By Crystal Burns
A historic African-American church in Trenton celebrated its 151st anniversary July 15-16 and honored one of the city’s finest during a banquet at Trenton Rosenwald Middle School.
First Baptist Church encouraged members and guests attending the annual celebration to contribute to a love offering for Trenton Ptlm. Xavier Keys who is recovering from a stroke he suffered in May.
Marshall Easley, a local pastor, said Keys is a wonderful young man who enjoys working with young people.
“He’s done a great job,” Easley said. “Keep doing what you’re doing,” he encouraged Keys.
Keys attended the banquet with his parents Teresa and Michael Keys, his daughter Kaylee and other family members. Trenton police officers also joined him.
In a phone interview with The Gazette, Keys said he is optimistic he’ll back with his brothers and sisters in blue soon. He said he probably has about 70 to 80 percent function back. He has a slight limp, and Keys said his speech isn’t what it should be.
“I’m still working,” he said.
Keys knew something was wrong when he went to sign his timesheet after working the Teapot Festival Parade on May 5. He was experiencing chest pain and vomited, he said. Keys went next door to the Fire Dept. to ask the First Responders to check him out, and they found that his blood pressure was extremely high.
Keys rode in an ambulance to Jackson where doctors noted that his blood pressure was still too high, but they didn’t think he had had a stroke or heart attack, Keys said. He stayed overnight for observation, and the next morning, doctors confirmed that Keys had suffered a mini stroke and heart attack. Tests revealed no blockages in his arteries, and doctors told Keys he would need to change his diet and exercise more.
Keys and his family expected to go home soon, but that night Keys suffered a more serious stroke that knocked him out from May 7-13. He doesn’t remember anything from that time period, he said.
“It was scary because I thought I was asleep for maybe a day,” he said. “When I woke up, I couldn’t talk and I couldn’t move my right side. They told me later I had another stroke.”
Two days later, the hospital released him to Spire Rehabilitation for physical, occupational and speech therapy.
“They were really good to me,” Keys said. “I believe whole-heartedly if I hadn’t gone there, I wouldn’t have gotten back as much as I did.”
Keys’ three daughters Melissa, Majayla and Kaylee visited him almost every week and provided him plenty of motivation to power through his therapy sessions.
“It’s hard work, but it’s fun to get through it,” Keys said.
Keys, a 2005 Peabody High School graduate, wanted to be a police officer when he was little.
“I always watched ‘Cops,’” he said. “It was one of my favorite shows.”
After high school, though, he changed directions. He got a degree in Physical Education and planned to teach and coach. Later, he worked for companies that helped people with mental health issues. Someone suggested he put in his application with the Jackson Police Dept., but when he didn’t get the job, Keys considered giving up his childhood dream.
His uncle convinced him to apply in Trenton.
“The rest is history,” Keys said.
He has been on the force for nearly three years.
“They have been a blessing,” Keys said of his fellow officers. “They’ve done way more than any department needs to for anybody. They’re always there for me. I think that’s what makes us a family.”
Keys also appreciates the support he’s received from the community, especially local churches. While he isn’t a member of First Baptist, he said the congregation treats him like family. He was honored by their kindness at the anniversary banquet.
“It meant the world to me,” Keys said.
Evangelist Barbara Huddleston Mattai was the evening’s featured speaker. Davis and Davis and Timeaka Bailey, Dezarae Bailey and Terralyn Elam provided music. Verline Scott served as the mistress of ceremony, and Anthony Bell was master of ceremony. Patricia Sharp offered greetings, Carlene Easley recapped the church’s history and Sylvia Johnson and Marie Cox gave the vote of thanks.
Pastor Darrick L. Theus, who has led the church for 21 years, presented the Pastor’s Award to Patricia Sharp. Sharp teaches teenagers during Wednesday Bible study classes and is vice president of the church’s missionary society.
First Baptist Church is located on Gibson Road in Trenton.