From the joys of seeing DeSoto athletes getting the chance to play in the NFL to going behind the scenes of one of the nation’s most under-reported racist actions, Karen Reese of DeSoto wants to be there to tell the story.
Reese is many things, including a filmmaker, entrepreneur, community cheerleader, and perhaps the most significant sports enthusiast DeSoto has ever known. The latter led to her film “PATH to the Draft: 7 DeSoto U Players.” The film focuses on the journey of seven university-graduated athletes from DeSoto, all of whom declared for the April 2018 NFL draft.
The film offers the perspectives of the players and their families, learning who they are and what football means to them.
“DeSoto is the breeding ground of elite athletes, and 2018 ignited one of many impending validations,” Reese said. “There were seven players going into the NFL draft – a special group of student-athletes who were a part of making history in DeSoto. These athletes played on the team that made it to the 2012 semifinal football playoffs, a first in DeSoto High School history.
“Having seven athletes be declared for the draft from one community and one school had never been done in the history of an NFL draft class.”
PATH to the Draft: 7 DeSoto U Players
The initial athletes spotlighted were Christopher Lacy, Oklahoma State; Vernon Johnson, Jr., Eastern Oklahoma; Nick Orr, TCU; Desmon White, TCU; Taylor Young, Baylor; Sergio Young, San Diego State; and Brandon McDowell, Texas State. The premier of their 75-minute film was at a private screening on Nov. 21, 2019, at Geeklettes in DeSoto, and it was a hit.
That was followed by more athletes getting a chance at their professional dream, which gave Reese the idea for a series. However, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, setting plans back – though she still wants to launch the series.
The film’s director, lead cinematographer, and editor is Tim Phillips, Founder of I Make Moviez TimP. Reese, who also had a hand in directing and was the producer. They adopted a natural style and captured student-athletes and all others involved in the film in a natural light with actions from the heart.
Making An Impact On Others In Small Communities
“The small city of DeSoto is a gem, and by sharing this news of our history and
accomplishments, a substantial impact could be made on others who also reside in small
communities that, at times, may go unnoticed,” Reese said.
Reese’s brand is Can I Play Productions, LLC. Through it, she seeks to encourage adults to 1) educate, 2) equip, 3) empower, 4) inspire, and 5) lead by introducing a modernized perspective.
She said the hope is to transform the Can I Play brand into a household name by “realizing our vision to set the bar for how underrepresented communities, along with influential figures, city officials, and sports professionals, strive by encouraging the importance of connecting and sharing information.”
In 2020 Reese launched a talk show for sports moms named “Can We Talk Sports?”
“When I was in the booster club at DeSoto (for several years beginning in 2011), I was fortunate to get to know the parents as well as the players, which created a friendship,” she said. “From that, I saw how valuable it was to have relationships within a community, which sparked loving the people that live in the same area as you. The importance of building where you lay your head is vital.”
Changing The Narrative
Ironically, though none of her four children (three daughters, one son) ever played sports for DeSoto, Reese is known for being everything sports in DeSoto.
“I also have the championship rings to prove it,” she said. “I love our community and love supporting the kids from our community. It is very important to celebrate with each other, as there are enough unfortunate incidents happening all around us, and we see it every day on television.
“So it’s time to change the narrative and celebrate sharing the love, happiness, and accomplishments of others which brings joy and smiles to all people.”
Reese and her husband of almost 28 years, Pete, relocated to DeSoto from Carson, California, with their children in 2004. She immediately fell in love with the area and wanted to share that love with others.
“Many small communities are often overlooked when they are stationed within a large city. And this fact applies to the great city of DeSoto,” she said. “Not only is DeSoto an academy collegiate program, sending 25-50 students to college for sports and academic scholarships, it also wins millions in grants to further our youth’s education.
“But the real recognition, if you are a true sports fan of student-athletes, is how DeSoto won four state championships in 2016 in four different sports. And these are just a few optimistic facts about the city of DeSoto.”
Her latest project
Reese is also part of a group that created “The Greenwood Avenue Project.” It tells the story of Black Wall Street in Tulsa and the 1921 race massacre, shedding light on the community in the aftermath.
“Terry Baccus (filmmaker) from Tulsa saw me working on the documentary ‘PATH to the Draft: 7 DeSoto U Players’ and asked if I would come and do the documentary about Black Wall Street. I said I have never heard about this,” Reese recalled. “I went to visit Tulsa, and he introduced us as the filmmaker and said, ‘We will do your documentary!’
“Our project is valuable because it tells the stories of people from the Greenwood community, portraying all the layers of the realities of effects birthed from this horrific turn of events suffered by the black people that were living in Tulsa during that time and for years to come. We will achieve telling the story of the history of Greenwood to thousands of people that never knew about the Massacre at all while also educating everyone on the aftermath of what has been going on after the rebuilding of Greenwood in 1925.”
The feature film documentary will be shown in select African American museums and venues throughout the United States. The first showing will be on May 31 and June 1 at the Dallas African American Museum at 6:30 p.m.
For more information, visit www.greenwoodaveproject.com.