MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA—When Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper came to Minnesota fresh out of college, he knew he wanted to contribute to the community. He just didn't know exactly how. MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA—When Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper came to Minnesota fresh out of college, he knew he wanted to contribute to the community. He just didn't know exactly how.
Then he got a call from Marquita Stephens, president of the African American Adoption and Permanency Planning Agency, a state agency focused on placing minority children in permanent homes.
From there, Culpepper knew he had a cause – one he knows on a deeply personal level. He was born in a Florida prison to a woman serving a sentence for armed robbery, and taken in when he was just one day old by a 62-year-old woman named Emma Culpepper, who had already raised 12 other kids.
Culpepper attributes much of his success to her.
“I can't put into words what she's done for me – what she's meant to me – my whole life,'' Culpepper said.
Now, Culpepper is working to help others make that same connection.
He's been working with Stephens' agency since he joined the Vikings, by appearing at fundraisers and organizing a celebrity golf tournament. But Monday, Culpepper pledged $500,000 of his salary over the next 10 years to help fund the agency.
Stephens said she's not yet sure Culpepper's pledge will be used, but it might aid a new initiative to place children taken out of bad homes, as opposed to those shuffled into the system shortly after birth.
She said her agency has found homes for approximately 300 children in the past five years, good enough to make them one of the top two agencies in the state.
But she and Culpepper know they've got more work to do.
Stephens said black children typically spend longer in foster care because it's harder to find homes for them. The average stay is 800 days, she said. So her agency is working to raise awareness in the black community about the possibilities of adoption.
Culpepper said he tries to keep kids upbeat when he visits foster homes.
“The kids, they try to keep smiling, and they seem to be comfortable, but I know it's not like that,'' he said. “I know they really want to be in a home and really want to be able to call someone 'mom.'
“I tell them it doesn't matter where you are right now, it matters where you're going.''
Culpepper said he considers himself lucky because he was placed with Emma so quickly. He said Emma treated him so much like her natural child that he didn't know he was adopted until he was about 5 years old.
The two formed such strong ties that Culpepper didn't want to leave when his biological mother was released from prison at about the same time he was told he was adopted.
Culpepper stayed with his natural mother for a week, about 10 minutes from Emma's house in Ocala, Fla. But he never called it home.
“I cried every day. And my mom saw how unhappy I was, so she took me back (to Emma),'' he said.
Culpepper said through five years and 1,500 miles, he still lives by the lessons he learned from Emma.
“She always said life is about helping other people. That's what it's all about,'' he said.