Growing up in the inner-city can present many challenges. With all the pitfalls that one must avoid to make it out of an economically deprived community, a lot of us end up becoming victims of the system and never quite find our way out of it. However, that wasn’t the case for our Spotlight Father of the Week Jermaine Brown, who despite all the challenges that were thrown his way he was able to rise about it all to become a great father, provider and now with his Organization HOPE-HEART-HISTORY he is ready to be a community leader.
Ok, Jermaine talk to us about your childhood?
Well, I was born July 12th, 1983. My mother Debra Hunter was a single parent, she raised seven of us in South Sacramento. We often moved a lot from South Sacramento to North Sacramento to Oak Park you name it, we pretty much lived there. That’s probably why I’m very well-known throughout Sacramento. I engaged in numerous relationships with people throughout my whole entire childhood. Growing up we were fierce competitors in sports, primarily Football. I’m the third oldest of the seven, the first three or as my mom would call us, her first set of kids. She considered her younger four, her second set. We pretty much held the house down. We were forced to grow up fast to be there to support mom. She was a single parent, doing what she could do to put meals on the table while also keeping us active in sports. She always made sure we had the best of things, we never went without anything. So, that’s a complete kudos to her character and how she strived to sacrifice everything to ensure that we had what we needed. I was able to see that, and it made me want to strive for greatness and never let her down. I was ultimately the first one in my family to graduate high school and the first one to go to college. I always tried to be that that trendsetter for my younger siblings. My oldest brother is doing 23 years in prison right now. People can say a lot about him but he’s a family oriented person who made the wrong choices. My brother that’s above me, his name is mike, he is very smart. Growing up he was great in sports he was the man, you know? He has a beautiful family and he’s amazing, that’s my big brother. But, for me coming out of high school and being the first one to accomplish those things. I wanted to create a better outlook for my younger brothers and sisters, to be able to beat the statistic and move to Higher Grounds. Get away from Sacramento, once you’re able to get away you can reflect on some things to come back and see where you can definitely put your foot in your imprint on how to make changes.
Listening to you tell your story it sounds like you and your brothers had to take on the role as father figures for your younger siblings. You spoke a lot about your mom, but you didn’t mention anything about your dad. Tell me a little bit about your relationship with him?
I don’t know him. It’s a real touchy thing for me at times. Growing up, I never liked to toot my own horn, but I’ve had amazing accomplishments through Sports. I was able to make the front page of the Sacramento Bee Newspaper for basketball. I did so many good things in high school, I would wake up and see my name in the paper and wonder if my dad saw it. I would think, maybe he’s watching from afar. I spent a lot of time Wondering if my dad’s side of the family noticed that this was me. Maybe my grandmother who I don’t know or maybe somebody else from that side of the family would recognize me and maybe that would bring us together. Those situations made me work harder, hoping that would be an outlet for them to see me, you know? It still affects me to this day, I literally wake up sometime in a deep sweat with tears in my eyes. It gets really emotional for me, just the fact that I don’t know him.
That’s interesting, so has there ever been any type of contact between you too?
There was one interaction when I was about 18 or 19 years old. It was complete deniability on his part. We were initially going to take the steps to try to mend our relationship. You know, get a paternity test so we could figure everything out. I got a call from him a couple days later telling me he couldn’t afford it. Then after that, his number when disconnected, and I literally never heard from him again. In that conversation, I got the feeling that it wasn’t just about him not being able to afford it, but I also got the sense that he felt I wasn’t his son. The most ironic thing is my mom always told me that he was a dark man with thick eyebrows and I guess his other kids are darker too. When I talk, I talk with my hands a lot like he does. When I finally saw him, it felt like I literally seen a darker version of myself. I was just like wow!! You know? And that was over 15 years ago.
So, overall being a young dude and having older brothers but not necessarily having a father figure there. It seems like you turned out well despite all those things. Do you feel that way?
