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Power to the Pages

Tulsa Pop Kids works with the pop culture enthusiast communities in Green Country to promote literacy through raising funds and awareness. And the organization has big plans for making it all happen.

Rob Harmon
Marc Rains
October 28, 2018

Tulsa Pop Kids has a clear objective: to educate children through the arts and entertainment world of pop culture. With that solely in mind, the organization works with the pop culture enthusiast communities in Green Country to promote literacy through raising funds and awareness. And T-Pop Kids has big plans for making it all happen. For example, since its inception in 2017, it has donated thousands of comics to schools through book drives and individual donations. Other events, such as multiple visits to children in hospitals throughout the year, exciting movie premiere fundraisers, comic book giveaways, the Tulsa Pop Culture Expo (the second annual expo is this month, Nov. 2-4) and local scholarships have brought scores of pop culture lovers together to volunteer for the common cause of changing the lives of children in northeast Oklahoma.

Perhaps the most enthusiastic volunteer of Tulsa Pop Kids is one of its co-founders, Arthur Greeno, who as a child experienced his own challenges in education. “When I was growing up, my family life wasn’t great. My mom was an alcoholic, my dad moved from job to job, and by the time I made it to 10th grade at Union, I had been through nine different school systems,” he recalls. “So, I was horrible at school, mainly because I had a horrible home life.”

Throughout all those turbulent years, Greeno says he was always more likely to pick up a comic book over a text book. Fast forward a few decades, and Greeno and his pop culture brigade — many of whom are successful entrepreneurs, artists, restaurant owners and long-standing pillars in the community — have come together to pass along that same love of comics to the next generation of children in the Tulsa area.

T-Pop’s annual convention, Tulsa Pop Culture Expo, brings in Christopher James Priest this year, famed Black Panther series creator, precursor to the 2018 movie of the same name, to not only be a part of the Expo, but also to visit north Tulsa’s Monroe Demonstration Academy to pass out Black Panther comics and encourage the students through his art and life. Through T-Pop Kids’ influence and a relationship built with Marvel Comics, every student will receive a comic and a ticket to visit the Expo.

Another passionate volunteer of Tulsa Pop Kids, Emilee Waite, a veteran in the fashion industry as well as event-planning, says that once people see what the organization does, they become huge champions of the cause of encouraging children to read. “People have come out of nowhere to help us with our comic book drive. People have given us their entire collections after seeing that we’re constantly out making a difference and it’s been such an overwhelming response.”

Waite also says that in spite of a certain stigma comics have had in regards to hurting children’s reading ability, the opposite, in fact, is true. Over a decade of recent research shows that comics and graphic novels are a great way to reach reluctant readers. Tufts University studies as well as other studies developed at Rice, Harvard, and Ohio State University all suggest that the comic book and graphic novel formats of literature are very useful for teaching new readers.

Greeno says that through the organization’s hard work to promote literacy through comics and after doing their own research, they’ve found that most comics are written at college-level reading, which gives young readers who access comics an advantage over other children who don’t pick up a comic over the summer. “If you think about it, they don’t have Spider-Man for second grade through sixth grade and then another issue for sixth through 12th. It’s all basically adult-level writing.”

“Children look at pictures and are able to figure things out better,” says Waite. “That’s what you get in comics. Children use their imagination and learn quicker.”

Another natural byproduct of the efforts Tulsa Pop Kids has made in northeast Oklahoma, says Waite, is the internal changes made in the lives of many of its cosplaying volunteers. “We have a lot of volunteers,” says Waite, “who probably wouldn’t have come out of the house, or the bedroom, or whatever. Now they have a family, a safe place to be themselves and serve the community at the same time. When we’re passing out comics and kids see their favorite superhero, they don’t know that it’s not that person [but, in fact a cosplayer]. They think it’s real, and it’s huge to these kids.” The volunteers get great personal satisfaction from serving the kids, says Waite, and it allows people a first-hand way to change a child’s life forever.

In addition to making a huge impact on literacy in schools and communities, the cosplaying volunteers of T-Pop visit hospitals at least once a month. “These children who are sick in the hospital, really fighting, battling illnesses,” says Waite, “when we visit them, dressed in our superhero costumes, it tends to give them a break from their everyday worries and life in the hospital.”

After making such an impact on Tulsa’s kids through literacy advocacy, and a monthly effort to visit children’s hospitals, the organization is now setting its sights on arts and entertainment scholarships and grants to the younger volunteers among its ranks. “We want to eventually support kids who want to draw comic books,” says Greeno. “If we can do this right, T-Pop Kids will eventually do things like provide scholarships to kids who want to shoot the next comic book movie or, on that note, music for the comic book movie. What if we can connect them to the school and the financial resources that will make that happen?”