By Steve Kaufman
Wanda Durant, mother of basketball star Kevin Durant, recently spoke about her journey as a single mother at Family Scholar House’s first-ever Celebration of Education Gala.
In May 2014, very few people watched Kevin Durant’s MVP-acceptance speech without tears in their eyes.
The NBA’s Most Valuable Player that year talked about his upbringing by a single mother, how they moved into a small furniture-less apartment and hugged because they finally had a place of their own, while his mother Wanda sat in the audience dabbing her eyes. Durant had tears in his eyes. I know of at least one TV viewer who teared up as well.
He called her “The Real MVP,” and the notion stuck. But why? Because Kevin was now a successful professional basketball player making $27 million a year? Because his older brother Tony graduated college and is now a successful entrepreneur?
Or maybe just because Wanda Durant—the single mother and daughter of a single mother—had understood the importance of instilling values and discipline in her children, and had walked the walk with demands, encouragement and involvement in her children’s lives.
There are many Wanda Durants—real MVPs—whose children do not have exorbitantly large Nike contracts. But they have stable lives, college degrees, careers, families and homes of their own. Perhaps they took that course in their lives only because their mothers did what was difficult—what Durant described as, “Instead of going to happy hour, I had to go to education tutorials and watch the movies my kids were interested in, to understand who they were and to encourage them to be the people they could be.”
Durant said this before 500 people at the Family Scholar House’s first-time gala fundraiser in the Downtown Marriott Thursday night, and murmurs of recognition from the audience made clear she had struck a chord. Nearly all of the residents of Family Scholar House had been homeless, many of them single parents who were given a home purely on the condition that they enrolled in school, made their grades and followed through to graduation.
Some are becoming attorneys and physicians, but some are simply starting their careers with college diplomas and with the opportunity to make more of their lives than they once thought they could.
As she told her story—including the unwelcome declaration from her own mother (another unsung MVP) that “in six months, you’re gonna move out of here and into a place of your own!”—she honored Family Scholar House for, “doing what you do. As a young mother,” Durant shared, “sometimes you don’t know where to go. You don’t know how to change the trajectory of your life. You don’t know how to make the change sometimes. That’s what’s important about organizations such as this, to help us think in a different way. So thank you, and I applaud you all today.”
The ceremony honored 10 recently fulfilled Family Scholar House residents, whose stories have been chronicled in the book “Stories That Define Us” by Pam Platt. Each woman—Noura, Courtney, Maria, Janine, CayWanta and the rest-—was discussed in the book with a special characteristic for her journey: courage, community, commitment, achievement, work, resilience and more.
In these women’s families, in which they’ve not only charted a new course for themselves but given security, pride and understanding to their children, they are, as Kevin Durant emotionally taught us, the “real MVPs.” VT