(WXYZ) — As we close out the end of Black History Month on this last Friday in February, we want to celebrate a Detroiter who has been making an impact on kids for five decades.
Reggie McKenzie went from Highland Park High to the University of Michigan. This College Football Hall of Famer also went on to the NFL.
We honor him today not for what he did on the gridiron but for what he has done for thousands of kids on the streets of Metro Detroit.
Reggie McKenzie is a man who grew up in Detroit with a dream to give back and that's exactly what he's been doing for 50 years with the Reggie McKenzie Foundation.
“What made you start the foundation?” asked WXYZ’s Carolyn Clifford.
“It started with a bag of footballs and cones and me and about 25 or 30 other students', kids' young kids and I called it Reggie putting something back into the community,” said Reggie McKenzie.
With his three sisters arguing about 'what about us' it has grown into so much more, touching the lives of girls with basketball camps and track but adults too.
“What we found was a lot of those parents had not graduated from high school and perhaps needed to be empowered a little bit more academically,” said McKenzie.
Academic tutorial programs were added improving lives in the classroom, teaching sports, job, and life skills.
“Reggie's slogan was a commitment to the character he always talked about - his commitment to character,” said Tom Seabron.
Tom Seabron, a former Wolverine Football Player, and NFL pro met Reggie at 18 and joined his camp.
“Reggie taught everybody to have goals and so all those public-school kids from Cass, Chadsey, McKenny, Benedictine every school in Detroit became part of what we built,” said Seabron.
And the roster of now famous people who credit Reggie with giving them their foundation is quite impressive - from Lions Legend Barry Sanders to Detroit's own, The Bus, Jerome Bettis.
“We have a band of people that have supported this foundation, it's not Reggie alone,” said Seabron.
From Ford Motor Company to Anheuser Bush to Faygo, Proctor and Gamble, and Morgan Stanley, everyone in the business community is buying into Reggie's dream of making a difference.
“He's a unique individual who never forgot where he came from,” said Jim Brandstatter.
Reggie's college roommate at U of M was Jim Brandstatter, the now-retired voice of U of M football and the Lions. They were teammates and Jim has been the emcee for his gala for 50 years.
“This man has done more for the city of Highland Park and inner-city Detroit and underprivileged kids than a lot of government programs could have spent billions of dollars more Reggie is a true treasure.
A treasure who made sure sports would not be the end but a vehicle to drive inner-city kids forward.
“If my kids come out of college with a degree and they are Reggie McKenzie kids, can we get them in an intern program at Ford Motor Company or things like that he really parlayed that into careers outside of athletics.”
For Reggie realizing the impact he has had on thousands of lives brings him to tears, especially when he runs into someone whose life he is impacted.
“Man, you probably don't remember me I was 16 when you helped me and it's a good feeling, the warm and fuzzy,” said McKenzie.
“He taught them if I can do it, you can do it,” said
“What we try to do is just give them hope,” said McKenzie. “And it's turned into something that you know we're all proud of.”
Now on this golden anniversary, there is a lot to reflect on and to celebrate.
This year's gala for the Reggie McKenzie Foundation will be May 19, 2023. They expect guests like former honorees Jerome Bettis and Desmond Howard and many others.