Three days in the jungles of East Africa.
Sleeping in a tent.
Anthony Lynn is still trying to wrap his mind around his family’s itinerary.
“I thought they were joking the first time they said, ‘You’re going to be in a tent,’ ” the Los Angeles Chargers coach said with a laugh during a phone interview with Yahoo Sports. “But no.”
There were more warnings, too.
Pack light. And ditch the dark-colored clothing to avoid attracting insects — a problematic directive for someone with a propensity for overpacking and whose wardrobe consists solely of black and blue attire.
“I need to go get a smaller piece of luggage and see if I can make this work,” he said, laughing again.
Lynn, his wife, NBC New York news anchor Stacey Bell, and Lynn’s two adult children are heading to Tanzania on Saturday to see their plan come to fruition: The completion of a K-7 school they’re helping to fund.
The visit — which includes a 16-hour flight — is the culmination of nearly a decade of first dreaming and then planning to make the world a better place. Lynn and his family plan to visit the school and meet its students before a library is dedicated to the Lynn Family Foundation.
“This is exactly what he saw us doing as a couple and as a family,” Bell said, in a separate phone interview. “I think it’s part of his vision coming to life. Once we get there and meet the students and see the school and see the conditions, I think that’s when it’ll really hit us that, ‘Wow, we are a part of something bigger.’
“… I hope these students look at us and see themselves,” Bell added. "And even though we’re from America and we’ve had opportunities that they couldn’t even fathom, hopefully they look at us and think, ‘If they’re doing this, then when I grow up, I need to figure out how to pay it forward.’ ”
The driving force behind their involvement with the project was their mutual friend, Ravi Reddy, a commercial contractor and former University of Texas football player who played against Lynn in college when Lynn was at Texas Tech. The pair became close when they relocated to Long Island City, Queens, after Lynn joined the New York Jets’ coaching staff in 2009. And over weekend cookouts and chill sessions on Reddy’s balcony overlooking the East River, the two men, and their future wives, talked endlessly about everyday life and their passion for philanthropy.
And when it was clear that a school in Tanzania could be more than just a pipe dream, Lynn and his wife didn’t hesitate to get involved.
Just the beginning
The couples came together in the spirit of friendship, sharing meals, laughs and heartfelt dreams for the future.
Picturesque views of the Manhattan skyline were the backdrop for countless barbecues and conversations that would last for hours. And eventually, it would serve as the birthplace for their lofty philanthropic endeavor.
“You just never know,” Lynn said, less than 48 hours before he, Bell, his son, D’Anton (a current defensive assistant for the Houston Texans), and his daughter, Danielle, were due at the airport. “Some kid that goes through that school may end up having a big influence on that country and may have a direct impact on our country. Maybe not for us, but maybe our grandkids.
“We believe in education. We believe everything starts with education. And this is an area that really needed it.”
Reddy, who founded the nonprofit P2Serve, and his wife had long been involved in charitable projects overseas, Lynn said. But there was one area in particular that Reddy was determined to build a school in: the rural Simanjiro village of Linjani, in the Maasai region of Tanzania. With limited educational resources in the remote area, male students often have few options besides joining the military. Young girls often end up being victims of the sex trade.
In 2016, Reddy teamed up with Africa’s Promise Village and Common Threadz, two nonprofits that aim to help vulnerable children and orphans in African communities, to help build a school. Headlines pertaining to Lynn’s involvement with the project have been somewhat misleading, however.
“No, I didn’t go over with them and hammer a two-by-four and all,” quipped the Chargers coach. “That’s not gonna happen.”
Instead, Lynn and his wife raised and pledged a “substantial” donation at a June 2018 gala fundraiser in Austin, Texas, to fund the completion of the school.
But this is only the beginning.
“What we want is a K-12,” Lynn said. “That’s our goal.”
Added Bell: “This won’t be a one-time thing. As long as we’re financially able to do this, we want to be a part of it.”
A privilege to serve
Before their 2011 wedding, the couple each recorded interviews about the other person and their remarks were later shown at the wedding reception.
Bell now considers them “corny,” but those video keepsakes highlight one of the strongest bonds between her and Lynn: A desire to help those in need.
“I was working with a scholarship fund in Cleveland at the time,” said Bell, “and he said something to the effect of: ‘I like the fact that she wants to give back and help these students. And I think we can work together and make a big difference in the world.’ … He’s always thought in big terms like that.”
It’s the way Lynn’s mother, Betty Jackson, raised him to be.
She always has been the type to give people “the clothes off her back if you needed it. Giving has been a big part of my family, where I grew up,” said the Chargers coach, who fulfilled his promise to his mother by graduating with his college degree in May 2018, 25 years after he left Texas Tech to pursue an NFL career that included two Super Bowls.
“It’s always been a privilege to serve and give in my household. And that’s one of the things that attracted me to Stacey early on in the dating game: Her willingness to give and serve and try to have an impact, especially on young women.”
Lynn has been a longtime supporter of various charities across the United States, including “Young Warriors,” a mentoring program for fatherless boys; Hugs Café in McKinney, Texas, which employs special-needs adults and teaches them job skills; Summer Night Lights, a program in L.A. that provides meaningful programming to 32 parks across the region and in at-risk neighborhoods; and Athletes in Action, which brings coaches and players together through sports and faith.
The school in Tanzania is just an extension of the charitable work Lynn and his wife have done domestically for years. Yet, some have questioned their decision to help people less fortunate overseas.
Said Lynn: “One of the things that kind of pissed me off a little bit: The people that came up to me saying, ‘Hey man, we think what you’re doing is a great thing, but we have a lot of poverty and needs in our own country. Did you ever think of doing it here?’ Well, No. 1, I’ve been doing it here all my damn life. And No. 2, I’ve been working since I was 13 years old … so, I’ve built a lot of schools in this country with my tax dollars.
“I’ve done a lot here, but for people to question, ‘Why Tanzania?’ ‘Why abroad?’ that just kind of ticked me off a bit. Serving people and charity, it has no boundaries, it has no borders.”
As he sat on the balcony of his New Jersey apartment overlooking the Hudson River on Thursday afternoon, Lynn took inventory of everything still left on his to-do list.
At the conclusion of the Chargers’ minicamp schedule, he returned to Dallas to visit family and friends before hosting a two-day charity golf outing and reception in Grapevine, Texas, earlier this week. After those five or six days, he flew to the Tri-State area for a few days before the family's six-day trip in Tanzania.
The 16-hour flight doesn’t bother him, not after four separate visits to Japan, and trips to Australia and Barcelona. But it’s the sleeping accommodations and the dress code that had him somewhat anxious.
“They specifically said, ‘When you travel, try not to wear black and blue,’” Lynn said. “So I’m like, ‘My goodness! I have no clothes!’ ”
He also couldn’t help but reflect on the journey to this point — a journey that began years ago on the opposite edge of Manhattan.
“We used to talk about these things all the time,” Lynn said of the hours he and Bell spent at Reddy’s Long Island City apartment. “… But it wasn’t until we sat and talked about the situation over there, and he showed me pictures — I even saw some video. And I was like, ‘God dang, there’s no way I can walk away from that deal.’
“But the very thought really developed on top of his balcony, overlooking the skyline of Manhattan on the East River. We talked about a lot of things on that balcony.”
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