Ed Reed stands at the epicenter of a storm of more than 500 children turned loose in a field beside Booker T. Washington Middle School on a sunny, humid October morning.
Boys and girls occasionally break ranks to reach the Ravens' Pro Bowl safety, shake his hand, exchange a high-five or just say hello. They embrace him at every opportunity. From all appearances, Reed enjoys the repartee as much as the kids. He smiles often and responds to each request as he roams the field on Fitness Day, a day set up by the NFL to emphasize the merits of exercise and healthy diet.
When he spots one student whose khaki pants are slung low over his hips, Reed intercepts the young boy as if that student were scrambling out of the pocket for a big run. "Pull your pants up, man. What are you doing?" Reed says in a voice more reassuring than scolding.
The young boy dutifully hikes up his pants.
In truth, there are few details that escape Reed when it comes to Booker T. Washington, an inner-city school he adopted after arriving in Baltimore in 2002 as a first-round draft pick. One of his early stops was Booker T., nestled in the historic Marble Hill community of West Baltimore and surrounded by drugs, poverty and prostitution.
Reed, 30, is familiar with the dark corners and don't-cross lines of such neighborhoods. He grew up in one in Shrewsbury, La., in the shadow of New Orleans. He is living proof you can come out with a better life than you imagined, that you don't have to be a victim of circumstance and misfortune just because you have a tough start.
These are among the messages Reed delivers to the student body on any given Tuesday during football season. He will pop up unannounced in a pottery class to talk shop. He'll meet with a group of young boys who need to grasp the importance of respecting elders and peers. He'll introduce businessmen to serve as role models for the next generation. He relates to the kids on their level.
This is what Reed does to repay a favor he received some 15 years ago, and even more because he loves kids.
"In many respects, he is the same child with regard to his background," said Latanya Robinson, executive assistant at Booker T. Washington. "He's done some of the same things they've done. The kids who've really listened to his story understand you don't have to start off as a model student. It's up to you to determine which way you want to go. And he constantly reminds them of that, that success is determined by you."
Booker T.'s students have gotten the message.
"He's really nice to be doing what he's doing for Booker T.," eighth-grader Tyra Hooper said. "Because most people, they really don't care. But it shows that he cares."
Said Deasya Holley, another eighth-grader: "He knows what some of us have to go through in life, and he wants to be a big difference in everybody's life at Booker T. Washington."
A kid who needed focus
Reed was not a model student in Shrewsbury. Sports, not school, dominated his early years. Ben Parquet is a student advocate for the St. Charles Parish, La., school system who met Reed at the behest of his wife, Dee, a teacher at Cameron Middle School. Dee told Ben of a charismatic young boy who could use his help.
"He wasn't a bad kid; he was mischievous," Parquet said. "He wasn't real focused on school work. I saw him as a youngster with great potential."
Reed was drifting toward an uncertain future when Parquet made a tactical decision. He asked the assistant superintendent of the school district to include Reed in a group of middle school students being promoted to high school. Reed was too old to continue playing sports in middle school, but was too young - by a week - to make the cutoff for high school. Parquet reasoned that Reed would have strayed if he stayed at Cameron, but going to Destrehan High would give him incentive to get on track.
In a move that continues to have positive repercussions, the school district granted Parquet's request. Reed went to high school, where he starred in football, basketball and track, and earned a scholarship to the University of Miami.
"If I hadn't gone to high school when Ben helped me get to high school, I wouldn't be here right now," he said before a recent Ravens practice.
Where would he be?
"No telling. Probably be back home coaching or something like that."
Reed stills views Parquet, 69 and semi-retired, as a mentor. Parquet thinks of Reed as family.
"I feel as close to him as if he was my own son," Parquet said. "He has a special place in my heart, not because he's successful, but because of what he does for the kids in the [Booker T. Washington] community. He makes me feel it was worth it."
Parquet wasn't the only one who saw something special in Reed. Jeanne Hall, a secretary at Destrehan High, and her husband, Walter, took Reed into their St. Rose home during his sophomore and junior years. The second-oldest of five brothers in Shrewsbury, Reed got his bearings in suburban St. Rose, and his parents recognized the benefit of getting away from home.
In Baltimore, at the invitation of then-Ravens cornerback James Trapp, Reed visited Booker T. in 2002 as a rookie. He quickly grew to love working with inner-city kids.
Trapp, who played on the Ravens' Super Bowl team in the 2000 season, knew his time in Baltimore was up. He saw in Reed a successor to the program he started in 1999 with Jim Hamlin, a retired community relations manager at UPS and a Booker T. graduate.
"Ed wasn't a wild guy," said Trapp, now a chaplain for the Atlanta Falcons. "He was kind of reserved, and you could see he had a heart for helping people."
His own money
Since then, The Ed Reed Eye of the Hurricane Foundation has poured time, money and energy into Booker T. Washington and other causes. Reed sponsors a high school football camp and golf tournament in Louisiana each summer. According to Bita Khorrami, executive director of Reed's foundation, Reed sent $70,000 to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Over the past five years, Khorrami said, the foundation has donated about $350,000 to various causes.
"Ed is more than a philanthropist," she said. "He is willing to put his own money out there when others aren't."
At the beginning of each school year, Reed provides supplies for needy students. Each Thanksgiving and Christmas, his foundation provides turkeys for families that can't afford them. Last year, he gave 120 students $150 each to spend on Christmas gifts. The students are selected by their teachers based on need. And he has a party at the end of the year to reward students who make the honor roll.
When Reed found out Booker T. students didn't use their lockers because items would disappear, he bought 600 locks. He also paid for a $5,000 kiln to bake clay in the pottery classes. Khorrami said Reed has contributed between $85,000 and $100,000 - out of his own pocket - to Booker T. over the past five years.
Then there is Reed's LORDS program (leadership, order, respect, discipline, success), which rewards 20-25 students with tickets to a Ravens home game. Tickets are based on attendance, discipline and academics.
Hamlin, who continues to help at Booker T., said the changes at the school will be life-lasting.
"It's a combination of behavior, attitude and a sense of pride in the school and pride in themselves," Hamlin said of the impact. "All that we're doing here and all that Ed's doing here will be in the minds of the kids forever and a day."
Robinson said the most tangible results are in improved attendance, but that benefits run deeper.
"Ed shows our kids they deserve to be recognized for the good things they do," she said. "His presence alone and his involvement shows them they have something to be proud of. ... He's truly a humanitarian."
From a distance, Parquet sees the cycle begin anew.
"Ed's a tremendous guy, and I'm so proud of him," Reed's mentor said.
"Think of how many Ed Reeds are out there that didn't get the help to go forward. He realizes that, too. And deep down, that's why he gives so much. He sees himself in a lot of those kids, and he wants them to be successful."
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