Every dark cloud has a silver lining, so they say. Well, Michael Brown Sr. does, anyway.
This was the theme of the father of late Michael Brown Jr.’s talk at ETSU titled “A Father’s Perspective.” He spoke to a crowd of about 200 students, faculty, staff and community members, including ETSU President Brian Noland, in the Culp auditorium on the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 15.
Michael Brown, Jr., age 18, was fatally shot by former police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on Aug. 4, 2014. The officer was later dismissed of criminal charges by a grand jury. The altercation and, more so, the verdict sent shockwaves across the nation, sparking a controversial discussion on police brutality and race relations in America and propelling the Black Lives Matter movement into the mainstream.
“Close your eyes and imagine losing a child,” said Brown Sr., in opening his talk. “Imagine not being able to hold them or to hear their voice or to say I love you or to see their accomplishments. That is my reality. Now open your eyes.”
The emotional audience was taken on a step-by-step journey through the day of Brown Jr.’s shooting and the aftermath that followed. The viral videos, the rise of #BLM, the peaceful protests, the violent riots, the police relations and the objectification of a family in mourning.
“I knew that I had to use this unwanted platform to make a change. That is my part,” Brown Sr. said. “That was the only good that could possibly come out of this.”
Nearly a year after the town of Ferguson became known as “Ground Zero,” Brown Sr. established the Michael Brown Foundation d/b/a Chosen for Change. The nonprofit’s focus is to strengthen and change “destiny improvised communities” by empowering, engaging and building leadership and self-determination in children, youth and families.
The Chosen for Change pledge reads, “We must begin to value life. We must respect ourselves and others. We must show restraint in everything we do. We must take responsibility for our own actions — then change will come.”
The foundation sponsors programs in communities, especially schools, that they consider to be destiny improvised, that is to be underprivileged or underrepresented to an extent that affects the destiny of the youth that inhabit them.
“We’ve got to stop focusing and caring about ourselves,” Brown Sr. said. “Everyone together is affected by this. We need to get back to loving each other and loving our communities: black, white, Mexicans, Chinese, you name it. We either unify, or we die.”
After sharing his personal journey and the work of his organization, Brown Sr. opened the talk into a question-and-answer forum.
Among the questions asked was a common thread, “How do we make progress beyond this campus, especially in a community that ignores or does not believe in our cause?” as one student asked.
“You have to make yourself and those around you uncomfortable,” Brown Sr. said. “Get off Twitter, get off sharing and get outside. Take it to the streets. Be responsible about it, but be heard.”
Brown Sr.’s talk follows a semester of controversy. In September, ETSU student protesters were confronted by Tristan Rettke, a former student wearing a gorilla mask holding a noose, bananas and a burlap sack “in an attempt to provoke” the demonstration.
Nathan Farnor, vice president of SGA, followed up with another question, “How about the white people who care but don’t feel that they can be involved, or be out there?”
“Everyone plays a role. It isn’t about the color of the skin or about who is the one being shouted at by cops. It’s about the end result,” Brown Sr. explained.
“The same person that takes it to the street isn’t the same person who would take it to the board table of an organization. Everyone has to find their role,” he said. “But before you can find your role, you’ve got to find yourself.”