Had he lived, community activist and former NFL safety Keion Carpenter would have kicked off the week as he always did — with a prayer party.
"Every Monday, at 9 a.m., Keion and I would stop what we were doing and phone each other, strictly to pray," said Ben Long, pastor of Rehoboth Light of the World Church in Woodlawn, where Carpenter was a member. "For 10 minutes, we'd pray for success in whatever we had on our plates for the week. It really set the tone."
Sadly, this Monday was different. Before a crowd of about 2,500, Long delivered the eulogy at a funeral service for Carpenter, 39, who died Dec. 29. The 2-1/2-hour program, at New Psalmist Baptist Church in northwest Baltimore, drew folks from all walks of Carpenter's life — from NFL players to youths enrolled in the Shutdown Academy, a branch of The Carpenter House, the non-profit foundation he established to empower inner-city children and their families.
"Keion had passion, and his passion produced fruit," Long told mourners. "The last time I saw him, a week before Christmas, he spoke of his plan to create a 'summit' for men, a conference that would look at the challenges we face in regard to parenting. We hoped to start it this spring, but God had other plans."
Carpenter, who starred in football at Woodlawn and Virginia Tech, played six years in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons. He died from blunt-force head trauma suffered in a fall while vacationing with family in Miami, Fla. He was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.
Those attending the service included Ravens' running back Terrence West and former Ravens Jamal Lewis, Jermaine Lewis and Ed Hartwell. Other current NFL players who paid their respects were Antoine Bethea (San Francisco 49ers) and DeAngelo Hall (Washington Redskins), as well as alumni Antonio Freeman (Green Bay Packers), Michael Vick (Atlanta Falcons), Aaron Maybin (Buffalo Bills) and Reggie White (San Diego Chargers).
White, now football coach at the Milford Mill Academy, his alma mater, remembered Carpenter as "a fearful, hard-hitting safety who would knock your block off." Off the field, White said, he was just as fervent about helping others.
"Keion had huge plans," White said. "Last month, he told me he wanted to buy up a couple of blocks in the inner city and rebuild them into living spaces and a community center — a kind of safety zone for all. The thing about Keion was that he did everything he set out to do. He had the ability to make everyone hone in on him. There were no big words, no rhythmic poems — just words from the heart, with truth behind them, that made people want to listen."
Carpenter's dreams weren't driven by dollar signs, White said:
"At his football camps, if parents didn't have enough money to enroll their kids, he'd say, 'Sign them up anyway' and foot the bill himself."
Some, like retired police officer Marti Motton, recalled Carpenter's early years as a regular at the Campfield Police Athletic League Center in Woodlawn.
"This 12-year-old had a smile that would light up the classroom during after-school activities at our center," said Motton, widow of Orioles' outfielder Curt Motton. "Keion was also one my little headaches, often interrupting and acting out. He and I were always fussing. I'd say, 'Stop talking to Ronnie Holmes and do your homework,' and Keion would say, "Aww, Miss Marti.' He was a delight, though.
"Sometimes I'd chase after him, and he'd bolt. I couldn't catch him; no wonder he made it to the NFL."
Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings gave Monday's service an upbeat slant.
"I have not come here because Keion died. I came here because he lived," Cummings told churchgoers. "Keion was a gift to all of us. I met with him [recently] because he wanted to establish housing for single parents in Baltimore. Keion, brother, you took the baton and you ran with it."
Long, who has been Carpenter's pastor for three years, harked back to their first meeting over breakfast in a diner.
"He listened to my plans to move the church forward and said, 'Pastor Long, I see your vision. Whatever you need from me, let me know. I'll sweep the floors, I don't care.'
"Somewhere along the way, for Keion, the light bulb came on," Long said. "That same energy that made him hard to handle as a child got channeled to a place that catapulted him to experience such success. Yes, his death is a big loss, but he planted a seed in a lot of young men that will help guide them in the right direction to be the kind of guy he was. His legacy is going to grow."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly had Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings' middle initital as D. instead of E.