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Omaha Magazine

A Sign to Help Others: The Keys Foundation Runs The Give and Go for Omaha Youth

Sep 01, 2020 08:27AM ● By Chris Hatch
Marquis "Keys" Haynes with basketball

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

History has a way of repeating itself.

Except when someone doesn’t let it, such as when that old, dusty, chalkboard cliché gets wiped clean and suddenly someone new is at the head of the class; or when that carnival tilt-a-whirl of cyclical sameness shuts down because someone raised their hand and dared to author a new page.

Marquis “Keys” Haynes has never been one to bow to the status quo—she doesn’t believe in heedlessly doing things the way they’ve always been done.

When Haynes was just a girl playing street ball at her aunt’s house, during games where fouls were only called when blood was spilled—that dark red badge of honor splattering somewhere around the cracked free-throw lines on the outdoor court—she learned that sometimes rules currently in existence don’t mean a hell of a lot in the real world.

“Growing up we didn’t have the funds for me to participate in organized basketball clubs, so I could only participate with a team for a little bit, before I would have to eventually quit,” Haynes said. “So I played a lot of street ball, I played with all the boys. I fell so in love with basketball that it literally became my therapy, my peace.”

When she was finally able to make the transition from driveway to hardwood, her game began to take off.

“I didn’t play consistent organized basketball until I got to the seventh grade, when it was provided by the school. I was really behind because all I did was watch, and I played basketball outside where there weren’t many rules.”

As her game progressed, she started to study the ins and outs of basketball. She would read it. Breathe it. Absorb it through the osmosis of constant saturation. She watched NBA games and came to idolize Allen “The Answer” Iverson, mentally hitting CTRL  C any time he played b-ball on TV, so that she could one day hit CTRL  V.

She still needed help, and she knew it. That’s when she learned exactly what can happen when all that raw passion, that rocket fuel of youthful enthusiasm, is channeled by a pilot who knows how to get the ship off the ground.

“As I got to high school, I noticed I still was behind,” Haynes said. “However, I had an assistant coach that saw my potential named Coach Dell Gines. He worked with me before and after practices. I was truly grateful for him. I noticed my true potential when I played my junior year and saw how much my performance improved. I think that’s when the lightbulb went on for me and it truly made me want to grind even harder.”

The Omaha North grad excelled enough to be offered a scholarship to play in college, and she realized that this invaluable mentorship needed to be passed on. That’s when she made the most popular play of all true point guards: Haynes started her own give and go.

“When The Keys Foundation started, I envisioned implementing the programs I didn’t have an opportunity to have growing up,” Haynes said. “[A place to find] a mentor, funds to be on a basketball team, or participating in basketball camps/clinics. My focus was geared towards providing those services, especially to our young ladies and women.”

She started by making sure that the next generation of girls were literally balling out, had a chance to move their games into a place where a gusting Midwest breeze wouldn’t cause an airball and organization would allow talent to flourish.

“When we started it was just the Women’s Basketball League,” Haynes said. “I always wanted to provide that service for the women that still played basketball, whether it’s for fun or for competitive play. Since the sixth grade, I’ve always been the one that spoke out for equality when it came to women’s sports. I never liked how we were placed on the back burner when it came to men’s and boys’ sports. The very first session we had nine teams sign up. It was amazing.”

Haynes suddenly found herself, and her foundation, running a three-woman weave, quickly, accurately passing between all the different options it was providing—a clinic, a basketball league, a girls basketball team, and a mentorship program focused on helping young women with their self esteem.

The Keys Foundation started on the court but, much like its founder, has continued to evolve. 

“It really is about reaching out and helping those girls that look like us,” said Chequetta Jackson, vice president of the Confidently Me Mentorship program. “Maybe they don’t have a mentor, and we really wanted to be intentional and purposeful. So, we started thinking about our experience with the girls we coached and what’s the number one thing we see young women struggle with?…Confidence. We need a program that really hones in on that.”

From there, three mentors and 14 girls started a journey together, recently finishing the pilot year of the program.

“Some of their behavior [was amazing] from the beginning of the program, where a girl that never talked would end up getting in front of the group and make a speech, and had progressed so far, could make eye contact and could talk about her journey and present and talk about herself confidently,” Jackson said.

Ball is life for Haynes, and life is a ball. From the metal-net street balling days of yelling “and one!” when fouled and watching the And 1 Mixtape, to the front lines of the battle for self-confidence, one thing is clear: When she shoots her shot? She’s not going to miss. 

Visit thekeysfoundation.com for more information.

This article was printed in the September 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.