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Honoring the legacy of fallen NYPD Detective Keith Williams, his daughter Tennile Williams relaunched her dad’s charitable fund with the inaugural Detective Keith Williams Flag Football Kickoff and BBQ event in Jamaica on Aug. 14.
The event was held at the Detective Keith Williams Park, which was named after the detective in 2019. Looking at the large crowd that had gathered in the park for an afternoon of flag football, an NYPD helicopter flyover, fun and barbecue, his widow Rita Williams said it was an honor that people still remembered her husband — even though he has been gone for 32 years.
Det. Williams and his partner Det. Richard Guerzon were shot and killed by Jay Stoney Harrison, a 25-year-old career criminal, on the Grand Central Parkway in Queens on Nov. 3, 1989, as they were transporting him back to Rikers Island from the Queens district attorney’s office.
In an unsupervised moment, Harrison, who was handcuffed to a pipe on the wall in the detective’s squad room of the Queens district attorney’s office, was able to break into a locker within his reach and steal a gun, which he used to kill the two detectives who were assigned to the DA’s detective squad.
“Keith was a wonderful, wonderful person,” Rita said of her late husband, who devoted his free time giving back to the community, sponsoring after-school and youth sports programs. “And you can tell that by the people that are here today. They never forgot, and as long as we’re alive, we never will forget. So I’m elated.”
Rita started the Detective Keith L. Williams Memorial Charitable Fund Inc. in 1991 and raised over a quarter of a million dollars for scholarships. She pointed out that some of the police officers who attended the event were scholarship recipients.
Her daughter, Tennile Williams, who was only 12 years old when her dad was murdered, officially took over the “torch” on June 26. She explained that the flag football tournament in her dad’s memory was a means to “revamp” the fund and teach the younger generation about her dad’s legacy.
“My dad ate and slept his community,” she said of her father, who was the pillar of the community. “There was never a ‘no.’”
Her focus is on providing scholarships to students and establishing an academic recreation center for young people to offer them an outlet, keep them off the streets and lower the rate of violence amongst teens.
“Kids are being killed by the hour. They have nowhere to go. They have no form of recreation. There’s nothing really out there,” Tennile said. “If you don’t know and do your homework, those platforms are not presented to our Black and brown babies. I want to get these kids off the streets and give them somewhere to go.”
She shared that the charitable fund will have a breast cancer awareness walkathon in October, and she’ll continue her black-tie affairs and dances.
“I want the children to know that this is not something that just was brought about yesterday,” Tennile said. “This is over 30 years in the making.”
While the games went underway, Det. Nicholas Masi with the Detective Endowment Association, which provided their mobile canteen handing out beverages and snacks, said it was a wonderful event in memory of a great detective and provided an opportunity to forge relationships with kids.
“It keeps them out of trouble, and it gives them something to do and gives us something to look forward to,” Det. Masi shared.
Undeterred by the scorching heat, the players gave it their all, competing for the coveted championship trophy accompanied by the cheers of family and friends.
One of the teams, the Far Rockaway Colts, is part of the “Neighborhood Coordination School Initiative” (NCSI) in Far Rockaway, an NYPD mentorship program for at-risk youth.
NYPD Lt. Lenora Moody and Detective Patrick Blanc of the NYPD’s Community Affairs Division, who helped organize the flag football event, started the program three years ago after Lt. Moody learned about a similar program in Los Angeles. After a trip to LA, they built on the program, which aims to break the cycle of violence and provide at-risk youth with tutoring, mentoring and flag football training while improving the relationship between the NYPD and the community.
In partnership with the Department of Education (DOE), which helps pinpoint students who would benefit from the program, 117 boys receive after-school tutoring provided by the DOE. They are mentored by 14 police officers under the leadership of Lt. Moody, Det. Blanc and Sgt. Kai Bowen. Since last year, the NY Giants are on board, providing additional mentoring with regular Zoom meetings between the players, the officers and the kids.
A crucial aspect of the program is the strong relationship between the kids and their mentors, who are available for them around the clock.
Lt. Moody told her officers, “I don’t care what time of night it is. I don’t care if you went to Haiti; you pick up that phone because there is a reason why that child is calling you.”
Twelve-year-old Far Rockaway Colts player Anthony Child has been part of the program for three years, and when he found his mom unresponsive on the floor before she died of COVID-19, the first person he called was his mentor Det. Blanc, who was immediately there for him.
“They’ll be right there to show up to my house and help me, especially when my mom passed away,” said Child, whose favorite subject is math. “They came and helped me and got me through it. It feels really good to have someone you can rely on, and they do the best that they can, so I really appreciate it.”
Lt. Moody and Det. Blanc pointed out that the program not only benefits the boys but also positively affects their families.
Lt. Moody explained that many parents didn’t want to deal with the police before their kids enrolled in the program but now feel comfortable reaching out if they need help.
“Isn’t that what we strive for is to have that connectivity with the community? And not have that tension, contention?” Moody asked. “It’s all broken down with the game of football, a simple process that the LAPD got right. All we did was take their concept and enhance it.”
“They are becoming better human beings,” Det. Blanc said. “Not only the boys but our parents have become better human beings. And it’s one big family. We got 117 boys. Multiply that by like five or six. That’s a lot of people in Far Rockaway.”
After the Playmakers from Queens won all three games, NYPD Chief of Community Affairs Jeffrey Maddrey didn’t miss the chance to hand out the championship trophy to them, reminding the players that competitive sports leagues were “all about love, respect, teamwork and working together.”
Denis Urena of the Playmakers and Far Rockaway Colts player Anthony Childs shared the desired MVP award because of their “phenomenal skills” on the field, Det. Blanc, aka “Coach Pat,” said.
Former correction officer Hicks was inspired to join the NYPD after seeing the program’s positive impact on her two boys, ages 12 and 13.
“The kids are more responsible, independent, and are more into school, and they know that they can be anything in life,” the freshly minted NYPD officer said.
Of her switch from NY’s Boldest to NY’s Finest, Hicks said, “The coaches motivated [the kids] so much that it made me feel like I want to be a part of something that so awesome.”