Dan Newton – The Man Behind the Jersey

Life is all about the people we meet.

As an incoming freshman at Elk Grove High School, I remember seeing some upperclassmen wearing these cool baseball jerseys. I found out they were members of the Associated Student Body (ASB) team. It was at that moment I decided I wanted to wear one of those jersey. I wanted to wear that jersey because of the dedication, energy, and excellence that I saw from those who were wearing the jersey. I wanted to wear that jersey because those who wore it led by serving. And, I wanted to wear that jersey because they looked cool. I found out through my friends the man behind the jerseys – our student government adviser – was Mr. Dan Newton. I later learned first-hand that he was also the force behind the dedication, energy, and excellence.

One of my earliest encounters with Mr. Newton was when I ran for the Athletic Chair on ASB leading into my junior year. I lost. However, Mr. Newton called me in and discussed an open position as a School Board Representative. That second chance enabled me to spend my junior year working with a great team of juniors and seniors. My buddy Elliott and I were the sole guys on a team of twenty-four. Being a School Board Rep meant preparing speeches with my teammate Jamie by working with students, teachers, and our principal then delivering those speeches in front of the school board and community leaders. The public speaking and interaction with leaders of the community were priceless. So too were the incredible relationships that I formed both at Elk Grove and across the state of California with other young high school leaders.

Mr. Newton allowed us to make our own decisions as young leaders, which meant that there would inevitably be mistakes. I would like to say everything was perfect during my senior year as student body president, but I made my share of mistakes. We had an amazing team. We would discuss the choices and then the mistakes, and he would offer insight, wisdom, and ways to improve. Newt-Dogg never wanted us to fear trying something new or making a mistake. If we were putting forth our best effort, we had his complete support.

One of the best decisions we made as a leadership team was to purchase and implement the “Wisdom Minute” as part of the morning announcements. It was a short story with a quote and always ended with, “Make it a great day, or not. The choice is yours.” Mr. Newton brought the idea to our team then left it up to us to decide whether we wanted to move forward with it. We eventually decided to go for it and though at times it seemed cheesy, the Wisdom Minute became a fun and encouraging staple to our morning announcement. He presented us with an opportunity and then allowed us to make an adult decision.

Thank you, Mr. Newton, for your dedication, encouragement, life lessons, energy, and commitment to excellence. Please know that your spirit of selfless service lives on in the lives of your students who are spread out across the country and around the world. And thank you for the opportunity to learn from you and grow as a leader.

In Service,

David A. Brown-Dawson, 27 September 2017

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Room for Improvement

The fear of failure often does more damage than failure itself.

A couple weeks ago, I decided to share my post regarding potential on Facebook. After doing so, my buddy Derik reached out to let me know what he thought of the post and to let me know there was a typo… in the first sentence. He even took a screenshot of it to help me out. First, I am very thankful to have friends that are willing to read what I am writing, reach out, and provide constructive criticism to help me improve. Admittedly, I was disappointed in the mistake and immediately went to the post to fix it. However, because it was in the first sentence, it showed up right below the title of the post as it was shared on Facebook (it’s still there, see for yourself). This experience was both humbling and encouraging.

Humbling: It served as a reminder that I have a lot of work to do on my writing and editing abilities.

Encouraging: It was a reminder that I have a lot of room for improvement and growth in my writing and editing abilities.

The ideas sound the same and they are definitely connected. At the heart of it is this: my writing journey is a process. And as such, I am going to make mistakes and fail as I continue to write (and I will continue to write). This mistake would not have been made, and I would not have faced the disappointment and embarrassment had I decided not to post anything. Same thing can be said about a basketball player missing a shot. They won’t face the disappointment of missing the shot if they decide not to shoot. However, they know three things. One, in order to score, they have to shoot and be willing to risk missing.  Two, missing is part of the game. Three, the way to become a better basketball player is to go to the court and start dribbling and shooting.

A quick aside: there is definitely value in watching game film- learning strategy, best practices, and what you can do better. But that means nothing if you never try and implement what you are learning by stepping on the court and practicing (dribbling and shooting). In that same line, I can read as many books and watch as many videos on writing and editing as I want. But I will not become a better writer if I do not actually write.

Here’s the point: life is all about perspective and choices. You can choose to view each grammatical error or mistake in life as a failure and beat yourself up over it. Or, you can recognize that mistakes are part of the process, learn from them, and implement what you learned in order to improve.

I hope you choose to pursue your potential and whatever you are passionate about, understanding that mistakes (and failure) are part of the process. Make it a great life, or not. The choice is yours.

