Retired NFL player runs for Chesapeake City Council
by Candance Moore
Two years ago, Don Carey walked away from a fairy tale life that most young men only imagine. He was a starting safety in the NFL who'd set an impressive record, a Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, and an active community leader in the city of Detroit. Thrilling footage of him making big plays against the NFL's best was lighting up phones and tablets across the country. Hundreds of starry-eyed children attended camps where he spoke to them about the value of a good education. As an influential public figure, when he could have gone anywhere, he chose to return to Hampton Roads. Now he hopes to serve his community on the Chesapeake City Council.
"I grew up in Hampton Roads, and I've always considered this place my home," Don shares. "Throughout my career in multiple cities, I served my local communities to make a positive impact, but I knew I wanted to end up in Chesapeake. I've brought home with me an incredible amount of experience and achievement, which I'd love to put to work for this city."
Don's life is the quintessential American success story. His father, William, a Navy veteran, and his mother, Karen, raised him in a very loving home. He recalls his no-nonsense father training him to have a strong work ethic and a keen eye for detail. Don was expected to be an achiever whose contributions improved life for others. Church on Sunday, where he really listened, gave him a depth of humility that belies his success and built a foundation of faith that continues as the central compass of his life.
When he realized he was good at football, he earned his way into a starting position at Norfolk State, and the scouts soon came calling. He graduated with honors while transitioning to life in the NFL. After some typical team trading, he landed in Detroit for a long stint with the Lions.
It was there in Detroit, still in his twenties, that Don quickly made plans for philanthropic involvement. His wife LaKeisha supported the idea. It began with literacy outreach for adults in Detroit's notoriously difficult economy. After positive results for the program, it expanded into the public school system to help at-risk youth, and the Don Carey REECH Foundation (Reaching, Educating, and Empowering Children) was established. REECH also hosts annual youth camps to expose children to STEM careers through the excitement of a sports venue. The camps earned rave reviews from parents who saw their children come home with a new interest in math.
But Don's relentless the-sky's-the-limit ambition soon collided with the more pragmatic inner workings of a city. As a professional athlete, he was used to getting results, and slow progress with the children frustrated him.
Don and LaKeisha Carey with their daughter, Amelia, and their son, Victor.
"Time spent at school is only a small facet of a child's life, and even that valuable portion of time is often poorly managed," Don discovered. "In the NFL, you either make the play or not - intentions don't score points. I'm data-driven in how I assess situations, and I objectively find out what needs to happen. Then I go forth and achieve it. To me, community service is no different. If I set out to solve a problem, I expect to actually solve it."
His foundation made connections with city leaders in an effort to have a more significant impact. Don's political philosophy is that government should remove obstacles and create an open environment to unleash the potential within every community. Charitable organizations and community advocates abound in most cities, already looking for chances to make a difference. Efficiency, responsiveness, and accountability in city government are all that's really needed for communities to thrive.
Meanwhile, he and LaKeisha welcomed their son, Victor, then their daughter, Amelia. The struggles of parents they'd met at youth camps became more relatable, and issues with public education became more personal. In 2018, as these things weighed on him, Don chose to retire from the NFL. He excitedly brought his young family to Chesapeake.
The Carey family came home to a city in transition. Over the years, like most communities across America, Chesapeake has gradually evolved from a bedroom community to a more populated city with young families and new businesses. In fact, Chesapeake was recently acknowledged as the second largest city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Families are clearly drawn to the quality of life in Chesapeake, just like Don and Lakeisha Carey.
"In the NFL,
you either make the play or not- intentions don't score points.
I'm data-driven in how I assess situations,
and I objectively find out what needs to happen.
Then I go forth and achieve it.
To me, community service is no different. If I set out to solve a problem,
I expect to actually solve it."
- Don Carey
They settled in a quiet community in Hickory far from the spotlights he'd been under for a decade. Don quickly threw himself into philanthropic service. He joined the Food Bank, the Chesapeake Rotary Club, and the Southeast Virginia Community Foundation. The Careys began to attend Calvary Revival Church in Great Bridge with an unassuming offer to serve where needed. LaKeisha finished her dream of a law degree, and Don pursued an interest in real estate investment. Most importantly, they were giving their children the blessing of an ordinary childhood.
His foundation continues to host annual camps. The 2020 event, happening in July will introduce children to the surprising amount of STEM careers in Chesapeake - along with a fun play session on the football field. Don uses his NFL experience to explain how much math is involved, even in professional sports. When STEM appreciation meets strong literacy and a healthy lifestyle, every child is positioned for long-term success. The REECH Foundation aims to instill all three of these interests in camp participants.
As Don became more involved in Chesapeake, he started hearing similar themes. The local government is working well, but with each passing year, Chesapeake is presented with new challenges and opportunities. For instance, philanthropy in Chesapeake is alive and well, but needs innovation, creativity and a greater degree of efficiency to meet the growing needs of the citizens. Don's problem-solving nature kicked in as he couldn't help seeing potential solutions. This led to meetings with Mayor Rick West and other Chesapeake City Council members. Before long, Don was encouraged to pursue a council seat.
"As I pondered running for Chesapeake City Council, I realized another similarity between government and the NFL." Don explains. "If you want to be a champion, you need to learn from and listen to champions. That is why I am so proud of the support and counsel I have received from leaders like former Congressman Randy Forbes, Sheriff Jim O'Sullivan, Commissioner of Revenue Frank King, former mayor Alan Krasnoff and former Commissioner of Revenue Ray Conner."
When Don is asked what his greatest contribution to Chesapeake City Council would be, he answers enthusiastically, "From my childhood to my 10 years in the NFL, I was taught that when I had a job to do, I must work to be the best I can be at that a job. My commitment to the citizens of Chesapeake is that I will give them my best and work to serve them with all of the energy, diligence and team-building skills I have developed during my life. I sincerely hope to be a part of shaping the future for the city we all love."
Friends of Don Carey
P.O. Box 15908
Chesapeake, VA 23328