Betty Brown helps continue the dream of the late Derrick Thomas

tporter@lsjournal.comSeptember 18, 2013 

  • 58 Number of students each year enrolled in the Derrick Thomas/Neil Smith Third and Long Foundation’s literacy tutoring program.

More than 22 years has passed since Derrick Thomas formed the Third and Long Foundation to tackle childhood literacy in the Kansas City metro area.

And for those two decades-plus, Lee’s Summit resident Betty Brown has been at the forefront of the organization as its sitting board president.

Brown, other members of the Third and Long Foundation’s board, the Kansas City Chiefs and Chiefs fans will gather Sept. 18 for an advanced screening of the NFL Network’s “Derrick Thomas: A Football Life,” a documentary about the late, great Kansas City pass rushing specialist who passed away in 2000.

The documentary, which will air on the NFL Network at 8 p.m. Sept. 24, will detail Thomas’s triumphs and related tragedies and highlight what was near and dear to his heart: helping young people.

The sneak preview will be held at the North Club at Arrowhead Stadium. A reception featuring drinks, appetizers and autographs from current and former Chiefs players begins at 6:30 p.m. with a screening slated for 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 each and proceeds will benefit the Third and Long Foundation.

The documentary will detail Thomas’s life, his mission and the impact he had on and off the field, Brown said, although she had not seen a preview before the special screening at Arrowhead.

“One thing we wanted to show the world was Derrick was just not a football player,” Brown said Sept. 16 from inside the foundation’s office on State Line Road in Kansas City. “He was a community advocate. This film, of course, will show his life, and how he got started in football. Also, it will kind of highlight how he wanted to help young people.

“I’ve kind of saw bits and pieces of it, but I kind of want to wait to see it for the first time with everybody. It’s going to be emotional because of who he is – and of course with our relationship; for as long as I’ve known Derrick back when we started the foundation – it’s going to be a little emotional for me, but it’s going to be great for the world to see his life.”

Born and raised in Miami’s Dade County, Thomas spent parts of his childhood in and out of trouble, and subsequently in and out of a juvenile detention facility. Armed with that experience, Thomas would years later dedicate his mission to help children succeed establishing the Third and Long Foundation in 1990.

“Derrick got in trouble and he was sent to like a camp for boys,” Brown said. “With that, once he got out of there, he kind of realized ‘Hey I want to change my life.’ When he got in (pro) football he decided he wanted to do something for other young people who may have not had the opportunity.”

The foundation, for which former Chief Neil Smith – also a Lee’s Summit resident – is chairman, provides a myriad of opportunities for at least 58 school-aged children annually. Those opportunities include tutoring sessions to improve reading skills, culturally-enriched field trips, and at least one game per season at Arrowhead Stadium.

“When Derrick was living, raising money was no issue,” Brown said. “Now, with us moving into a new location (on State Line Road) being able to raise funds (is important) to continue his dream – and his dream was to have 58 kids in a tutorial reading program that we do every year and that we fund. Also, the scholarship that we give out every year.

“The one thing that Derrick wanted to do more than anything is that those young people have some kind of cultural empowerment. And of course we take 58 kids every year to a football game. These are things with this fundraiser that will help us continue his dream.”

For more information about the screening, which will serve as a fundraiser for the Third and Long Foundation, call 816-931-5855.

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