KINGSTON, R.I. – May 20, 2010 – Ask University of Rhode Island senior Brandon Brown what he sees when he thinks about his hometown of Central Falls, and his answer is direct.
“When I think of Central Falls, the immediate thing that comes to mind is my future,” Brown said. “I made a commitment to myself to do whatever I can to gain the capacity to better the lives of people in that community.”
Brown’s high school alma mater gained national attention this year when the district’s superintendent fired the entire teaching staff because of poor student performance. Earlier this week, it was announced that all teachers will retain their jobs there. A double-major in sociology and political science with a minor in African-American studies, Brown has applied for multiple positions in the school district, and his goal is to work in the community to help turn Central Falls around.
During his time at URI, Brown has been active in the education field. He is the first student to serve consecutive terms on the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education, and he spent the spring of 2009 as a program coordinator for the Young Voices Central Falls/Scope Program.
On the University campus, he has worked as a camp counselor and activities coordinator for the URI Transportation Center, which educates youths in areas of engineering, business, construction and transportation. While working for the Ralph Holden Community Center, Brown also has been a mentor with Rhode Island Children’s Crusades. He has worked with elementary and middle school students across the country through the University’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies.
“The University for me, in retrospect, has been exactly what a university is intended to be,” Brown said. “It has been an opportunity for me, as well as my peers, to absorb information and find our own place in the world we are in, based not only on the history we come from, but also the future we are mutually working on to create.”
During his time at URI, Brown has worked with several campus leaders, gaining an up-close perspective on the importance of leadership. He was especially close with former URI President Robert L. Carothers and Gerald Williams, director of URI’s Talent Development program. He also worked with the Rev. Bernard Lafayette, Jr., former director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies.
“The resources here – on both an academic level and a personal level – have helped empower me to really see the world through different lenses,” Brown said. “So many people do not have the opportunity to experience higher education. I was introduced to a community here that placed a significant degree of emphasis on providing opportunity to people who otherwise would not have it because of the environmental conflicts or obstacles that they were born into.”
While he sees obstacles in the world around him, Brown maintains hope for a better tomorrow.
“I subscribe to a philosophy that places a heavy emphasis on positivity,” Brown said. “Positivity is something that is transformative. It flows from one person to another, and we have an opportunity and the full capacity to generate positivity within ourselves and share that with others around us.”
Not that it’s always easy. During his time at URI, Brown has experienced resistance to new ideas and approaches. However, through the teaching of Lafayette and others at the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, he found hope in the words of Buddhist Monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh.
“You can’t convince everyone, but you can ask them to pursue truth with you,” Brown said. “Through your own pursuit of truth, and their observation of that, curiosity is sparked. On their own terms, people will discover a subjective enlightenment. We have the capacity to plant seeds of positivity in everyone.”
It is that positive outlook that makes Brown believe he can have an impact in Central Falls and other communities that have experienced similar conflicts.
“I believe that the American Dream is most prominent in places like Central Falls,” Brown said. “Spend some time in Central Falls walking with me, and I’ll point out people who are striving for and achieving the American Dream.”
URI Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Michael Salerno Photography.