Keith Gailliard grew up in Harlem, and the neighborhood where he lived was tough. The environment was challenging and could easily make a negative impact on kids. That would not happen to Keith. His mother embedded a fundamental sense of worth in him and a strong faith in God. She instilled love, respect, and acceptance of others regardless of their differences – no black or white. He modeled his mother’s values and is now a mentor to kids, and he believes they all should have a sense of pride for themselves and the community. Keith teaches them about self-worth and potential, and he doesn’t want to see any one of them fail.
From an early age, Keith’s mother inspired him to pursue his dreams and never give up. He always wanted to be involved with the community, and he went on to work with the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and became a police officer – and it wasn’t easy. It was during a time of high racial tension and injustice. While working his shift one day, he was approached by a woman he did not know and she said something that remains etched in his mind, “You’re supposed to be with kids. That’s your calling.” Keith believes it was a calling from God.
After leaving the NYPD, Keith joined the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and after a short stay, he transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Danbury, Connecticut as a Federal Corrections Officer, an EEO Officer and then a Lieutenant.
When the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened, it really hit home for him – he knew what it was like to be an officer and he had a cousin who died there. “Up until 9/11, people really didn’t know or pay attention to what public safety personnel did. But after that, people respected EMTs, firefighters, police officers, and other community workers,” Keith said.
Then, something overshadowed the darkest hour in United State’s history. People united and supported each other – regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion.
The attacks increased Keith’s desire to give more to his community. He became involved with a nonprofit, Friends of Local Heroes, which was established to provide lunch for emergency service workers. It started in 2002 and occurs annually around the anniversary of 9/11 in the Danbury area to recognize and show gratitude for public safety personnel.
Just as Keith’s mother was his inspiration as a young child, now he is the inspiration to children. He followed his calling as the woman told him years ago, and became very involved with kids by coaching youth sports for about 17 years. “I love to encourage kids and show them their worth,” he said. “I tell them they don’t have to settle when they fail – just get up and keep going.”
Keith was elected on the Board of Education in 2009 and is currently a Safety Advocate for Rogers Park Middle School in Danbury, where he works very closely with students. He is a core influence for all of them. He understands that some kids may not have a parent or guardian who can provide direction and support, so it fuels his passion to help even more. “I want kids to have a legacy. I always tell them, don’t shoot for the moon – shoot for the stars.”
And he continues to do what he was meant to do: work with kids and be an encouraging influence in their lives. It will help them become productive citizens and leaders of tomorrow.
Keith is committed to making a difference in the community. He said, “People should know who their neighbors are. If you don’t have a sense of community, you won’t have a sense of worth.” He wants to be patriotic to his home and to be proud about where he lives. “If we all become patriotic where we live, we can make things better in the community; with enough people, we can make a change,” Keith said. “If we don’t care, then why will our kids care?”
Keith exemplifies the meaning of community leader and continues to be a huge influence in the lives of all who get to meet him.