Rodney Brown

April 30, 2002
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MUSKEGON — The value was learned at a young age.

Growing up in Grand Rapids’ Lafayette area, Rodney Brown was taught by his grandparents the value of giving and of helping others. As he works to bring opportunity to those in Muskegon who’ve not always shared in the region’s economic successes, Brown always keeps that lesson in mind.

“They always instilled in me to want to give back. as well as to focus on achievement. But also as I achieve, how can I can I help?” said Brown, the president of the Urban League of Greater Muskegon.

Brown, 34, joined the organization in August after working for seven years as an adjunct professor of political science at Grand Rapids Community College. During that period, he also worked as an administrator for two neighborhood associations in Grand Rapids and spent as year as a housing counselor with the Grand Rapids Urban League. He even ran twice for public office, in 1997 for the Grand Rapids City Commission and in 1998 for the Kent County Board of Commissioners.

While he didn’t win either time, Brown does not consider either campaign a failure. As a political scientist he believes he achieved part of his goal because “I generated good debate.”

In joining the Urban League of Greater Muskegon, Brown saw an opportunity that fit well with his skills and professional background. The mission of the Urban League to generate opportunity for and to empower disadvantaged persons and African Americans also appealed to his personal and professional values.

“If we can empower those who are disadvantaged, then we empower this nation,” Brown said when explaining his goal of expanding the Urban League’s role in the community’s “broader fabric” as it relates to economic development in Muskegon County.

“We are a bridge and that’s what I want to expand on and continue to be a larger bridge where more people can walk across and that can extend to diverse groups,” he said. “I’d like to increase opportunity and instill and bring about a sense of justice and fairness to those that have historically been denied access.”

Following that route, Brown’s early tenure with the Urban League of Greater Muskegon saw the recent formation of a unique partnership with the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce to generate greater diversity within the businesses community and bring a new source of capital and networking opportunities to minority business owners.

Reaching out to the minority community had been a goal of the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce for years. After he joined the Urban League in August, Brown began talking with the chamber about a partnership and the idea took off, he said.

“It was a natural and it was timing,” Brown said. “We just worked to make it happen.”

Brown initially pursued a career in business following his graduation from Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif., a Jesuit college where he earned a degree in political science in 1990. He originally came home to Grand Rapids after graduating, returned to California and eventually came back home, where he joined Grand Rapids Community College.

While Brown still has visions of becoming a successful businessman, his priorities for now rest with creating new opportunities for people in Muskegon — a town that is on the upswing and he believes holds enormous potential for all.

“This community is on the cusp of doing great things,” he said.

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