Anthony Barr stood just out of view, waiting to hear his name called.
A familiar surge of adrenaline piqued his nerves as the music's volume increased.
This time, though, Anthony wasn't in the tunnel of U.S. Bank Stadium or wearing his Vikings 55 jersey.
The Vikings linebacker instead capped off a unique fashion show, entering a room of much fewer than 66,000 but still to a barrage of applause, hoots and hollers as he strutted his way down the runway in a pair of Chicago Off-White Jordan 1s.
The models who walked the runway before him had been regal, stoic; they maintained high-gloss, straight-faced expressions that matched evening gowns and Haute Couture sweatsuits. Anthony's entrance may have been a little less orthodox – complete with finger guns, a smooth spin and bright smile – but it brought the top reaction. He was, of course, the star of the show at Thursday's Raise the Barr Fashion and Football fundraiser, Under Review.
Vikings LB Anthony Barr hosted a fashion and football event for his foundation, Raise the Barr, to support single parents continuing their education.
As Anthony reached one end of the room, he was joined by a trio of special runway guests: three young girls (all daughters of Raise the Barr scholarship recipients) slipped their hands into Anthony's, and all four beamed as they finished the walk.
"I was really nervous, honestly," Anthony later said from The Dayton Project's Summer Terrace that overlooks downtown Minneapolis. "I play a football game in front of 60,000, it's kind of easy. But walking around 200 people, close friends, I was kind of nervous. But I think I did a good job.
"The kids stole the show, obviously. I was just a part of the ride," Anthony added with a smile. "We were just trying to highlight the families and show their success stories. It's been a fun time."
The Under Review fashion show kicked off the evening's program, auction and wine-and-whiskey tasting that also was live-streamed for online viewing. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced Raise the Barr's 2020 fundraiser to be fully virtual, Anthony and his mother, Lori, celebrated the opportunity to gather in-person.
"The virtual experience, given the circumstance, was OK [last year]. But I always look forward to seeing the people, feeling the vibe, feeling the energy," Anthony said.
This year marked the first time Raise the Barr hosted a major event in the Twin Cities, as they've traditionally been held near the Barrs' hometown in California.
"This is really my home away from home, so to do this here means a lot," Anthony said.
Making a difference
Thursday's event, which was emceed by local style and fashion creative director Grant Whittaker, celebrated five years of Raise the Barr's mission to support single parents continuing their education and raised additional money to continue the foundation's important work.
Since Anthony and Lori co-founded Raise the Barr in 2016, the nonprofit has given more than $410,000 in scholarships and emergency grants.
Lori, who became a single parent at the age of 19 and raised Anthony while attending school, emphasized the high level of need in Minnesota.
According to the Institute for Women's Policy and Research, Lori noted, there are approximately 30,000 single mothers attending college in the state of Minnesota. That number makes up 23 percent of all college-goers.
"Single mothers are more likely to be People of Color, low-income and first-generation [students]. They are more likely to leave college with more debt than their non-parenting counterpart and, also, take about two years longer to complete their degrees," Lori said. "Single mothers who finish school with higher debt are less likely to receive access to bank loans, low-interest-rate car loans and even certain jobs."
Raise the Barr scholarships can be applied to tuition, used toward high-quality childcare, housing, transportation, basic needs and all areas that "affect a student parent's ability to persist."
"Choosing to improve your life by attending college or working a low-wage job to put your food on your table isn't really a choice in my book," Lori said. "If we take a closer look, we as a society are perpetuating poverty by limiting options and making it increasingly difficult to access higher education. We must do better. And Raise the Barr is committed to tackling that head-on."
Since 2016, Raise the Barr has supported 40 single parents – 38 single moms and two single dads – toward degree attainment. Of those, 19 mothers have already completed their degrees.
Event attendees received a virtual message from Aaronica Jackson and her daughter, Reign, located in Minneapolis; and Brenda Coronel and her daughter, Zoey, who live in Los Angeles. They also heard in-person testimonies from Maria Canar, a mother of two daughters, and Tavia Paredes, mother to son Dakota.
