Parents

Love your parents. We are so busy growing up, we often forget they are also growing old.

-Unknown

Last week was Mother’s Day and although I did not post anything specifically about my mom, I had the opportunity to actually video chat with her for about 30 minutes. Since that conversation, I have been thinking a lot about my family and specifically about my parents. I remembered the above quote and it has been in my head and on my heart.

One of my most memorable times was the summer of 2014, when I was back home living with my parents and little sister, surrounded by all of my immediate family. I had just finished my congressional internship in Washington, D.C. and I was working as a quality assurance engineer as I waited to come on active duty. I distinctly remember late night conversations with my dad while cleaning out the garage in which we talked about our family history, his youth in West Africa, and his early years in America. I understood in those moments just how important that time with him was; I gained a better understanding of my dad and what he has been through. The more I learn about my dad, the more I realize he is human, and the more in awe of him and his story I become.

My mom and I shared some serious, some funny, and some seriously funny conversations while cooking in the kitchen and on days she would come home from a tough day and still be down to talk. It was during these times that I learned more about my mom and her experiences when she was at university in London and trying to figure things out as a young adult. I counted myself blessed for these moments of candor in which she passed on knowledge and wisdom, some of which I would only come to appreciate in the months after I had left for Japan. Upon leaving for Japan, my mom gave me a notebook in which she had written pieces of advice and motherly wisdom for my upcoming journey. People say “mothers know” and I truly believe that my mom knew that I would need some penned words of encouragement and love to draw on during my first few months overseas.

If your parents are no longer alive, I am sorry for your loss. If you still have your parents or a parent, call them as much as possible. Never forget that while you are working on your career and focused on building your life, they are getting older. Even as I say this, I know I need to be more diligent in heeding this piece of advice. Full disclosure: I have not called them since talking to her and my younger sister last weekend. I plan on talking to them this weekend though, count on it.

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 19 May 2017

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“Fill Me Up”… Go All In

Over the past couple weeks one song has been playing repeatedly in my head. “Fill Me Up” by Tasha Cobb (that may not be the original, but it is the first version I heard). That said, this weekend the song hit me in a major way.

“If you provide the fire, I’ll provide the sacrifice.” This line has been on my heart and mind all weekend. To me, it is a commitment from the writer that if God provides the opportunity, they will do whatever it takes to maximize the opportunity. This was a conviction for me- God is providing many opportunities, but am I taking advantage of them? Am I sacrificing my time, energy, comfort for my purpose? The obvious answer for me was no. The better response is “why not?”

Complacency, laziness, loss of perspective (focusing on short-term rather than long-term). These were some of my immediate answers.

I’ve been working, but I haven’t taken it to the next level. I haven’t been sacrificing. That changes now.

Whether you have a relationship with God or not, this song is about knowing what your purpose is and then working harder than you have ever worked before in line with that purpose. It’s about bringing everything you have to the table. And working. And working. Not stopping when you are tired, not stopping when you want to go out. It takes me back to when I was in college and listening to Dr. Eric Thomas. He said, “If you don’t have a 4.0, what you need to be doing is studying.” I took that message to heart and was completely dialed in that semester; I don’t think it was a coincidence that that was the one semester I achieved a 4.0.

My challenge to whoever is reading is this: take some time to determine what your purpose is. Decide what you are passionate about. Then go all in. Use every tool in your toolbox and get to work.

Catching Up. Catch up. Ketchup.

“There is so much good work to be done and purpose to pursue that I do feel like I am chasing my goals and dreams. It’s time to catch up.” -David A. Brown-Dawson

Catching up. The past few weeks have been a blur. Let me correct that- the past few weeks have been eventful yet clear. “A blur” implies that time sped by with no real focus. That could not be further from the truth. I have traveled around this island and up to Tokyo with my sister, I have traveled to and around Bangkok with my buddy, and I have solo-journeyed through Siem Reap and Hanoi, meeting caring and vibrant people all along the way. I have had a meeting about an initiative with friends and I have had a conversation with a man who has become a mentor. And through all of it, I have been itching to share these events and encounters with the hope that my stories may help someone, or at the very least bring them some laughter and a smile.

I knew taking a vacation would be nice, but getting back to work would be difficult. And I was right. It took me about a week to feel like I was back in it and contributing again. It took me two weeks to get back on my meal prep and workout plan. However, this vacation gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate the projects that I am working on and make sure that my heart and mind are in the right place. It also showed me how passionate I am about these projects and that I am: on the right track, willing to be rejected, excited to spread the idea, amazed by God’s timing, ready to move forward.

