Since he was kid, Dvondre Woodards has gone by another name, Pooka. Given to him by his grandmother, the name stuck with friends, family, and even teachers. It doesn’t have any meaning as far as 22-year-old Dvondre knows. “It’s just unique. So I’m making my own definition of it,” he said. And his definition? “A nice guy who likes to be laid back, chill, drink, have fun, do music, meet new people, and socialize. I like to learn new things, be open minded … A lot of things.”
A lot of things indeed. These days Woodards is so busy he even made a song called “Voicemail” about not having time to pick up the phone. Born and raised in Richmond, Dvondre says he had a rough upbringing with his mom addicted to drugs and his father in jail. One of his first memories was watching police arrest his dad at his grandmother’s home in North Richmond. “I was so young but I was just looking out the window, and you know when you’re a kid, you know when something is wrong,” he said. “When he was around I was always with him, but he made a mistake and that’s what caused him to be away from us for a while.”
As he grew into a teenager, Woodards lived a criminal life that seemed destined to end up with his father behind bars. But it didn’t happen. Instead of time, he got a promise. He went to a meeting where he listened to Dr. Joseph E. Marshall, co-founder of a youth development and violence prevention organization based in San Francisco called the Omega Boys Club. “He was talking to us and he was like, he can send us to college, and I was like, ‘I’m with it, if you serious, if you ain’t lying,'” Woodards said.
Woodards took Marshall up on his promise. He studied hard, got his GED, and is getting his prerequisites in math and English out of the way to pursue a career in radiology. “At first I thought he was lying, but he wasn’t. He stuck to his words so I gotta stick to mine. I gotta continue going to school,” Woodards said.
At the same time Woodards started with the Omega Boys Club, he also began working with Richmond’s Office of Neighborhood Safety—a violence prevention and intervention program. Through the Omega Boys Club and the ONS, Woodards has travelled across the country attending leadership summits and being a motivational speaker. On his first flight, he said, he remembers thinking, “Wow! I’m really on a plane right now. I wasn’t one of them kids growing up that took flights and had family in other states and went to go visit them there. I wasn’t that lucky, I didn’t have them opportunities. So I was just, like, excited.”
His hard work even earned him a trip to the State of the Union earlier this year. These experiences empowered Woodards and he says they gave him the confidence to leave his criminal ways behind. “That’s when I was just like, ‘Ok yeah. I’m somebody. I’m believing it and I’m gonna keep doing what I’m doing and make sure everybody know I’m somebody and I’m gonna be somebody,'” he said.
He weaves that theme into his music. Woodards used to rap about drugs and guns, but now he spits about transformation and positive change. “I’m for sure promoting that stay alive and free message,” he said. “That’s to whoever, and whoever don’t like it I can care less because ain’t nothing better than staying alive and free.”
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