Great men are not born great. They are made great through the adversities and trials they overcome for the sake of others. – JT Waresak
As I was grabbing some breakfast on the go (I’m always working and therefore eating on the go), something on the television in the dining area grabbed my attention. I had already planned to sit by the window, but what I saw on the television was so amazing, I simply sat down right where I was.
It was CNN.
Not only was it CNN, but someone I knew was being interviewed. It was Jedidiah Brown.
I had been trying to get one of my young people from Pathfinders (aka Young Black Success) to interview him – for over a year now. His schedule just didn’t allow for it. But seeing him on CNN reminded me of why I wanted all the young men in my organization to know him.
So I decided right then and there to write about him – myself.
I do not remember exactly how I came in contact with him, but I remember knowing more about him, than he did me, when we met for lunch at Obama’s favorite food establishment in Hyde Park: Valois. I had left local youth work and was well into national youth work, so I was not particularly following what was going on in Chicago specifically. Upon my return, all I heard about was the work of this young guy whose name I couldn’t pronounce. People were shocked that I did not know about him.
I was pretty impressed right from the start of lunch as he had something most people I meet with don’t have: a plan. Without a plan there is no direction. It’s OK if your plan is not rock solid. Life happens and things come up, but having a plan allows you to look back and evaluate any progress you have made and tweak things going forward.
I reached into my pocket and gave him a donation towards his work.
I don’t quote Jessie Jackson often, but the greatest thing I ever heard him say personally was something along the lines of how causes/campaigns/change all need money to be effective. We are quick to march or protest, but when it comes to freely giving of our own money, well…
Without money you can do nothing. NOTHING.
People are very attached to their money, especially these days. One of the greatest gestures you can make to show your support for something or someone, is to give your money towards it. Randomly walk up to someone and give them $10 and watch how happy they are going to be.
Every time I have seen Jedidiah since, I have made sure to leave a donation to support his work.
After he heard I was working with a mentoring program, he invited me to a session he was invited to speak at for Steve Harvey’s Mentoring Program. Now he could have chosen to go on his own, after all, the invite was for him – but to share that invitation with me because he knew the connection would benefit the young people I work with showed a great deal of character. Ironically, his assistant who generally travels with him wasn’t able to make it. So I immediately agreed to step in and fill that role. Of course he was against it at first, after all, I am older than he is. I learned a long time ago that it does not make you any less of a man to serve someone else when you are able to and your services are clearly needed.
A few months later I hosted an event at my church for youth in a mentoring program I worked with in the Austin area (Austin Dream Makers). It was a panel comprised of African American young adults who were doing big things in several areas: politics, finance and activism just to name a few. I invited Jedidiah – he invited the rest of the panel. You can tell alot about a person’s future by who how he/she chooses their friends.
I’m pointing out these little things for a reason.
A very touchy topic for most people is politics. People generally judge others by their politics. People expect you to think like they think. Your opinion has to be similar to their opinion. You can easily make an enemy out of some people simply based off your political views.
Here is where my respect for Jedidiah lies. He sets an example I hope all young people in my program follow. It’s the basis for why I am taking the time to write this essay.
Leaders have to make decisions – not for popularity – but simply because they are the right decisions to make. People always ask me why so many young people chose to follow me when I don’t have any titles or positions and my answer is always the same: leadership is the ability to empower and inspire others. Jedidiah is the perfect example of this.
His views and opinions are his, based solely off of what he believes to be right. He doesn’t really care about what everyone else is doing or thinking. He knows that if everyone is thinking and doing the same thing, then that makes everyone average. He has no desire to be average.
When you stand outside of the box, you become outstanding.
So this is my “thank you” to him. My motivational message to the young people we serve and a reminder to myself that trials and tribulations come just to make me strong.