My brother on this island gave me a gift. He may or may not realize its impact on me. This book spoke to my soul, my insecurities, my core. And as I turned the pages, I knew it was time. Time to ship. Consistently. Frequently. Always ship. And then reality set in and I almost fell back into the trap. I keep that book close to me, to call on in times of doubt and inaction. I literally shipped a copy to my brother and got another copy for a close friend. I don’t know if it will have the same effect on them as it has on me. I hope it does.

It’s interesting because a conversation with my dad led me to the same conclusion. It was reinforcement of what the book talked about. Or maybe the book was reinforcing what my parents have been praying for in my life. Either way, I am glad for both the insight and call to action from the book, and the wisdom, love, and call to action that my dad shared with me during our conversation. My action, or lack thereof, is what has me feeling the need to catch up.

Catching up. In the summer of 2008, I was preparing for my senior year in high school as the student body president, trying to decide which colleges I would apply to, practicing with my team for the upcoming football season, and attending various leadership events. One of those events was California Boys State. This week-long experience was an experiment in civics and leadership. It was an incredible experience in which I had the privilege to interact with guys who were leaders in their own schools and who have already accomplished some extraordinary things. I had the chance to speak with one of these friends last week, for the first time in a few years. Just the fact that we could hold a conversation after years of limited communication was a positive. After listening to what he has been doing the last few years and where his heart is, I was encouraged (to say the least). It is just one example of catching up with people that I have not talked to in a while and being excited about where life is taking them.

Talking to someone you were once close with after an extended period of no direct communication is enlightening. I mean, we can still see the major events from social media but that’s only a portion of the person. Even when I post the pictures from my trip across SE Asia, I am not going to post a picture (nor do I think you would want me to) of the day I got food poisoning as I was leaving Cambodia and was down for my first 24 hours in Vietnam. See, we post pictures and people conclude that everything is perfect because that is what we allow them to see. When we have authentic conversations, we get to hear the heart of the person we are speaking with; we have a better opportunity of hearing what it is they care about, what they want to do, what they are concerned about. I think it’s important to take some time each week to catch up with someone. That’s one of my goals. To catch up.

Catching up. Catch up. Ketchup. I couldn’t write a piece so closely tied to ketchup without spending a few lines on my favorite condiment. While BBQ sauce has been gaining ground and sesame seed dressing is a recent addition to the top five, ketchup is still out in front. I actually have a shirt that reads, “I put ketchup on my ketchup”. I was ecstatic when Whataburger released that spicy ketchup when I was in college. I had a friend tell me that if food is seasoned well it does not need a condiment. And while that may be true, even the best-seasoned French fries will be dipped into ketchup (or maybe BBQ sauce) if I get my hands on them.

-David A. Brown-Dawson

Mr. W and Forgotten History Fridays

I would like to introduce you to Mr. W and his AP US History class. I invite you to accompany him and his students on their journey to learn about history outside of their textbooks.

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“Who can tell me about the Slocum Massacre?” Mr. W asked to an eager classroom. His 11th grade students were now sitting up in their seats in anticipation of another “Forgotten History Friday”. The last few minutes of class each week had become a weekly tradition- a chance for the students to learn another piece of history that was not found in their textbooks. Some weeks the lessons were funny, other weeks inspiring. Today though, the students had a sense of dread as Mr. W asked the question, his ominous tone giving a hint of the lesson to come.

“Something bad?” Jenny asked, hesitantly. This garnered a low rumble of laughter from the class, though this was more reserved than normal and it was obvious no one had heard of this event. This did not surprise Mr. W. Unfortunately, he was used to this event being unknown or purposely forgotten over the years. He took a deep breath and started slowly, as this was one lesson he did not want his pupils to take lightly.

“Yes, Jennifer. You are correct. In the first decade of the 20th century, there grew a community of African-Americans in a city in East Texas, named Slocum.” At this last statement, a groan passed through the classroom, the loudest one coming from Max. He was the class president, class clown, and secretly one of Mr. W’s favorite students. His intelligence was matched by his heart and desire to learn. But, he had just interrupted Mr. W’s lesson which warranted him one of Mr. W’s notoriously harsh inquiries. “Care to explain, Maximus?”

“No Sir, I’ll let you tell it. My apologies.” Max tried to hide his growing frustration by being overly polite.

“Well, don’t hold it in. If you have something to say, share it with the class.” Mr. W. replied, in a more encouraging tone.

“I don’t want to ruin your lesson but early 1900’s in Texas, a majority black community, and the title of the story is the town’s name, Slocum, Massacre. I mean, if I had to guess, I’d say something happened between the black people of Slocum and white people from another town and the black people- either all or most- were slaughtered by the white people. And because we’ve never heard of it, no one was probably ever actually punished for it. It was swept under the rug of atrocities that are no longer spoken of. And those families…” Max’s speech had quickened and at this, his voice was starting to rise. Rather than stop him, Mr. W decided to let him finish his thought. “…Those families probably left their homes, lost their belongings; lost their fathers, brothers, sisters, and mothers. Nobody ever paid reparations and I am willing to bet that no one can or will really say how many people were ACTUALLY killed during this horrendous event.”

