Fans get close to Dee Brown, Illini players at 1st Tailgate

Those who attended the first Dee Brown Tailgate in Rochester, Ill. on Saturday had the opportunity to play cards with Jerrance Howard and Rich McBride, bid on a pair of Derek Fisher’s shoes and play bags and basketball against Dee Brown himself.

The first of what could be an annual event was just a part of Brown’s goal of giving back to his community.

“A lot of things that we’re going to do, a lot of things that I’ve done, are strictly for the kids and letting them know that we are trying to better our community and have more kids go to college, more kids see the life that I’m seeing. To do that, you’ve got to reach out and help,” Brown said.

The purpose of the tailgate was to raise money for the CB and JT Family Foundation, a non-profit organization started by Brown’s mom Cathy and her cousin Judith Thomas.

The organization’s goal is to build a youth center in Chicago.

“We want to give our youths in Chicago a chance to do something,” Cathy said. “I think sports are good, because kids watch too much television, they really do. So we’re going to make it a sports center, but other things (as well) … Some kids don’t even know you got to apply to go to college. They actually don’t know that. So they don’t write applications, they don’t know to prepare themselves.”

Cathy stresses the importance of education, but not necessarily the kind that kids learn in school. That is why the center, which has become her main pursuit, would primarily act as a resource for youth.

“They can prepare themselves in their freshman year. They don’t have to wait until senior year. Say ‘Look, I want to look at Illinois,’ and they (would) know what the expectations are in their freshman year,” Cathy said.

According to Cathy, the center would not act solely as a resource for academic information. Mentoring youths about issues such as teen parenting is another point of emphasis for Cathy.

“Shame to say, there’s a lot of young teenagers out there that get pregnant, and parenting is hard. So, we want to have a center where we have people coming in, talk to others that are more knowledgeable of things, and also have somewhere to go besides stand on the corners,” she said.

Teresa Sturdy, who hosted the tailgate at her house, said that Cathy’s work ethic brought them together as friends.

The two met at an Illinois basketball game.

“The first time I met her, we were talking about different things and I saw that she was a workaholic like I am,” Sturdy said. “She’s really motivated and I think that’s why I like her, because she’s a hard worker and she’s done so much just to have her son be where he’s at. I mean, she had three jobs at one time just to get her son to be … in those (league) tournaments.”

While the Browns stress the importance of college academically, Dee loved his time as a student-athlete as well.

While many young high-profile players today consider skipping college and playing basketball overseas to transition to the NBA, Brown, who is coming off a stretch playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel, would not trade his time at Illinois.

“I played for a great program, great organization, so if you pick your right school you don’t have to go overseas, but the money’s right,” Brown said. “I can’t tell an individual not to go make money … but for me, I got a great education, I got a degree, close to getting my masters, so I’ll tell a kid to do what’s best for you in your situation.”

Brown said he’s about 30 hours away from his Masters degree.

“Once you get into the real world, bills start coming in and you become a dad, (and) you start getting far behind or caught up in living the adult life instead of focusing on school,” he said. “I’ll go back eventually, you know, knock the 30 hours out. I promised my mom I’d get my masters, but I got my bachelors. That’s the first step.”

In the meantime, Brown is still pursuing a career in the NBA while giving back to his community and helping his mom create the center that has become a focus for her.

When asked what she’ll do once the center is actually built, Cathy’s answer was simple.

“I’m working at it, definitely,” she said.