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 17 June 2017

Step Back to Move Forward

2017 is flying by. A lot is happening and in the next few months even more will take place. It’s normal to get caught up in the grind or lose focus at times on your goals and objectives. When that happens, it is important to take a step back, revisit your purpose for doing what you are doing, take a deep breath, and then move forward. That is what the last week has been for me. At first I was disappointed that I wasn’t moving forward, I wasn’t shipping. Then I stopped, realized I just needed to refocus, and took some time to do just that. And now: forward with focus.

I’m thankful for modern technology and being able to lean on the wisdom of some of the people that I have met through podcasts and their books. This week, it has been John Maxwell, Simon Sinek, and Jim Collins.

In his discussion on the EntreLeadership Podcast, John Maxwell describes his day with legendary coach John Wooden. Hearing a legendary teacher speak about another legendary teacher who he looks up to was fascinating. Hearing how he meticulously prepared for his meeting with Coach Wooden was both impressive and educational. In addition, one of the questions he asks people he meets (and the way he was introduced to Coach Wooden) was “who do you know that I should know?” That simple question can change lives and speaks to the heart of this project; we never know how our lives may change because of the people we meet.

I have been a Simon Sinek fan from the first time I watched his “Start with Why” TEDTalk a few years ago. His perspective and willingness to understand and challenge common approaches to leadership (and life) have been inspiring. I have gained so much from his interviews and speeches; I believe he is one of the premier leadership gurus of this time.

I purchased Jim Collins’ Good to Great and read it a few months ago. I remember listening to him read via his audiobook and having the actual book open in front of me to underline those lessons and values that popped out. It has stayed close as I have been working on my projects as a guide; there are numerous underlined sentences and notes that I have written in the margins.

The bottom line is this: life is all about the people you meet. Sometimes you meet them in person, and I do hope to meet each of these three gentlemen in person. Sometimes you meet them through the words they have written or the speeches they have delivered. And sometimes you meet them through interviews and impromptu conversations they have been a part of.  This week, these three gentlemen deposited knowledge, encouragement, and inspiration in me when I needed it most. And I am very appreciative.

If you have met these three men (four including Coach Wooden) in person or via another avenue, then you probably share my sentiment. If not, I hope you take some time to do so; they may change your life.

One final question from me to you:

Who do you know that I should know?

 

In Service,

David A. Brown-Dawson, 27 May 2017

Happy Tears – 10 Reasons

I wrote this article in the days following President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in July of 2016. In light of his time as President and Commander-in-Chief coming to an end, punctuated with his Farewell Address, I figured I’d share my thoughts from a few months ago. While there were a few edits that I wanted to make as I reread the words, I chose to leave the words as I originally wrote them. Here it is:


I shed tears watching President Obama address the nation at the Democratic National Convention. These were happy tears. And here’s why:

  1. Seeing the leader of our nation speak so optimistically yet realistically about the current status and future of our nation is refreshing. Being outside of the country, a lot of what I see with regards to the news is negative and disheartening. And I’ll be honest, the events of the past few weeks had me down. However, our overwhelming response to come together as a nation, to love, and to pray with each other during tough times convinces me that while some may use our differences to divide, it is our acceptance and celebration of our differences that make us THE UNITED States of America.
  2. Seeing an African-American man, the son of an African man and an American woman, in the highest office in America and the leader of the free world, is a powerful thing for me as a young African-American man to see. It is hard to put into words and I may not succeed, but I’ll try. Representation is very important. When I, as a young minority, see a minority (man or woman) in a position of authority and in the highest position of national service, suddenly nothing seems impossible. Nothing seems unreachable with hard work.
  3. While he may have been passing the political torch to Hillary Clinton, it felt like he was passing the torch of leadership and service off to me, and other young men and women like me. We are at a critical time in our country’s history. As he prepares to leave office it seems that he wants to ensure that just as he has tried to improve the nation and set up our generation for success, we are ready and willing to accept the immense task that lies ahead.
  4. The speech made me think of all the amazing people I have met, the great friends I have made, the teachers and coaches that I have learned from over the years. From all ethnicities and backgrounds. It made me reflect on just how blessed I have been throughout my life and how blessed I have been to have lived my life in the United States of America.
  5. He has had to endure a lot and has been in the spotlight over the last 12-plus years and he has been an upstanding citizen. I learned a long time ago not to put people on a pedestal; instead, take the character traits and actions that you admire while understanding that everyone is human. I believe he has chosen to hold himself to the highest standard because he understands how many people look up to him.
  6. He loves his children. My dad is my superman and to see the love that President Obama shows to his children and when speaking about them, reminds me of the love my dad has continually shown me and my siblings over the years.
  7. He loves and respects his beautiful, intelligent, and driven wife. The relationship between President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama (who has not aged a day in the last eight years!) is one of friendship, partnership, and love. Knowing that it has not been a perfect marriage, but it looks to be an enduring one- built on a firm foundation- is encouraging. I have seen this love in my own parents growing up and it is beautiful to see it reflected in the leadership of our country.
  8. President Barack Obama has helped forge a path in the road for young black men like me to believe that serving this country in any capacity and at every level is possible. I know he was not the first black senator (Senator Hiram Revels, 1870) or the first black man to be fit for the office of the presidency. Those who are around my age and children across the nation have grown up knowing that any position and every position can be held by a person depending on their character and merit and not the color of their skin. We are getting ever so close to truly realizing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream that we would “not be judged by the color of [our] skin, but by the content of [our] character”.
  9. In a time when many of the black men held in high regard are athletes and musical artists, men like President Obama, General Colin Powell, Lieutenant General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., Dr. Eric Thomas, and many others show that there are other ways for black men to contribute to society. I mean no disrespect to black athletes and musicians as I know that many of them do tremendous work within their communities. What I mean is that while it’s cool to see a black man known as arguably the most athletic person to step on the court, it is also cool to see a black man with abilities that extend beyond the court. Into the courtroom. And the operating room. And the board room.
  10. I have full confidence in this nation that I love and have dedicated my life to. While there is still work to be done to realize true social justice and true racial equality, we have come so far in the last few decades. We as the current young leaders have the capacity and responsibility to continue and complete the work that those before us started. The progress made shows the tenacity of America and what can be accomplished when we respect each other, listen to each other, and work together to make this a more perfect union.

