Former Longhorn and pro football star transforms reading spaces in AISD
There’s much to discover at the library, and now Austin Independent School District kids are getting a specially dedicated space, thanks to the Defend the Dream Foundation.
Derrick Johnson, a former Texas Longhorn who played with the Kansas City Chiefs and garnered prestige in both positions, started Defend the Dream in 2012 to connect low-income and inner city youths with better resources and opportunities. He moved back to Austin in 2019, and committed to supporting the nonprofit even further.
On September 15, the foundation will present Austin’s first Discovery Den to Oak Springs Elementary School in East Austin near Airport Boulevard. Defend the Dream has been installing Discovery Dens in other schools for years, transforming school library spaces into well-stocked, football-themed reading areas with bright colors and lots of seating.
The low-tech, low-convolution goal is to create a comfortable and engaging space to encourage reading. In this case, it’s nearly $58,000 of donations for a “multi-functional space,” with donated furniture, bookshelves, and new flooring. In addition to a more exciting atmosphere, this donation covers more than 1,000 new books, selected for diversity, in an effort to modernize the current library selection.
In April of 2022, Defend the Dream announced a partnership with Horns with Heart, another nonprofit that uses the social and media pull of University of Texas student-athletes to promote community outreach and charity. The latter organization will help build the dens and assign reading ambassadors to keep up the activity.
“When I moved back to Austin a few years ago, I wanted to continue my work with Defend the Dream and help those in need be able to reach their full potential,” said Johnson in the April press release. “Partnering with an organization that supports my Alma Mater, UT, was a no brainer. Horns With Heart really pinpoints the heart of what I believe in - people helping others in their own community.”
Defend the Dream will continue with similar projects across the district after the Oak Springs Discovery Den is handed off on September 15, from 9 am to 10 am. More information about Defend the Dream is available at derrickjohnsonfoundation.org.