Guest: Christopher “Bear” Brown
MicroBio: Bear Brown completely changed his life after being convicted of a felony, which included building his own company and pursuing a nursing degree. He went from a receiver of second chances to giving them to others with unconditional love.
Talk FAST (summary)
Bear talked at length about how he built his life back after realizing he never wanted his freedom to be in anyone else’s hands. He shares lessons of seeking support, coming out of his shell, giving back, and the power of believing in who people are, not what they do.
In 1997, Bear was a young man with a drug felony conviction. Options for his future appeared limited and many of his once-supporters turned their backs on him when he got out. It was a promise to his mother that helped him turn his life around and to this day she remains one his biggest inspirations. Today, Bear is a full-time nursing student (and an LPN) due to receive his bachelor’s degree in Nursing this year. He’s also Founder & Director of Operations of FeelSafe V.I.P, a growing, multi-state, private security firm.
Leadership Tips and Life Lessons
Tips For Difficult Times:
- “In order to have blessings, you gotta be a blessing”, Bear Brown shared with us. This is my absolute favorite quote from him. POWERFUL. Step back and help someone else when you are feeling low.
- For each decision, ask yourself if you are making a choice that will serve you in moving forward? Will this benefit you?
- Take advantage of all the resources you have available to you – no matter how small they seem, start where you are.
- Get support – it’s not easy or necessary to handle challenges on your own.
- Learn more about mental health and the impact that it has in your everyday life. Once you better understand how you think and make decisions, you become more aware and cautious about how to support yourself. Bear reminds us how challenging it is for Black men and women to get the mental health services that are so needed and how there is so much work to do to change this.
- Decide right here and now what you really want. Bear shared an incredible story when the judge on his case ruled in his favor about a perceived parole violation. The judge told him this (in Bear’s words): “I wanna tell you, you also put yourself in this situation. He said, you have a choice to make, you have the choice to decide if that’s the type of lifestyle that you wanna lead. Or if you wanna be better than what you’re doing now. He said, I can’t hold your hand and force you to do it. You’re a grown man now. So you have a decision to make, he said, the next time you see me, it’s going to be a horrendous occasion or it’s gonna be a beautiful occasion. So I said, all right. And then, they let me go. I went home. I went to my room and I cried. I cried for like an hour. I cried. I let everything in, every indecisive moment I’ve ever had, came to a halt.”
- Assess your social media activity. Bear shared such wise insight about how we use our phones for connection and validation, but it actually makes us more disconnected. What might you be doing to avoid or distract you from the things that will actually help you feel less alone?
How to Assess if You’re on the Right Path: Check in with yourself
- Do I feel happy and am I having fun?
- In what ways am I practicing self-love and self-care?
- Are the risks I’m taking healthy risks that serve me in moving forward with my goals?
- Am I surrounded by friends, family, and individuals who contribute to my overall happiness and journey towards achieving my goals?
How Do You Keep Your Life Moving Forward?
- Be willing to put things on hold in order to follow the energy of what is working. For example, while studying for his RN degree, Bear’s business was growing dramatically so he decided to go all in.
- Build a trustworthy and supportive team that can guide you towards your ambitions. This means letting those people in your life that are not lifting you up, fall away.
- Identify where in your life you need closure. Bear shared such a beautiful story about needing some closure on some things with his mom before she passed, which was needed even though she was always his biggest fan.
- Put yourself in situations where you will grow. Bear’s example of this was when he learned to come out of his shyness when launching his security business, Feel Safe VIP. He forced himself to face his fears and as a result he is now super comfortable interacting with others!
- Remove distractions to help you put things in motion. For Bear Brown he put it like this; “The devil comes in many forms. In my life it came in a form of distractions and I had to weed out those distractions. People who are energy vampires. People and friends that are stuck … doing the same thing day after day after day. I had family members who didn’t believe in me. I had to get rid of all of them out my circle and stay focused. And as I did, a whole new world opened up to me.”
- Hold your head high and know your worth. Bear told the heartbreaking story of what it’s like to be judged for something you did. He explained that he can hold his head high because he knows his worth – and that’s not something measured by personal belongings.
What Does Servant Leadership Look Like:
- Check up on the ones around you. Bear encouraged us to ask “[Is] there somebody around you who needs you? There’s somebody around you right now that needs your light, your love, your energy company, your words, your advice.” Bear also told a powerful story of a young man who received an outpouring of support when we got sentenced to jail, and that gentleman admitted to Bear that he needed that love when he was growing up, going through all of his trials and tribulations. The support was needed before, because that could have helped him to stay out of the situation he found himself in.
- Be willing to acknowledge what is in the best interest of those you are serving. Bear told the story of how one of his professors encouraged him to put school on hold given his business was doing so well. Bear heeded that advice and was so grateful.
- Let your biggest competitor be yourself. Bear told several stories about collaborating with those that he could have easily considered his competition – notably a fellow salesperson he worked with at Frontier. They supported each other and eventually ended up celebrating their success together.
- Believe in others. Bear said it best when he talked about how he leads his team: “I tell my team all the time; if you follow me and what I say and [if you] believe in me, I’m gonna believe in you and we’re gonna win. I won’t let you fail.”
- Ask those you serve questions such as:
- How are you feeling today physically and mentally?
- How can I best support you?
- Would you like me to seek help for you?
- What’s taking up your headspace right now? What’s something you can do today that would be good for you?
- Would you like to spend time together?
How to Support Ex-Felons in their Reentry:
- Provide support in finding resources that may not be available to them
- Spread awareness about the lack of opportunities and jobs available to incarcerated individuals
- Donate to foundations that provide steady income for those who can’t access job opportunities
- You are not a statistic. Whatever you’re going through, nobody else’s path can indicate what yours can be.
- The jail system is a private business – people actually make money when people go to jail; you can actually own a piece of prison. Think about the judgements you have about those who have been to jail and look at what is happening by design.
- Consider what it means to be institutionalized – as yet another way to check our judgement. This was talked about in the context of incarceration as well as other ways that we put ourselves in our own boxes.
- I leave you with some very wise words from Bear; “There are only 24 hours in a day. What you do with ‘em is up to you. If you’re not using a portion of that to be a blessing to somebody, to help somebody to talk to somebody, even it just a conversation, sometimes a hug or whatever, it might change the course of somebody’s day. Then you’re wasting it. You’re wasting your gifts. Everybody has a gift.”