My hope is that I was able to convey why I am so inspired by Barack Obama. He is my president. He is my Commander-in-Chief. And he looks like me. He looks like us. My heart is full. May God Bless the United States of America.

Signed,

A young man who firmly believes in his country and who truly believes that anything is possible.

David A. Brown-Dawson, 30 July 2016


 

May God continue to bless the United States of America.

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 14 January 2017

Congressman Sam Johnson – A True American Patriot (Part 1)

In the fall of 2013 I was in my final undergraduate semester, finishing up Air Force ROTC, and working in Texas Tech University’s Office of Research and Commercialization led by then-Vice Chancellor Jodey Arrington. This job afforded me the opportunity to see the great work that was being done across TTU’s campuses and learn about the various ways research is commercialized and tracked. I received an email about a program that Texas Tech offered- the President’s Congressional Internship. One of my co-workers Chelsea, had participated in the program a couple years before and told me how amazing it was. Knowing of my interest in public service and that I was heading toward commissioning, she suggested that I apply and if possible work for the Congressman she worked for- Congressman Sam Johnson.

With the help and encouragement of some people I will introduce later, things worked out very well and in the spring of 2014 I had the honor of interning in Washington, D.C. for Congressman Johnson of Texas. I could not have asked for a better man to serve under. Congressman Johnson is a retired Air Force colonel and pilot who flew in Vietnam and Korea. He was shot down over Vietnam (which resulted in a broken arm and back), spent over six years as a prisoner of war (enduring torture and spending over three years in solitary confinement), and returned home with honor (to his wife and three children). That in and of itself makes him a hero. The fact that he decided to continue serving after he was released, and then followed up his military service by faithfully serving his country as a United States Congressman is amazing.

Sam Johnson is a true American hero, and one of the reasons that I decided to start this project. I want to acknowledge the individuals who have had an immense impact on my life. Sam Johnson taught me that there are still humble patriots willing to do whatever it takes to leave their country and their world a better place. In his book, Captive Warriors, he discusses the political atmosphere surrounding that time frame and its impact on military readiness. Most importantly to me, he also discussed how his faith in God, his love for his family, and his belief in his country got him through the over three years of solitary confinement that he was forced to endure. Let me stop for a moment… over 36 months; over 1,050 days spent locked away from family, friends, wingmen, and under austere conditions. I could not have asked for a better man to have worked for during those crucial months between commissioning into the Air Force and entering active duty.

Prior to working for Congressman Johnson, I never fully understood or accepted when someone would say “Thank you for your service”. However, after my time in his office and reading his book, I recognized that they weren’t necessarily thanking me, they were thanking those men (like Congressman Johnson) and women on whose shoulders I stand.

Final Note

One of my first days on Kadena Air Base, I decided to pay the gym a visit. I was shocked and encouraged to see that the gym is named after one of the men Congressman Johnson served with during his time as a P.O.W.- Brigadier General James Robinson “Robbie” Risner. Congressman Johnson wrote of Gen. Risner in his book; of his devotion to his fellow warriors, of his leadership, of his loyalty.

Thank you Congressman Johnson for your continued service, your humble spirit, and your selfless sacrifice.

 

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 4 May 2016