A Conversation with Jim and Monique Brown -- A Path to a Meaningful Life

November 23, 2020

By James A. Jacaruso, Jr.

Marc Pollick, Founder of The Giving Back Fund, held a fireside chat via Boomset at Lido Consulting’s 15th Annual (Virtual) Family Office Investment Symposium with NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown and his wife Monique.  The chat focused on Mr. Brown’s The Amer-I-Can Program that empowers individuals to take charge of their lives and achieve their full potential.

Mr. Brown attended Syracuse University after a stellar football and lacrosse career at Manhasset High School on Long Island. His football career at Syracuse was equally outstanding, earning unanimous All-American honors in his senior year. Perhaps more impressive was his multisport accomplishments: In addition to football, he excelled at basketball, track, and especially lacrosse. He was a first team All-American lacrosse player his senior season, is a member of the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, and is widely considered to be the greatest lacrosse player of all time.

After his storied professional athletic career and somewhat bumpy personal life, he redefined his life through his activism.  To help us understand the redefinition of Jim Brown, Mr. Pollick prompted him to speak about his childhood and upbringing.  He was an only child with no father and was raised by his great-grandmother until he was eight years old when she put him on a train to Manhasset where his mom worked as a domestic.  In Manhasset, a white wealthy community, he was a ward of a group of white professional men who saw him as an athletic prodigy, but also urged him to study and run for student government.  The two most influential were Dr. Collins and Manhasset football coach Ed Walsh; he credits these men with giving him his foundation and his confidence and forming his life.  The community bestowed its goodness on him, he embraced and it never forgot it.  Interestingly enough, he stated did not experience racism until he attended Syracuse and lived in a dorm apart from his teammates.

He was active in the civil rights movement in the volatile sixties.  He was spending time in the black communities in Cleveland and walking the Philadelphia streets with Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) just saying hello to people in efforts to uplift neighborhoods.  Mr. Brown helped form the Black Economic Union (“BEU”), an organization to promote black entrepreneurship through a network of athletes and MBAs.  The first newsletter displayed the words “PRODUCE, ACCHIEVE, PROPSPER” on its banner; inside was a picture of eight black high school students from Cleveland who were having their college education funded by BEU. The community had come full circle; Mr. Brown was paying it forward.

In 1988, Mr. Brown created The Amer-I-Can Program to assist individuals in meeting their academic potential, conforming their behavior to acceptable societal standards and improving the quality of their lives by teaching them critical life management skills for them to successfully and confidently contribute to society. The program provides resources to give back; opportunities for other children to succeed; a community-for-all attitude and a focus that instills the belief that God is all-powerful.  He insists humanity contributes to help and improve society; man helps man.  After listening to Mr. Brown, I went to Amer-I-Can’s website and found the program components: life skills that linked to assist individuals to reach their potential.

Monique Brown discussed how the program started by addressing gang violence, but moved into life skills training -- The program’s goal is to help people reach their full potential by teaching them life skills and helping them gain the ability to take responsibility for their lives and destination through self-determination.

Mr. Brown mentioned Rudolph “Rockhead” Johnson with pride.  Mr. Johnson was a former gang member; going down the wrong path until he met Mr. Brown.  I had to do a little research to understand the emotion Mr. Brown showed when speaking of Mr. Johnson.  Mr. Johnson was once one of the most feared men on the streets of South Central Los Angeles, the breeding ground for some of the most notorious gangs in L.A.  Mr. Brown mentored him, bringing him into the gang intervention program, taught him the life skills necessary to become a meaningful contributor to society.  While in the program, he developed a love of basketball and soon thereafter founded the Amer-I-Can basketball program, giving children from the streets an opportunity to learn the skills necessary to contribute to a meaningful society.  Today, “Rockhead” is one of Mr. Brown’s success stories and helps to build a continuing legacy and to help transform those less fortunate into community contributors.

Mr. Pollick concluded the chat by asking Mr. Brown if elected President for one day, what would he want to do to change America?  His response was consistent with his ideals: “We live in one of the most difficult times because of the state of the world.  God has put a disease that takes community and medical communities to work together.  The most powerful would be for human beings have to recognize human beings;  I do not talk black or white, male or female, I see all human beings and we have to work together to rid society of the divisions.  Working together is the only solution.  God has pointed the way and we must follow.  Mass humanity will solve today’s issues.”

About James A. Jacaruso Jr.

James A. Jacaruso Jr. is a Personal Wealth Advisors Group Director with more than 25 years of tax compliance and planning experience focusing on personal and fiduciary income taxation, gift taxation and wealth transfer planning.