Kuumba dancers gave future Brooks' Bunch travelers a taste of Africa
Four years ago, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Linebacker Derrick Brooks toured Africa with a group of lucky students in his Brooks' Bunch program. This week, Brooks launched the next excursion for his annual program; the big news: Brooks' Bunch is going Back to Africa.
On Wednesday night, Brooks hosted a kickoff party for the Brooks' Bunch Back to Africa Trip, with professional Kuumba dancers giving those in attendance a taste of their upcoming experience. The trip, which is scheduled for next June, will involve Brooks, chaperones and 20-25 young adults from the Brandon, Wilbert Davis and Ybor City Boys & Girls Clubs on a tour of southern Africa.
Brooks has organized several other rewarding trips to such locations as New York, Atlanta, Chicago and the American West, but he felt it was time to head back to the location that may have produced the most memorable Brooks' Bunch journey.
"I took so many things away from our last trip to Africa," Brooks said. "Most importantly, now that most of the kids who went on that trip have moved on to small adulthood, I think it's time to take a different group to Africa. There are more things to learn, and I thank God that I have the opportunity to do it."
Brooks' Bunch started out quietly almost a decade ago with little or no recognition, but it has blossomed into the NFL's premiere player charity.
As Brooks approached Tampa Stadium before a game one Sunday years ago, a young fan approached him and asked for tickets. Brooks, then a relatively young linebacker for the Buccaneers, felt bad that he could not facilitate the youngster's request. Thus, he formed Brooks' Bunch as a means for distributing Buccaneer tickets to those who otherwise could not afford them. The rest, as they say, is history.
"Brooks Bunch was started just about 8 years ago as a ticket incentive program for groups here in Tampa," Brooks said. "I just wanted to reward these groups for outstanding behavior and for outstanding work. I also wanted to give tickets to those who could not afford them. The Lord has blessed us far and beyond those expectations back then."
Since its inception, Brooks' Bunch has evolved from a ticket program into a means for helping young adults make the most out of their middle school/high school years. Brooks has accompanied youths on trips to various places such as Atlanta, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City, the Nike campus, San Francisco, South Africa, Tallahassee, the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam and Washington D.C. The Back to Africa trip marks the seventh educational journey made by Brooks' Bunch.
"It's exciting to work with the kids," Brooks said. "Every kid that comes through this program, I hope that the things we try and provide touch them in some way and motivate them."
Boys & Girls Club members currently in grades 8-12 who are interested in earning a spot on the trip will participate in bi-monthly lesson plans developed and carried out by Hillsborough County School teachers. In addition to successfully completing the course work, students must maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher, have taken or signed up for the SAT and have no record of behavior issues at school or at the Boys & Girls Clubs while enrolled in the program.
"I always try to stay in touch with the kids in some form or fashion, even after they have moved on," Brooks said. "I want to make them more positive citizens in our environment. I look forward to kicking off Back to Africa 2005 – it's a challenge, and the only way I know how to meet challenges is head on. It's going to be an exciting time, and I thank God for the opportunity."
For more information on Brooks' Bunch, log on to DerrickBrooksCharities.org.