The other students in Mr. W’s 11th grade AP US History class were in stunned silence, looking from Max to Mr. W and back to Max. This wasn’t the first time Mr. W had decided on a tough topic for “Forgotten History Friday” and over the course of the year, the students had become more willing to tackle the tough topics head on. This deduction from Max was yet another reason why Mr. W enjoyed having the young leader in his class.

Mr. W wanted Max’s words to sink in with his classmates, yet he knew those same students were waiting on his validation. With a sad, yet relieved look on his face, Mr. W. finally broke the silence. “Yes class, Maximus is correct on all accounts.” Chatter started immediately, as the students tried to process what they had just heard. Knowing that more questions would follow, Mr. W. tried to calm everyone down. “Alright class, would you like to know the full story?” A unanimous “yes” arose in response. Mr. W proceeded to explain the events that led up to July 29, 1910 in Slocum, Texas.

He described the largely African-American town 100 miles east of Waco, which even had some black-owned businesses. The opposing sentiments of adulation amongst the black community and disbelieving anger amongst the white community after Jack Johnson (an African-American) had defeated James Jeffries (a white man) in the heavy weight world championship. He told the class that that fight was a topic worthy of its own Friday. The lingering bad feelings after a white man tried to collect a disputed debt from a well-respected black citizen. The tipping point for a prominent white citizen coming when a black man was put in charge of gathering people for a road improvement project.

To ensure this stuck with his class, Mr. W quoted from an article discussing the incident, “Rumors spread, warning of threats against Anglo citizens and plans for race riots. White malcontents manipulated the local Anglo population and, on July 29, white hysteria transmogrified into bloodshed.” As he paused for a moment, he noticed the color had been drained from some of his students’ faces.

“Transmogrify?” Benjamin asked quietly, breaking the silence that had swept over the classroom.

“To transform in a surprising or magical matter.” Ade answered, even her normally chipper voice subdued.

“Nothing magical about this.” Geoffrey retorted, his carefree attitude evaporated like water on a hot summer day in West Texas.

Mr. W knew these were tough stories- egregious events- for teenagers to hear. But they were old enough and deserved to know that not everything about this beautiful country was pure and perfect. He went on to tell them about the two-day event in which, according to William Black, Sheriff at the time, “Men were going about killing Negroes as fast as they could find them, and so far as I was able to ascertain, without any real cause. I don’t know how many were in the mob, but there may have been as many as 200 or 300.”

He discussed the 150 African-American ministers that penned a letter to President Taft imploring him to act, and the response from the attorney general. He finished with the trial- no one was ever prosecuted or held accountable. Understanding he may have taken it a bit too far- some students looking sick to their stomachs- Mr. W. wanted to bring everything together before the dismissal bell released his students for the extended weekend.

“You may be wondering why I decided on telling you about this event in history this week. One, it’s history that has been buried and forgotten; unfortunately, some of the recent events have caused me to appreciate the famous quote, ‘those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.’ Two, I want you to understand the significance of this event. In other towns in that region black people make up on average 20 percent of the population; in Slocum, it’s around 7 percent. And lastly, I agree with what is inscribed on the bottom of the historical marker commemorating the event and those lives lost: ‘Only by shining a light on previous injustices can we learn from them and move toward a future of greater healing and reconciliation’. “

He paused, making eye contact with each one of his students. “We need to be aware of the horrendous events that have happened in our country over the years or we will be lulled into a false sense of security instead of continuing to work together to make this a more perfect union, obtaining true equality for all people.”

As if the school bell had decided to let Mr. W impart some final wisdom on his pupils, it rang right as the last syllable sounded. “Have a wonderful weekend, class! Do your own research. And don’t forget your history.” For once, Mr. W was sure this last statement would hold true.

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I hope that from this first episode you understand my purpose behind Forgotten History Fridays. Though the characters are my own creation, the Slocum Massacre is an actual historical event. Any thoughts or constructive feedback is welcome.

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 11 March 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

Three Years In

Three Years In

Three years ago, I was graduating and commissioning from Texas Tech University. I knew where I was going to be stationed and part of what I would be doing until I came on active duty. However, even then I could not have imagined all the amazing people that I would meet, relationships I would form, and memories I would make. The last three years have been a period of decisions that led to growth, life lessons that led to maturity, and an abundance of experiences that have left me with cherished memories. In appreciation for the last three years and in anticipation for the next three years- where life will take me, who I will get to meet, who I will get to work with, and who I will be able to spend more time with- I would like to take some time to reflect.

