In recognition of his outstanding contributions to athletics, to the Tampa Bay area and for the impact of his charitable foundation, Tampa Bay Buccaneer Derrick Brooks received the honorary degree of doctor of humane letters at Saint Leo University’s commencement May 6.

When he began his National Football League career in 1995, Brooks was determined to achieve two important goals: success in athletics and helping children. He is the founder of Brooks Bunch, an organization providing educational opportunities to socio-economically challenged youth, administered by Derrick Brooks Charities Inc. He received the prestigious Walter Payton/NFL Man of the Year Award in 2000, the highest charitable award annually presented by the NFL.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y. Aisheeda Benjamin ’08, a Saint Leo criminal justice major and a member of Brooks Bunch, made the introduction. She received a Brooks Scholarship to attend Saint Leo, and Brooks calls her regularly to make sure she is on task. Brooks has helped his ‘kids’ to attend Saint Leo, the University of South Florida, Florida State University and other colleges and universities.

Once Brooks accepts a youth into his program, he becomes determined to become part of their lives and follows their progress through college. “This man has had a profound impact on my life,” said Benjamin. Derrick Brooks Charities partners with other organizations to make a difference in children’s lives throughout Florida.

Brooks also had words of encouragement for the new graduates.

“Put God first in your life,” he said. “When you are knocked down – stand up, stand up tall.”

He spoke on the importance of treating others the way that you want to be treated.

“I accepted the challenge of becoming a main force in the Tampa Bay community,” Brooks said. He encouraged Saint Leo’s graduates to forge their own paths within their communities.

Brooks is a native Floridian and earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Florida State University. He lives in Tampa Bay with his wife Carol and their three children.

This story was written by Dave Szymanski, who is the director of public relations at Saint Leo University.

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