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The Making of a Servant Leader

–Tyrone Keys: A Guide, A Mentor, A Friend

Tyrone Keys is not average—not in his size, not in compassion, and certainly not in his commitment. Neither were the teams he played on. A poet once wrote, “The measure of a man is not in his living; the measure of a man can be found in his giving.” And Tyrone has been giving, both on and off the field.

After a successful football career where Tyrone was a star defensive lineman at Mississippi State University and had also won a Super Bowl championship with the Chicago Bears, Tyrone eventually landed in Tampa where he teamed with community leaders and a group of men he fondly calls “the NFL Brotherhood” to co-found All Sports Community Service (ASCS), a mentorship and scholarship program.

Through the All Sports organization, Keys, his former teammates and (coaches), and even former opponents have nurtured the hopes and dreams of thousands. Tyrone has made an impact off the field and his giant handprint has been etched into the fabric of countless lives.

“My ultimate goal in life,” he says, “has been to help young people the way my parents, teachers, and coaches helped me.”

Tyrone vividly remembers how the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., first kindled his call to service in 1968 as a young boy in Jackson, Mississippi. As Tyrone watched television with his brothers, a news flash interrupted the program announcing Dr. King’s death. At only eight years old, a naive Tyrone thought he had to change his career plans to be a doctor so that he could follow in the footsteps of Dr. King. His favorite show, Medical Center, fueled that dream but he thought Dr. King must have made a mistake with a patient. Why else would someone want to kill him?

The next day brought clarity. Tyrone heard the speeches of the slain civil rights leaders throughout the hours at Brown Elementary. Specific passages left an indelible impression.

“It’s not the color of your skin but the content of your character…” “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”

One particular student stood out at Brown Elementary. Leon Archie worked as a safety patrol officer, and the teacher singled him out.

“What Leon is doing is serving,” the teacher said.

Tyrone then decided that he, too, wanted to serve. He was told that he’d have to wait until next year when he was in fourth grade, but he couldn’t wait. George Gipson, a neighborhood friend who had graduated from Brown Elementary the year before gave Tyrone his patrol belt. The next day Keys asked his mom to drop him off a few blocks from the school. That block became his post and the beginning of Tyrone’s service to others.

The next year Tyrone transferred to Dawson Elementary school where Mr. Alfred Terry and Mrs. Graves selected him as a candidate for patrol officer. Tyrone said he enjoyed the same sensation he experienced years later when the Chicago Bears selected him in the NFL Draft. Tyrone’s post was on the corner of Queens Road and Sunset about a quarter-mile from Dawson. He shared the post with the late Artis Rouser who also loved serving as a patrol officer and their post. Artis’ mom was a crosswalk officer at Dawson and the two boys had fun helping other kids cross the street.

“Although Artis passed away over 40 years ago, his spirit of service lives on because he was always there and willing to do his best,” Tyrone said. “His belt was always clean, he was clean, polite and a good mentor.” Archie provided an example of what Dr. King was speaking of when he said, “anyone can be great because anyone can serve.”

For the last couple of years, Tyrone has spoken to the patrol force at (Enerst) Just Elementary school where three of his former All Sports Community Service students now serve as teachers. ASCS alumnus Kylie Moord, a reading teacher brought to (Ernest) Just Elementary to improve the school’s failing reading scores, introduced Keys to Just. Together, Moord and Keys and the ASCS Alum helped raise the school reading scores by two letter grades.

When Tyrone visits Moord and the students, he speaks about Artis Rouser and other patrol officers like George Gipson, Lenny Stegall, Robert Peavey, and Richard Wells, who all inspired him to serve as a Patrol officer.

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