BALTIMORE - September 2004. Van Brooks was on his way to the big leagues, a path sent off course by a paralyzing hit on his high school football field.
The Loyola star was told he would never walk again. But eight years later that hasn’t stopped Brooks from making the city he loves a better place.
At Kennedy Krieger, miracle workers saddle up Van Brooks to harness like he was running in the Preakness Stakes. His foot trembles as he drags his blue and green Nikes across the floor.
“I know how important education is from playing football to suffering my injury, I had to fall back on my education,” Brooks said.
Out of the straps, and into a wheel chair, Brooks still lives out his passion for football. It’s a sunny, clear April day and he’s coaching two young men through running routes on a grassy field at Franklin Square Elementary Middle School.
He’s a man who thought he’d be in his fourth NFL season by now. He took his Towson University degree and shifted his life into Plan B.
“I want a lot of kids to realize that the key to success is education,” Brooks said.
Brooks came up with Yards For Success in the 21223 zip code—one of Baltimore’s struggling neighborhoods that was used as the backdrop from the HBO crime drama The Wire.
“For all of us, we’ve had somebody in our life to support us and give us a little push and a nudge and I believe this is what our scholars need and he’s given it to us," Terry Patton, principal of Franklin Square Elementary Middel School, said.
Starting next week, at the school, Brooks is organizing a six-week 7 on 7 flag football league for boys and girls. They’ll play with police and firefighters.
“The reason I decided to get the police officers involved is because in the community there’s a stigma that the kids shouldn’t talk to the police. Most of my football coaches growing up were police officers,” Brooks said.
Watch the video to see what the kids say about the league.
To reach the unreachable star like Brooks nearly did eight years ago, one needs help—money and sponsors.
“He is the living embodiment of what hard work, perseverance and that never-give-up attitude is all about,” Carmen Mirabile, of SECU, said.
If we can see Yards For Success on the roughest edge of our city, we can certainly see a young man walk when he was told he never would.
“That’s my calling. I’m just trying to give back and help as many people as possible,” Brooks said.
Van Brooks is 2 Good 2 Be True.