I do, I learn from my two brother’s. Let me explain, at my graduation party I had before I went off to college. I gave them the biggest kudos, I said “Y’all wrongs, made me go right” They instilled in me to do what’s right. That’s why I never smoked weed. I wasn’t out there getting into trouble, I went to school for the most part. I had seven periods in high school and a zero period. My brother that’s right above, his name is Mike, he is literally the best man that I know. The military formed him into something magnificent. I call upon him for advice when I need it, he is a family-orientated man. Mike was always on me because he knew that I had an opportunity to do something great. They would never let me hang out with them, they would never let me do the things that they were doing. I was the first in my family to graduate from high school and the first to go to college. I was able to go away and come back, which was a good experience. I’ve had a good amount of success in life thus far. I’m not book smart but I’m not dumb either. I know how to dissect information, I know how to apply what’s needed. I’m a man of determination, that’s always been one of the most ironic things about me. It makes me think of how I came to be. How I was born into this world was crazy. My grandmother hand-delivered me on my couch, no hospital, no nothing. My grandmother was probably the strongest person in our family. Everybody gravitated towards her. My mom often tells me that I was a God sent. She says I am the male version of Granny, with my heart, with my determination, my strength. Everything I do, I do with passion. Failure has never been an option for me. It’s never been easy, I defied all the odds. I’ve always welcomed every challenge. You know? I’m able to look at any situation and try to make the best choice. Not just by using instinct but by processing the information correctly. I try to be the better man not only for me but those around me as well.
Okay, we talked about your parents & your siblings. Let’s talk about your family. How many kids do you have?
Four beautiful kids. Two boys and two girls. Saniya is the oldest, then it goes Jayda, Aaron, and Avion.
I completely understand how difficult it can be having such a big family. So, tell me a little bit about your journey through fatherhood??
After High School, I went off to college to play basketball. Things ultimately didn’t work out. I was told I had the opportunity to come back to Sacramento and play here, which I played over at Sacramento City College. However, in the mist of that whole process, I found out I was having a child. This isn’t the NBA where you get paid to play. I still had to go to school, still had basketball practice, still had to have a job, still had rent to pay. That’s a lot on your shoulders. When I first came back Saniya was about to be born and that kind of put a hold on basketball. At that point, life took its toll and I became a full-time father. I was working a nine-to-five or six to ten. I was just barely getting by I was trying to give my children everything I wasn’t given as a child. I had big dreams and big aspirations, that’s when I ultimately made the biggest decision of my life. The biggest sacrifice any mother or father can make is to separate themselves from their child. In 2008 is when I made the choice to go work as a civilian contractor in Iraq supporting our great troops of America. I took on that opportunity with a mindset of Financial stability for my kids in the long run. I felt like separating myself from their physical presence was a sacrifice I was willing to make but you can never get that time back. Money can never surmount the love and the passion that you get when your physical in someone’s presence. However, I made that sacrifice and the decision to separate myself to better prepare them for life. I didn’t want them to go through the things that I went through as a child watching my mom as a single parent.
So ultimately do you think it was worth it?
I have days that I do, and I have days that I don’t. I feel that comes along with me being the guinea pig in my family. Being the first to graduate high school and the first to graduate college, everything I took on was through trial and error. You know? I have no regrets. I have four beautiful, amazing kids. I made that decision thinking it was in the best interest for them. Trying to provide a better life ultimately caused me to miss out on a lot. So, if I could do it all over again, I can’t say if I would do it differently. I would have loved to be that everyday father and be physically there. I’m not saying that I neglected them because that has never been the case. I saw an opportunity to better provide for them and I made that sacrifice while they were younger in hopes of preparing them for a better life as they continue to grow older.
Making the necessary sacrifices for the future of our children can always seem like a tough decision. With that being said, what other challenges have you had to face being a father?
It’s been a challenge. You know? it’s always been a challenge for me, I have always thought about my children first. I think if you can be level headed and separate anything else from the equation and just ultimately think about the child you can eventually reach common ground. That has not always been the case in my situations. I can’t think of any particular incident. I do know that when it comes to the exchange of time. When there is a meeting location, and someone doesn’t show up or not answering the phone. You know? Not obeying what was put forward or what was agreed upon. I’ve never been a fan of the court system. It goes back to what I said before, if you’re level-headed and a mature adult and you think about the child first then reach an agreement and abide by that agreement. It can ultimately work best that way, for all parties involved. I think a lot of times when it comes from malice or ill-will towards the other party that often overtakes what the focal point is. I can’t think of any particular instances but for the most part, me trying to get my kids and being around them has been an issue, from that standpoint.
Ok, I understand what you’re saying. It can be difficult trying to work things out with someone you’re not in a relationship with anymore. So, let’s talk for a minute about your community work. What is Hope, Heart, History?
