Thunder center brightens the day for homeless children

Byron Mullens, Rumble visit students of Positive Tomorrows

Byron Mullens did his best to accommodate the pint-sized autograph seekers. In a classroom adorned by balloons and multicolored confetti, the Thunder center signed posters and chatted with the students of Positive Tomorrows, a private elementary school in Oklahoma City for homeless children.

A back-to-school celebration, the event featured Mullens and the indefatigable Rumble the Bison. There was cake. There was punch. And there was a 7-foot NBA player who knew all too well the unique challenges facing these kids.

“It reminds me of myself when I was 12- and 13-years-old and in a homeless shelter in Columbus, Ohio -- of where I was and how I had to get to this point,” said Mullens.

The 21-year-old, who spent much of his childhood shuffling through shelters and foster care, said he wants to do what he can to impact the Positive Tomorrows students.

“I came through the same place that they’re going through right now,” he said.

“When I was younger, I never thought, ‘Well, when I’m 21 I’ll be in the NBA.’ My next step was … how I’m going to get to the next day. These kids need to see that, and they need a positive role model in their life, and I hope to be able to do that.”

And he is doing just that. Positive Tomorrows Development Director April Doshier said a visit from someone of Mullens’ stature, figurative and literal, can have a real and enduring influence on these young people.

“These children get so little opportunity to see people who have been extremely successful, especially someone who’s come from their background and been in a very similar position to them,” Doshier said.

“These are the experiences that make lifelong changes for these children, that one moment in time where they thought, ‘I could be somebody, too.’ And then they try a little harder in school and they try a little harder to make friends and they believe in themselves.”

Mullens capped his visit -- his second to Positive Tomorrows -- by signing posters for the children. Among the recipients was a blonde girl wearing a light purple “Princess and the Frog” T-shirt. The girl, who appeared to be about 7, nearly swooned. “He signed it!” she squealed, clutching the treasure to her chest.

“It’s fun,” Mullens said later. “And it’s nice to see a smile on their faces, because they don’t get to have that many.”