Maria wore a custom-designed necklace that all scholarship recipients receive as a gift from Continental Diamond.
" 'Believe,' for me, is a very important word. It's what got me through college while also bringing up my children," Maria said. "Scholarships are our 'believe' that took us to success, and that's something [for which] I'm very grateful to Raise the Barr. Thank you, Lori and Anthony."
Tavia, a 2019 and 2020 scholarship recipient, shared her experience of first pursuing her degree "a few credits at a time" when Dakota entered elementary school. Because she also worked during the day, she often found herself deciding between bedtime stories with her son or finishing homework or an evening quiz.
"Needless to say, my grades suffered at times," Tavia acknowledged. "But with scholarship funding from Raise the Barr, I am privileged enough to now be a full-time student at Metropolitan State University, where my focus is no longer bread-winning but completing my degree and raising my son."
Tavia's grade point average went from 3.0 to a 3.6 within one semester of receiving support from Raise the Barr, and through Metropolitan State, she works as a youth outreach coordinator in the Twin Cities community.
"I create and execute hands-on science and engineering activities for children from all backgrounds, but with special focus on children who come from underrepresented minority backgrounds – which is exactly who I was, as a Native American girl growing up on welfare in Minneapolis."
Tavia also holds a summer position at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. She will graduate in December with a degree in chemistry, along with a physics minor, and is applying to water chemistry PhD programs.
"Raise the Barr is effective; it's made me a more desirable applicant and increased my hiring potential," said Tavia, who praised the foundation's two-generation model. "Scholarship assistance can make or break my academic performance, my mental health and my ability to offer an abundance of support to my incredibly understanding son, Dakota. His emotional and academic growth is more important to me than my own."
Continuing the mission
Thanks to Raise the Barr, another three single mothers will receive scholarship assistance for the 2021 school year:
Monica Blue (Dunwoody College)
Flerida Hernandez (Santa Monica College)
Adia Singh (Minneapolis College)
Last week's "Under Review" program raised more than $100,000 in revenue, including a generous $25,000 donation from an anonymous donor, which will allow Anthony and Lori to maintain momentum behind Raise the Barr's mission.
A silent auction included items such as an autographed Dalvin Cook helmet and golf driver autographed by Harrison Smith. In addition, Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks created and signed a custom painting that was included in Raise the Barr's silent auction. The painting sold for $2,000, and Kendricks pledged to donate another $1,000.
Anthony expressed his immense gratitude for the generosity and support of donors in the Twin Cities and across the country.
"I lost my grandfather three years ago, and I didn't have my father in my life, so I was raised by a single parent, my mother, and this whole foundation is really built off of our story," Anthony told attendees. "I think we're all here because we understand that this life is about more than us. It's about more than self. It's about helping the next person. That's really what our mission is here at Raise the Barr."
The 29-year-old acknowledged the "great support system" he had growing up. And he was thankful for the presence of loved ones at the event, including his grandmother, his aunt and Lori's husband.
"It's a real family affair. And when I look at you all, I feel like I'm with my family," Anthony said.
"Everybody's crying over there for a good purpose, and I always thought I was a crier because I'm a Pisces, but apparently it's just in my blood," he added with a laugh. "We're just some crying people over there. If I shed a tear or two, don't be surprised."
Anthony said it "just felt right" to have so many family members in the room for such a special event.
"I know they're part of this whole situation, and I couldn't be here without them," he said. 'To have their support and their love on a night like this really means a whole lot."
As Anthony prepares for the 2021 Vikings season, he and Lori also will keep their sights set on supporting the Twin Cities community off the field.
"Our work is from the heart. But it's not a hobby, and it's not fleeting," Lori said. "We are here to stay in the state of Minnesota. We are focused on equity, opportunity, hope and dreams."
Click here to learn more about Raise the Barr or to make a donation to help single parents complete their education.