Mason, OKC Teen Highlight Inspiring Night

Thunder swingman Desmond Mason joins Lauren Edwards Morrison for a post-event photo. Edwards Morrison received the Boys & Girls Club's Youth of the Year award.
The trip was supposed to be brief.

Say hello to the kids. Answer a few questions about basketball. Pose for pictures and sign autographs. That’s all.

But Desmond Mason’s visit to a local Boys & Girls Club a few days ago turned into something more than that. Much more. It lasted close to an hour. Mason’s wife eventually text messaged him to see where he was. Mason was fine. He was taken aback to his childhood in Waxahachie, Texas, where he had to overcome one obstacle and temptation after another just to stay the course.

Now, Mason could actually grasp the impact a Boys & Girls Club could have on a child.

“Those kids took me back to times where I didn’t have that kind of leadership on a regular basis,” Mason admitted.

Mason was telling this to a few hundred or so people who had gathered for the club’s Champions of Youth Gala at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, where he served as the keynote speaker while Thunder color analyst Grant Long was the event’s emcee.

Mason, dressed in a sharp black suit and black tie, spent six minutes or so lamenting on that visit and parlaying his story of survival, one that had him grow up with a father who was jailed for selling crack cocaine and with two siblings he helped raise while his mother worked two jobs while dabbling in the drugs her husband pushed.

Mason had his share of hardships.

There was his freshman year of high school, when he was kicked off the basketball team for poor grades. There was the time when he was 15 years old and got in a fight with the wrong person.

“He told me the next time he saw me,” Mason said, “he would kill me.”

And there was the ensuing year he spent living with a friend, away from family and friends, just for safety measures.

No, Mason didn’t have a Boys & Girls Club to fall back on. But he did have positive influences.

“I had good people who kept me in place, put me in a situation where I would thrive, where I would develop, where I would have an opportunity to get out of that neighborhood and never go back, never have to deal with some of the things I would deal with as a youngster,” Mason said. “So, the way my story relates to some of the kids today is at the Boys & Girls Club there’s a lot of kids going through a lot of things that most of us wouldn’t dream of going through as an adult, let alone an 8-year-old, a 9-year-old, up until their teens.”

Like Mason, the more than 4,100 members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County have their own stories, some like his, but all unique in their own ways.

Lauren Edwards Morrison, a senior at Douglass High School, had an inspiring story.

A few minutes into the gala, in a ballroom with walls covered in country western murals and lined with tables holding auction items, the soft-spoken, brown-eyed Morrison took the stage to receive the Youth of the Year award, which honored her for her “excellence, character and leadership and outstanding service to the community and the Club.”

As Doug Gibson, executive director for the Boys & Girls Club of Oklahoma County, put it, Morrison had a “beautiful story,” and in more ways than one.

Morrison has been a member of the Memorial Park Boys & Girls Club for six years. In that time, she’s become a sign language interpreter for her club; she even signed her opening remarks.

Morrison spoke about the challenges she’s overcome in her short life.

Morrison, for one, was born with cerebral palsy as a child. Doctors repeatedly told her mother Morrison would never be able to walk and would have a speech impediment.

But there she was on Thursday, walking up the stage under her own strength, telling her story clearly into a microphone. Morrison has come so far that she’s a national and state champion in Taekwondo.

“My mother was the rock of the family,” Morrison said. “She took the never-give-up approach. With her love and her support, she spent countless hours teaching me how to speak and to walk. I’ve defied the odds and persevered.”

Defying odds and persevering – it’s only a fraction of what the Boys & Girls Club has done for Morrison and continues to do for thousands of others. Speaking to her peers and elders, Morrison used the words “patience” and “commitment” when describing how her fellow youth can overcome obstacles.

Mason, 31, spoke directly to the parents, volunteers and sponsors with his closing remarks.

“I think everybody in this room is playing a part in continuing to help the next generation,” he said. “The best investment that you can possibly make, even in these tough economic times, is to help the next generation. It’s an investment to the kids … Whether it be time, finances, somebody to talk to, I think it’s a powerful thing.”

Contact Chris Silva