BY JULIE RAINS | TULSA PEOPLE
On a fall morning, a group of African-American men and adolescent boys gather in and around the Cox Business Center in downtown Tulsa and begin shouting.
The sounds are audible from blocks away. Patrons at the DoubleTree Hotel across the street gather outside to witness the ruckus.
The closer you get, the clearer their words become: “All in,” shouts one man in a black tracksuit and white baseball hat. “For young men” comes the resounding response from 70 men waiting inside the building.
Outside, the eighth-grade boys stand with looks of surprise. As they enter the building, the men surround them, holding signs that read, “Your life matters” and “We love you,” and giving pats on the back.
Then, the boys proceed through the line and begin the registration process for the fourth annual MVP Foundation Manhood Summit, the legacy of Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, TulsaPeople’s 2017 Tulsan of the Year.
Filling a void
If you ask anyone who knows him to describe Solomon-Simmons, they will undoubtedly use one word: passionate. He even uses it to describe himself. He is “passionately in love with his high school sweetheart” and now wife, Mia Fleming. He is passionate about law, justice and history. He is passionate about sports. He is passionate about the north Tulsa neighborhood he grew up in and the families who live there and on the entire northside.
But for all that passion, Solomon-Simmons also is remarkably likable.
He takes his hat off to pray silently over his food and has a strong handshake. In the course of a casual conversation, he smiles easily and often, revealing straight, white teeth that he attributes to his mother’s dogged determination to ensure her son had all he needed, including braces. This also was an era “when it was noble for government to invest in poor people,” he says.
He has a self-deprecating sense of humor most noticeable when he talks about his high school GPA. However, he still feels the most at ease in a three-piece suit. He has the ability to make the person he is talking to feel comfortable and heard, but he also can command the attention of a room full of 70 eighth-graders with cell phones or make an argument to a jury in a courtroom.
But Solomon-Simmons’ infectious smile fades when talking about the challenges facing African-American youth. “I’m concerned for black boys,” he says. “Unfortunately, dysfunction is the norm for most families in America. When you add in rampant poverty, racism and injustice, you get what you get.”
The added impact of absentee fathers creates another pain that Solomon-Simmons is all too familiar with. “There’s a void,” he says, “It’s real, and it’s painful.”
And so, in typical passionate fashion, Solomon-Simmons set out to do something about it.Read The Full Story