BY GINNIE GRAHAM
World Staff Writer
Veteran NBA player Etan Thomas wants the country to deal with its daddy issues.
The former Booker T. Washington High School and Syracuse University defensive standout has moved from the paint into social activism, placing fatherhood at the center.
Thomas wrote a book on the topic featuring celebrity interviews, and he participates in panel discussions across the U.S. examining fatherhood.
“Guys don’t talk about this stuff at all,” he said. “Boys don’t talk about their feelings. There is this macho wall that gets put up.
“But when boys see somebody they look at and admire talk about the issues they are having, they can relate to it and it resonates. These panel discussions can get deep when men open up.”
Tulsa is hosting the first such panel at the MVP Fatherhood Weekend at noon April 6 a the Metropolitan Baptist Church, 1228 W. Apache St.
Be anything: The city needs this conversation.
Tulsa County has the state’s sixth-highest percentage of single-parent families at 31 percent of households, according to the census.
Statewide, about 28 percent of families are led by a single parent, with that ramping up to nearly 40 percent in some rural areas.
Add to that high rates of poverty, addiction, teen pregnancy and incarceration.
The state has a unit dedicated to finding deadbeat parents, and the courthouses are filled with parents under orders to pay support.
Sadly, most of those parents are men.
All this takes a toll on kids.
“There are concerns with young kids having kids early. Other kids may have anger because there is no connection with their father, and they don’t know what to do with that,” Thomas said.
“So, you have kids turning to gangs or destructive paths. Or, maybe they take in the negative influences in music or television. Other ones may get discouraged by the negative statistics on what they could achieve.”
Thomas can rattle off those stats quickly.
“I want kids to know you can be anything you want no matter where you come from,” he said. “If you come from a single household or what people call a broken home, you hear how life is over. It doesn’t have to be that way.
“You have all these people and kids in this situation. You can’t preach negativity to them. There are a lot of examples to show how people have overcome those challenges.”
Thomas is one of these stories.
Learning curve: Raised by a single mother in Tulsa, he grew into an outstanding center that led him to a business management degree from Syracuse University and an 11-year NBA career.
It took his mom and community mentors to get him there.
Thomas remembers details of a talk Wayman Tisdale gave to his Carver Middle School class.
“My boys and I hung on every word he said,” Thomas said. “He spoke about going after our goals and dreams, working hard and not letting things keep you from those goals. I remember the whole thing.”
That’s why he brought a star-studded aspect to his book, “Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Journey,” which includes interviews with a diverse group such as Isaiah Washington, Howard Dean, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Taye Diggs and Tony Hawk.
“People of means also have challenges such as travel and being away from home,” he said. “Means isn’t what makes fatherhood easy or hard. That is what comes across in these discussions.”
Thomas is married, and the couple has three children.
Now off the court, his life is about social commentary, having released a book of poetry in 2005 and regularly blogging for the Huffington Post.
“The first thing I say is that I’m not an expert on fatherhood,” he said. “Every day is a learning process, finding something new. Every time we do this panel, I’m learning from different men.”
Pay the way: This discussion is part of a weekend event that includes a life skills seminar for about 100 pre-registered boys from the sixth to 12th grades and a Sunday worship service.
It’s offered by the MVP Foundation, created by attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons and his wife, Mia Fleming.
The foundation is a donor-advised fund with the Tulsa Community Foundation with the mission of helping at-risk, urban youth.
Solomon-Simmons is particularly bothered by the erosion of two parents in the homes of black families.
The census shows that 67 percent of black families in 1960 had two parents. By 2010, two-parent black families fell to 41 percent, with most headed solely by mothers.
For comparison, the 2010 census found two-parent households in 74 percent of white families, 66 percent of Hispanic families and 85 percent of Asian families.
“We need to make sure our young people grow up as tax-paying citizens of our community,” Solomon-Simmons said. “We need to do what we can to make sure they are supported and needs met. If not, we are going to pay one way or another. We can pay to educate or pay to incarcerate.
“It’s an easy decision.”
Original Print Headline: Tulsa to host MVP Fatherhood Weekend
MVP Fatherhood Weekend
When: Noon April 6
Where: Metropolitan Baptist Church, 1228 W. Apache St.
For more information, call 918-574-8765
Panelists: Veteran NBA player Etan Thomas, Mike Garrett (former athletic director at the University of Southern California, 1965 Heisman Trophy winner and current Langston University athletic director), Boyce Watkins (business professor at the University of Syracuse), Anthony Marshall (Booker T. Washington High School teacher), retired Tulsa police officer Marvin Blades Sr. and the Rev. M.C. Potter of Antioch Baptist Church.
When: 11 a.m. April 7
Where: Metropolitan Baptist Church, 1228 W. Apache St.