I remember graduation day like it was yesterday, and my family and friends that came to Lubbock to celebrate with me. I remember getting emotional as I was taking it all in (I may have sweat a bit from my eyeballs). It was a truly humbling and encouraging experience. In addition to my immediate family, there were aunts and uncles, God-parents – people who knew me from the time I was a baby. I remember Chancellor Kent Hance’s “Dream No Little Dream” message and him saying “I looove Texas Tech!” I remember thinking about where the next couple weeks after graduation would take me- from Texas to California, to Florida for a football tournament, and then to Washington, D.C. to begin my internship with Congressman Sam Johnson. I was full of excitement and energy to continue my journey and see who I would meet next.

My time in DC was incredible, as I have alluded to previously. My time back home with my family was much-needed. And my experience living overseas has been an amazing. My time in the military has shown me just what can be accomplished when a group of people have a common mission and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it done. I have been blessed with leadership who passed along their wisdom and experience while imparting in me attributes of a well-rounded leader. I have had coworkers (enlisted, civilians, and officers) who have encouraged me and taught me more than they may know. And I have been blessed with family and friends that have looked out for me, prayed for me, and checked in on me when I needed it most.

All that to say this: the last three years have been a whirlwind of learning, growing, and improving. I know I have much more to improve upon, much more to learn, and much more growth ahead. With that will inevitably come mistakes and setbacks. I am encouraged by the strides I have made over the past few years, thanks in large part to the people I have been around. Thus, I am excited about the next three years of my life- the knowledge I will gain, the experiences I will have, and the people I will meet.

The end of the year is always a good time to take stock of your life, count your blessings, and set some new goals. Appreciate each 24-hour opportunity you receive, and make the most of it. I wish you the best as we finish 2016 and enter 2017.

Merry Christmas and may God bless you.

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 15 December 2016

History and Those Who Teach

History is my favorite subject. Being an engineer, I love math. But there is something about learning and understanding history that is both exhilarating and empowering. Over the past few months I have had a hunger for learning more about my family history, the history of the world, and the history of different societies. In doing so, I wanted take a moment to highlight a couple of my favorite history teachers for the tremendous impact they have had on my life, whether they know it or not.

I believe that sometimes we hide from history because we are afraid of what we will find or are embarrassed by something we or our ancestors did. Thanks to my teachers, I gained a realization that it is better to understand history (even the horrible atrocities), than to cling to ignorance and claim that a certain event or action did not happen. Once true history is understood, we can work together in order to ensure that certain atrocities, injustices, and decisions are not repeated. Additionally, we as humans have created ingenious systems and structures, reached amazing physical heights and depths, and completed almost unbelievable feats. Finally, as you understand parts of history, you begin to gain a better understanding of yourself, where you fit in on this planet, and how to better serve in your community and around the world.

From my history classes I learned that while, as the saying goes “the victors write the history”, there are always multiple sides to a story or an event. Depending on where one grows up, there is a tendency to get locked in to this idea that the leaders of that society were perfect and anyone who opposed them were evil. Ms. Laubacher, my 10th grade World History teacher, showed me that in order to truly understand a situation, it is important to try to see it from both sides. This has translated to me being open to understanding multiple perspectives when hearing a story and in approaching situations. Her passion for history and for educating students came through every day in the history-based activities we would do, the videos we would watch, and the conversations she would initiate.

My 11th grade AP US History teacher (and Mock Trial coach) Mr. Hill was incredible. His dry, witty humor and hilarious stories kept us captivated and made his tough tests tolerable. He forced us to think. He taught me a lot- not just about the history of our country but about how to approach learning history. He instilled in me that it was important to challenge what is being taught and ask questions until I understand. This is a lesson I took to heart in my approach to learning for the rest of high school, throughout college, and in my current profession. And yes, I was (and still am) that guy who asked a ton of questions (usually good ones).

Unfortunately, these two teachers have retired from their official teaching careers. They dedicated their lives to educating the youth of their community and in my humble opinion, they both did a brilliant job. I know for a fact that they inspired some of their students to become educators and I hope they know how much they are appreciated. While I only highlighted two, I had many amazing teachers, and I know there are a lot of wonderful educators out there today. I challenge you to share your favorite teacher and how they impacted you. I would like to see our educators held up in the high regard they deserve- they have the immense task of educating the leaders of tomorrow.

A sincere thank you to Ms. Laubacher, Mr. Hill, all of my teachers and professors, and to all of you who have chosen to devote your lives to educate others.

 

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 16 July 2016