Okay, Hope, Heart, History is a program that provides youth with hope first then the heart so together we can make history. The ironic thing about that is youth has always been a passion of mines. However, that name is a name that I didn’t come up with. That name was thought of by one of my good friends, who I’m probably actually related to because we have the same last name. He is Herschel Brown and I’m Jermaine Brown, so we probably have some family bloodline somewhere in there. Outside of myself, Herschel has one of the biggest hearts that I’ve ever come to meet. We call each other big brown and little brown. I’m big brown he’s little brown because I’m a little older, we share a lot the same common goals we’ve lived the same type of life. I was still in Iraq at the time when we decided to start a basketball league. I told him I wanted it to be more than just basketball: Let’s be there for these kids, let’s build something, let’s be an advocate for youth. Before I went to Iraq I worked with C.C.P.O.A which is the youth correctional facility, we it out of the Boys & Girls Club, we had youth teen summits, we had leadership groups. We identified at-risk youth and tried to show them interpersonal life skills. We were trying to build rigorous programs to help them excel. That’s what I’ve always done so we wanted to emulate that, and take it to another level. So, while having conversations with Herschel and trying to come up with names, one day he said “Brown, what about Hope, Heart, History?” and I said “Okay let’s brainstorm with that for a minute.” We were thinking, what are we trying to do? provide youth with hope, look where we at in the hood. Where’s the hope at? You know? So, we thought about it further and we said what’s bringing us together right now? it’s our heart. So basically, we want to give them hope with by using our heart, put those two together and now we can make history!! So, that’s what it stands for. It’s an at-risk youth program for minorities. Graduation rates amongst minorities is probably one of the worst. So, with Hope, Heart, History we identify the at-risk youth and become that big brother or big sister figure that they never had. We want to mentor them and help create better Outlets. What I tell them is this: Look young brother, look young sister, I know you have dreams and aspirations about doing something big, but first let’s get that graduation certificate. You know? and while we’re doing that let’s look at some options that may suit you better. Every kid isn’t going to attend a 4-year University. How about Vocational School? Or a trade School? Even the military can be an option. It’s important to get these kids involved in something. There are no programs in the Sacramento Unified School District that offer the services that we are trying to provide. Now, if there are some I don’t see them being implemented correctly. So, allow us to be that voice to steer these kids in the right direction.
I can definitely see how a program like that can be useful in our community. Now, will Hope-Heart-History work with younger children as well?
Yes. We feel It’s important to identify issues a kid may be having early. This is how our organization will function: The hope program will be kindergarten through sixth graders. The expectations for the Hope program is to identify at-risk youth through visiting local elementary schools and sitting in on lunches, becoming yard duties at lunch, sitting in on classes. Really just being there, trying to understand why some kids may be alienated from others. Making sure they’re safe if they walk home by themselves, also looking at the ones that may be coming to school in dirty clothes or shoes. You know? Just looking at the big picture because those things have nothing to do with school, but it definitely affects them. So, that’s the hope program. Now, this is where the heart comes in. With the 7th and 8th graders we’ve already identified them, we know who they are, now we’re going to use our heart to help them get to where they are trying to go. At this point, we have identified what you were going through using our heart. Now with the 9th to 12th graders, let’s go make history!!! Ultimately, we want to set them up for success, that’s what Hope-Heart-Heart stands for.
Okay, final question Jermaine. If you could talk to a young man in our community that was raised without a father or maybe just having his first child. What advice would you offer him??
Well my advice to him would be, I don’t think you could ever really be prepared when it comes to having a child. I would ask him if this is something that you truly want to do, you must understand there is no going back. You have to be 100% fully committed and dedicated. It’s not going to be smooth, it’s not going to be easy. You’re going to be presented with challenges that you could never even imagine. However, if you’re dedicated and committed love will outlast it all. Additionally, when making decisions with your counterpart, hopefully, it’s his wife. Think about the child first. When making those decisions kids are like sponges they soak up everything. We all know God will never put too much on us that we can’t bear. That would be the advice I would give. It’s hard because I would never tell someone not to have a child. Who am I? All I can do is give you the best advice possible.
Okay, thank you very much, Jermaine!! That’s our Spotlight Father of the Week Interview. We appreciate you sharing your story!!! This will definitely inspire others!!!