Derrick A. Humphries walked a lot as the captain of the AAA School Safety Patrol at Sherrill Elementary-Middle School in Detroit. As a seventh grader, he arrived early to school—rain, snow or shine—to make the rounds to each post where a member of the safety patrol was on duty. His goal: to leave no child behind.

“My parents did everything they could to encourage service in our community,” Humphries says. “It was my mother’s and my father’s commitment and example of community service that encouraged me,” adds Humphries, the eldest of 13 children.

His mother, having overcome tuberculosis as a teenager, raised money for March of Dimes to fight polio, and his father was a Detroit police officer. His grandfather was one of the first African American police officers in Detroit. That was in 1929, just nine years after the AAA School Safety Patrol program was born.

Volunteering for service

Managing people by walking around was ingrained in Humphries as a safety patrol captain and is a well-known business management practice today. When Humphries was the head usher at the Washington National Cathedral, he continued to use what he learned with the AAA School Safety Patrol.

“Without realizing what I was doing, I put into practice my walking to every point where we had ushers—outside the cathedral and inside,” he says. “Again, I wanted to leave nobody behind.”

Especially not the U.S. president.

The cathedral is home to many religious services involving the president of the United States. In 1981, Humphries, the first African American head usher, was asked by John Thomas Walker, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, to welcome the president at the cathedral doors, an honor usually reserved for the bishop.

That initiated the practice of the head usher welcoming world leaders to Washington National Cathedral. In this capacity, Humphries met five sitting presidents: Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton (himself a former safety patroller), George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and future President Joe Biden. He also met such dignitaries as Queen Elizabeth, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Princess Diana, Prince Charles and Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie. More recently, beginning in 2015 Humphries has had the honor of assisting the Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, the presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church.

“It has been an incredible experience,” Humphries says. One of Humphries’ favorite quotes is, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” He can also often be heard saying, “The cathedral ushers are the best usher team, no doubt about it.”

See how three families give credit to the AAA School Safety Patrol program for being an important part of their path to success.

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Campaigning for safety belts

When Humphries was a safety patrol captain, the belt he wore was white. Later, after he earned degrees from the University of Michigan and Wayne State University Law School, and then moved to Washington, D.C., he worked with another safety belt program—this one for automobile safety belts.

Humphries used influence and legal expertise gained as both a government and private sector attorney and with Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Jim Clyburn to lead a team that helped develop the “Buckle Up” campaign. That national program, sponsored by General Motors and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, encouraged safety belt use in motor vehicles. Once again, safety was Humphries’ focus.

“As we traveled across the country speaking in a variety of communities, our goal was to encourage everyone to use safety belts,” Humphries says. He and his team positioned their use as a health issue endorsed by then-U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, which provided access to additional funding. The result: a national campaign highly successful in raising the level of safety belt use, especially among African Americans; various communities of color; and state legislatures, medical colleges, national membership organizations and chiefs of police considering laws to help motorists remember to buckle up as a method of saving our children—the same goal Humphries strove for as a safety patrol captain.

Derrick A. Humphries is a man with a life-long focus on service, and it started all those years ago with his role as a AAA School Safety Patrol captain.


This story was featured in the
September/October 2021 issue of AAALiving Magazine

A Century of Service

The AAA School Safety Patrol program recently celebrated 100 years of keeping school children safer. See how to get involved.