Positive influence

Ravens safety Reed shows kids they can pull themselves up

October 24, 2008|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

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."

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