fix household items, lessons in CPR and an overview on managing money.
Boys participating will come from the eighth-grade classes at the KIPP Preparatory School, Monroe Middle School and McLain Junior High. About 25 high school students who are alumni of the summits will be serving as junior mentors, and more than 75 north Tulsa leaders will be volunteering as mentors.
“It’s going to be a beautiful thing — 150 to 200 black men between the ages of 13 and 75 will be coming together,” Solomon-Simmons said.
Each year, a session is held with black Tulsa Police officers. It includes a 10-point list with tips such as keeping hands up and visible, asking before moving and not raising your voice.
This year, that program will include a discussion led by David Miller, founder of the Urban Leadership Institute, about the Sept. 16 fatal shooting death of Terence Crutcher by Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby, who has been charged with manslaughter. Crutcher was unarmed.
Solomon-Simmons, who is part of the legal team representing the Crutcher family, said the death has caused unease, fear and anger among black Tulsa youth, who view the shooting as unjust. He said the discussion will seek to go beyond the incident and instill a sense of a higher purpose in their lives. Black Tulsa Police officers will again be addressing the participants.
“We are still going to equip them with what they need to know,” Solomon-Simmons said. “It is important our youth know they can make a positive impact on their families, a positive impact in their communities and can be a change agent for the greater good.”
Sponsors include the Metropolitan Baptist Church, George Kaiser Family Foundation, Home Depot, Arvest Bank, Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Greenwood Healthcare Specialist for Women, Coalition of Black Firefighters and WPX Energy.