“Mark Byrne was totally committed to Derrick Johnson’s Defend the Dream Foundation as a way to eradicate childhood illiteracy, and we concur 100% that current rates of illiteracy here in Kansas City are unacceptable,” said Stephen R. Cloud, Chairman of the IBT Board of Directors. “The first step to a good education is learning how to read, and we’d like to help start a handful of kids down the path to success.”
IBT’s contribution is being used to build 5 new DJ’s Discovery Dens in the Kansas City area. Each den transforms an unused classroom at a school into a reading “oasis,” with 1,200 age-appropriate books, and a comfortable space to read—including bean bag chairs, fresh paint, and a life-size picture of Derrick Johnson, a popular linebacker who joined the Kansas City Chiefs team in 2005.
“I’ve always had a passion for helping inner-city kids. I grew up in a house that catered to education, because my mom has been a school teacher for 40 years, and she really instilled that value in us,” Johnson said, adding that his sister and brother also ended up working in the field of education—as a principal and school teacher. He founded the Derrick Johnson’s Defend the Dream Foundation in 2012 with the mission to provide low-income and inner-city young people with the opportunities and resources to reach their full potential.
The goal of the foundation is to positively impact the lives of 100,000 at-risk Kansas City children by the end of 2019. He adds that high school graduation rates improve for kids who read a lot in elementary school.
“My goal is to get elementary-age kids excited about reading,” Johnson said. “I want them to walk by a Discovery Den, sit down, and pick up a book. Because if a student gets behind in reading levels and vocabulary by the 5th or 6th grade, then their chance of graduating high school goes way down.”
Mark Byrne served on the Board of Directors for Derrick Johnson’s Defend the Dream Foundation for nearly 2 years, before passing away unexpectedly in 2015. Byrne’s mother was a schoolteacher who had a passion for reading, and childhood literacy remained an important issue to him throughout his life.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the donation from IBT, and I very much appreciate their help and support for what we’re trying to accomplish here in Kansas City,” Johnson said. “I really enjoyed working with Mark, because he had a passion for kids and education. He put a lot of hard work and effort into building this organization into what it is today.”
In addition to the donation for DJ’s Discovery Dens, IBT also made contributions to 3 other organizations that Byrne actively supported: Johnson County Community College, to establish the Mark Byrne/IBT Scholarship Foundation; reStart, to help reduce homelessness in the Kansas City area; and the University of Vermont, Byrne’s alma mater, to create housing for the hockey program—another passion of Byrne’s.
“When Mark passed away, we decided to make a contribution to his favorite organizations as a way to honor his memory,” Cloud said. “We were very moved by his passing, and by his outstanding leadership here at IBT. Our goal was to memorialize him, as well as keep his work in the Kansas City community alive.”