IMPERIAL — When a young Jaamal Brown — who grew up in a mobile home park in Palmdale, California — was a 4th grader, he was assigned to find five career choices he might take later in life as a homework assignment.
He looked at his family, his friend’s families, and his neighbors, and happily went up in front of his class the next day to share his list.
“Hi, my name is Jamaal Brown. I’m going to be an athlete, a drug dealer, a gang member, or an entertainer.”
These were the only career choices he saw in his mobile home area as a young African American boy, he said.
“That’s all I thought that I had the potential to be,” he said, “but I realized, eventually, if you can look up, then you can get up.”
“I realized that each and every day the sun rises, and you can go closer to a goal you set for yourself and further than the previous day,” he said, “and so with more time on my hands (after having heart surgery in high school), I started picking up books on the pyramids and the Nile, and Marcus Garvey, and Rosa Parks … and something magical happened.”
Brown said as he started seeing “people who look like me being reflected positively in world history.” He started reflecting on what his own legacy might be.
“I discovered that people who look like me are the mothers and fathers of civilization,” he said. “The world’s first doctors, lawyers, politicians, mathematicians, people came from all around the globe to study on our motherland — Africa. I started using the same energy I used on the basketball court in the field of academics.”
After becoming Lancaster High School’s first-ever African American Valedictorian, being accepted into eight universities and earning $50,000 in college scholarships, today Mr. Brown is the CEO of his own company, Black365.com, where he sells black history-themed items and apparel.
Self-identifying as a history buff, he travels around speaking at schools, colleges, and different organizations about black history, which landed him as the guest speaker for Imperial Valley College’s “Celebrating & Creating Black Legacy, Understanding Black History: Then and Now” event Friday, Feb. 25, in Imperial.
The outdoor event held near the college’s Student Affairs Office saw dozens of people enjoying vendors’ goods, free food, music, and Brown’s presentation on black history.
During the presentation, Brown shared historical information on various inventors, engineers, revolutionaries, civil rights activists, royalty from Egypt, Haiti, the US, and other areas with African people or people of African descent who have lasting contributions to the world in various forms, including science, mathematics, patents, and more.
“My overarching message is: ‘What we call black history truly is world history,’” Brown said multiple times during his presentation.
“What we call black history truly is world history. The world as we know it would not look, feel, or be the same if it wasn’t for the contributions of people from African descent, you know, black people,” he said in an interview.
“Those people that took part in the Haitian revolution are truly remarkable, Imhotep in the third dynasty of Egypt, the world’s first multi-genius — a poet, astronomer, architect, a doctor — these are names, faces, and people that I think everyone should know and be inspired by,” he said.
“History, for whatever reason — and we all have our opinions why this might be — history doesn’t always shine the proper light on them,” he said, “so I look to whenever I have the opportunity.”
Brown — who was invited to speak at the college during its Black History Celebration by A2MEND (African American Education Network and Development) advisor Diana Thomas — said he hopes his personal testimony and presentation inspired people to remember that “education is key.”
“Each and every one of us can do a Google search, pick up a book, pick up an article, go on YouTube, and search ‘black history’ and educate ourselves about the contributions of African Americans and African people throughout world history,” he said.
“Studies have shown when we learn more about our neighbors, the respect level goes up, and so I think it’s integral that we all learn about each other’s cultures and intermingle,” Brown said. “Not assimilate and water down who we are, but just be an organ like the organs inside of the human body. Each body part is part of the organization of the human body and has its proper function that moves things forward.”
That “moving forward” is also what Thomas and IVC Interim President and Superintendent Dr. Lennor Johnson said they hope attendees took away from Brown’s presentation.
“The thing is, when I meet with students, I always want to make sure that they can see themselves in higher level positions: a doctor, inventor, entrepreneur, a lawyer, or whatever their heart (desires), because just like Mr. Brown, I was that kid,” Dr. Johnson said.
“We need to start empowering and instilling that it takes a community to raise us for our children instead of making them think they’re entitled,” Thomas said. “We need to start going back to basics.”
Brown agreed, pointing out that African Americans and those of Hispanic descent have a lot of “similarities and many commonalities” between “black and brown communities,” which is why his company also put together the Latino Calendar, highlighting Hispanic contributions to world history, similar to the Black365 Calendar.
Thomas said though she expected more of the local dignitaries she invited to show up to the event than actually did, she thought the event went well. She said she hopes A2MEND can start holding events more regularly.
She also said she is working on starting a mentorship program to help children gain positive role models to curtail negative stereotypes seen on TV and in the media.
Dr. Johnson agreed.
“We want to be culturally aware of all cultures if we can, because again, it goes back to TV and the (negative) stereotypes,” he said. “That’s what gets us in trouble because we’re looking at a person in a negative light versus in totality.”
Jamaal Brown can be contacted by email at Jamaal@black365.us. His black history items and apparel — including the Black365 Calendar and Latino Calendar — can be found at black365.com or Latino Calendar.com.
Roman has worked for multiple local news and non-profit orgs including IV Press and VW Mag, IVROP, St. JP2 Radio and is also with The Southern Cross. An El Centro native, he graduated from Marywood U in Scranton, Pennsylvania. firstname.lastname@example.org
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