La Verio Barnes still carries memories of waking up early in the morning to help his grandmother feed the needy in his Northern California hometown.
“I remember loading up four different cars just to get everything there,” said Barnes, an Atlanta DJ and musician whose friends call him “LV.”
Mother Mary Ann Wright had a vision one night in 1980. She told her family that God woke her up in the middle of the night and instructed her to feed the hungry, and that’s what she did.
At first, it was through the help of friends and family members, along with her own Social Security check. Later the charity grew to the point where it developed corporate partnerships with brands like the Clorox Co. and even the Oakland Raiders.
“She was known as the Mother Teresa of Northern California,” Barnes said.
Though Wright passed away in 2009, the Mary Ann Wright Foundation still feeds up to 450 people per day in the Oakland area. While his grandmother’s influence was undeniable, it wasn’t until after the birth of Barnes’ son, who’s now 8, that he found his own charitable calling, an organization called Cool Dads Rock.
Barnes’ path took him in other directions before he put together a community of fathers who take pride in being involved in their children’s lives. Barnes played junior college football, then transferred to play at Clark Atlanta University in 1993 and eventually earned a few tryouts for NFL and CFL teams, though he wasn’t able to break into professional football.
Barnes became a full-time Atlanta resident. From there, a music hobby honed in his middle school and high school bands became a successful career. He grew into a figure on Atlanta’s music scene, performing as a DJ with artists including Robin Thicke, Ne-Yo, Usher, A Tribe Called Quest and Sting. Corporate gigs ranged from Turner Broadcasting to Coca-Cola and the NBA all-star weekend.
Mother Wright was always there in memory in spirit, but it took the birth of Barnes’ son, Anderson, to give meaning to a quest of his own.
Anderson Barnes became a staple at events attended by his father. His car seat could be seen in the studio and on the road, and his pictures filled Barnes’ social media accounts. Friends noticed and told Barnes he was an inspiration, but to him, it only seemed natural to bring his son along.
Like many 21st-century organizations, Cool Dads Rock began life as a hashtag. Barnes sent encouragement to a fellow father on Facebook, punctuating the message with #CoolDadsRock. After thinking it over, he transformed it into a social media page and then a full 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Curtis Mast, owner of Atlanta’s United Tae Kwon Do in Decatur, got involved in Cool Dads Rock through his business. Anderson Barnes trains at Atlanta’s United, and he and LV became friends.
“LV introduced me to the organization and asked me to be a part of it,” Mast said. “I like the message. I have so much respect for LV, and it was an easy decision for me to become a part of Cool Dads Rock.”
Today, Cool Dads Rock is a community of fathers celebrating the importance and influence of dads in their children’s lives. Officially founded in 2013, Cool Dads Rock hosts an annual soap box derby and a Thanksgiving Day event to feed the hungry at Hurt Park in Atlanta, just as Barnes’ grandmother did decades ago. Also as with his grandmother, corporate sponsors are stepping up to help, with Chick-fil-A donating items for the most recent Thanksgiving event.
Mast attended the Cool Dads Rock Thanksgiving event last year with his three children, 15-year-olds Ethan and Elias and 11-year-old Evan, and said it had a tremendously positive impact on his kids.
“I like the message that the group sends about fatherhood and the importance of fatherhood in a child’s life,” he said. “Anything you can do with your kids to expose them to the world and to helping people is a good thing.”
There is no qualification to participate in Cool Dads Rock besides being a father. Single dads and married dads alike are welcome. Barnes, who is divorced, picks his son up from school, and Anderson spends half the week with him.
His son describes him as someone who is always trying to help.
“He’s a person that goes around and helps people that don’t have homes or food,” Anderson Barnes said. “He’s a leader in most ways. He gets people to do the things he does and helps bond people with their children.”
Anderson’s favorite activities with his dad include bowling, going to movies and of course attending Cool Dads Rock events.
“It’s cool because my dad does a lot of fun stuff and does things that are really cool,” Anderson said. “You’re spending time with your son or daughter if you’re a dad, but you’re having fun at the same time.”
Barnes never enjoyed a relationship with his own father, meeting him only twice in his lifetime. It was an experience he vowed never to repeat with his own children.
CoolDadsRock.com features clips of fathers from across the country saying what cool dads do. Answers range from shopping for prom shoes with your daughter to hunting for Easter eggs, running, shooting videos, changing diapers, watching TV, painting and coaching baseball.
The charity’s slogan is simple: We make uncool dads cool, and cool dads even cooler. The wider mission is to encourage and build relationships between dads and their children and to strengthen relationships by creating environments where fathers and their children can bond through educational and entertaining events.
“The misconception about dads is that we’re not involved,” Barnes said. “For a long time, whenever you heard ‘dad’ or ‘father,’ the word ‘deadbeat’ or ‘absentee’ was attached to it. That’s still the case sometimes, but not nearly as much as people think.”
There are fathers-only events as well. Barnes is planning Dads, Donuts and Dialogue as a kind of men’s group where dads can meet, congregate and talk about fatherhood. Younger fathers will be able to consult with and gain advice from older fathers on how to interact with and teach their kids.
“My mom did the best job she could do teaching me about manners and how to act like a gentleman, but there are certain things she couldn’t teach me as far as being a man,” Barnes said. “I learned some great examples through my uncles about what men should do and how men should act. I see it as an advantage that I can help teach that to my son.”