Mike Brown ’01, regional director, athletics advancement, development, recently shared a Gospel reflection with FaithND readers in the context of Black History Month. Here, he takes a moment to share beyond his reflection.
How long have you been in your position?
Five and a half years
When did you start that position?
June 1, 2015
In one or two sentences, what does your position entail?
I engage with individuals and families who have a desire to provide resources that further Notre Dame’s mission through Athletics. Their resources provide funding for student-athlete scholarships (grants-in-aid), capital projects and other programs and services that shape the distinct experience of Notre Dame for our students (for example, leadership development and mental health).
How did you decide to attend Notre Dame?
I met an alumnus named Michael Peterson ‘83 the summer prior to my senior year of high school who convinced me to apply. Once I was accepted, I ultimately made the decision to attend Notre Dame (without ever visiting campus) over Marquette (where I had a full scholarship) because the pastor of my church told me to go with my heart and my heart was with Notre Dame. I made the decision knowing I’d have to take out student loans — I come from what I’d call a low income, high love family and couldn’t afford to attend Notre Dame — and although that added to financial stress for years to come, it’s still one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. Why was my heart with Notre Dame? I still don’t quite know — some factors I’ve pieced together: The fact that it was a ‘name brand’ school; the beautiful photos of campus in the brochures; the calls from current students when I was accepted; the allure of being able to play full contact interhall football for four more years; the reaction when people learned I was accepted; and the fact that it was only two and a half hours away from home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, yet still away from home.
What did you study while at Notre Dame?
I discovered a passion for coding in my senior year of high school (which has since long passed) and I loved business, so I studied Management Information Systems (now named Business Technology) within the Mendoza College of Business.
You were the first Black leprechaun at Notre Dame. When was that?
I was the leprechaun for two years from April 1999 to April 2001.
What was the experience of being the first Black leprechaun like for you?
My experience as the leprechaun was simply amazing. I tried out for the role for fun after my roommates convinced me to do so. I didn’t grow up a Notre Dame fan, but had a lot of spirit, energy and passion and poured it into the role. Being the first Black student to serve in the role was an incredible honor and I was grateful to be able to introduce things that have been part of my family and culture (like new cheers and performing with the First Class Steppers). That’s the beauty of the position — every person offers something unique that is shared with the world, but all centered around a shared love for Notre Dame.
How would you characterize your experience as a Black student at Notre Dame?
I embraced the gift of Notre Dame in every way imaginable by participating in various clubs, volunteering, attending events, meeting new people and trying new things (like broomball and ultimate frisbee). I participated in many campuswide and dorm events, but what further enriched my experience was also participating in a number of cultural-based events. I participated in the Black Images Talent Show, the Fiestang Filipino cultural celebration, Latin Expressions show, the Black Cultural Arts Council Fashion Show and Asian Allure show while also attending the Keenan Revue or Bengal Bouts. Collectively, they made my Notre Dame experience great, as I was able to engage with a diverse group of very talented students. Unfortunately, the feeling of standing in a crowded room and feeling all alone is another way I’d describe my experience. I don’t care how often it happens, you never really get used to constantly being the only Black person or the only person of color in a space (residence hall, class, study groups, for example). I thank God for the plethora of phenomenal supportive relationships I formed with people of diverse backgrounds that helped minimize the feeling through various activities.
How did you come to write the FaithNDreflection? Were you asked to do this specific one or did you choose it?
I was asked a few days prior to do the reflection when a person scheduled to do it fell through. I immediately agreed to do it because I believe everything happens for a reason. I’m also trying to let the Spirit guide my actions more each day. In a way, I saw being asked to do this as God calling, and when God calls, it’s always a good thing to answer the phone!
Did this particular Gospel reading (Mark 7:14-23) “speak” to you, and if so, how? Did it strike you as interesting timing during Black History Month?
This reading immediately spoke directly to me. I feel as though many times we (myself included) are looking for someone or something to blame for our own actions. Yes, there are a number of factors that influence our behavior, but ultimately we determine the actions we take. That then led me to think about having to ask for forgiveness for things I’ve done. And then, given that we are in the middle of celebrating Black History Month, celebrating the 75th anniversary of the first Black student-athlete at Notre Dame, and the fact that I’ve been extremely active on a number of fronts in working to fight for more diversity, equity, inclusion and unity at Notre Dame and in every aspect of our society, it would have been a disservice to myself, to others and to God to not use my voice to speak to the fullness of what was in my heart in this moment as I wrote the reflection.
Is there anything you would add to it?
The main thing I’d add is that I’m a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. I read a lot of wonderful statements and hear a lot of great speeches, but I really hope we continue to focus on going beyond words and statements and invest energy in positive actions to further enrich our community and society as a whole. I likely won’t live to see where we will be as a University or society in another 75 years, but I hope our progress in any area is measured by a number exponentially greater than the 4 to 6 percent of Black undergraduates we have now.