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‘I Want to Create a Forgiving Environment’

Alum’s Experience in Jail Leads to Career Supporting Vulnerable Youth

By Sala Levin ’10

Jared Brown portrait

Photo courtesy of Jared Brown

Jared Brown, an associate at the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, earned a place on Forbes’ 2020 30 Under 30 list in the Education category for his work in building networks to help boys and young men of color find their way to higher education and career opportunities.

Two weeks in jail following an alcohol-fueled scuffle taught Jared Brown M.P.S. ’19 that there are at least two ways to handle a young adult’s poor judgment: forgiveness and support, or condemnation and punishment. 

“I’ve learned over time what approach I want to have with young people and how I feel about young people who are 18 years old,” he said. “I want to create a forgiving environment.”

Brown, an associate at the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, part of the Obama Foundation, earned a place on Forbes’ 2020 30 Under 30 list in the Education category for his work in building networks to help boys and young men of color find their way to higher education and career opportunities. He said he considers “how we can be more intentional about ensuring boys of color are at the table and being empowered with tools and resources to make a difference.”

As a University of Virginia undergraduate, Brown struggled with his sexuality—especially after a “really negative” response from a family member to whom he’d tried to come out as gay. That night, Brown turned to binge drinking—a coping mechanism he’d become familiar with. His drunkenness fueled an altercation—the details of which are fuzzy—that led to his arrest on charges of underage intoxication and simple assault. 

“I was so humiliated by the incident—having woken up and not really realized everything that had happened,” Brown said. “I remember walking home for that two- or three-mile stretch (from the regional jail) and realizing that my mom and stepdad already knew, and the school had already taken really proactive steps to think about how they were going to begin to support me.”

UVA’s advocacy on Brown’s behalf—which included writing letters to the court testifying to his character and pushing for a reduced sentence—as well as his experience with the student-led university judiciary committee—taught Brown that “when there is an infrastructure, (young men of color) tend to be able to navigate those circumstances more successfully.” UVA also facilitated a conversation in which Brown came out to his family members, who were ultimately accepting.  

After graduating, Brown interned in the Obama White House’s Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, then landed a job with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation as a research policy analyst. Talking about his history in those settings—where the idea of second chances was deep-rooted—contrasted with what he experienced trying to get jobs in retail or fast-food restaurants immediately after his arrest.

“They tell black children we have to be twice as good,” he said. “It felt like I had to be three or four times as good—I’m black, I’m gay, I have a criminal record. I have all these strikes against me.” 

While working at the United Negro College Fund, Brown decided to enroll in UMD’s online master of professional studies in technology entrepreneurship program. Administrating a $25 million UNCF initiative to boost student entrepreneurs of color made him want “to be able to better serve my students as a subject matter expert,” he said. “I also wanted to have practical and theoretical training to start my own venture as a life necessity if one day I have to create my own job because I can’t get one.” 

Now, through his work at the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, Brown combines his personal background and entrepreneurial know-how to create networks of support for vulnerable youth. 

“We have a system that tears down boys and young men of color who haven’t committed crimes, let alone those who have,” he said. “That is the impetus for this work we’re doing—we’re telling boys and young men of color that you matter, that you live in a country that will value you and your contribution.”   

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