Kevin Brown sees new opportunities in the old neighborhood

April 06, 2018

How one banker has overcome adversity and prospered thanks to a steady job and personal determination.

Kevin Brown felt for a moment like he was on the wrong side of the classroom door.

He walked with fellow U.S. Bankers – including executives Andy Cecere, Bill Parker and Jeff von Gillern – on a tour of Summit Academy OIC (Brown is fifth from left above), a nonprofit in North Minneapolis that provides low-income adults with vocational training in the healthcare and construction industries. With a $250,000 donation from the bank, the organization recently kicked off a campaign to help 1,000 individuals earn GEDs by 2020. 

Many of the students in the program are teens from the surrounding community.

“I just kept thinking ‘This is me,’” said Brown. “I identified with these kids. I’d been there.”

On the way to Summit, the bank group had driven by the site of a public housing project where Brown grew up – his memories more vivid than fond. The funeral of an uncle murdered in a drug deal. The marriage that brought domestic abuse into his mom’s life. The night they packed up and left. The prescription drugs that would trap his mom in a two decade-long battle with addiction. All before he was 10 years old.

“I was a really nervous kid,” he said. “I didn’t realize until years later that it was because of the trauma at home.”

In work, Brown found an exit strategy. As a teen, he joined a summer program in which neighborhood kids would help out local business owners by sweeping storefronts and such. Seeing leadership ability in Brown, the program manager promoted him to youth supervisor. The role kept him out of trouble during his early teen years, and gave him confidence.

“While some of my friends were out stealing cars and going to jail, I was learning the importance of work ethic, eye contact and a firm handshake,” he said. “And when I was promoted after that first summer, I thought ‘If I could lead this, maybe I could lead something else.’”

Today, Brown leads five operations teams in wealth management at U.S. Bank and co-chairs its African American business resource group in the Twin Cities. He’s hardly taken a linear path, however. College took him to Georgia, but his lifestyle sent him home after a year. Although disappointed, Brown excelled once back in the workforce, parlaying a temporary gig delivering reports and mail into what has been a 21-year career at U.S. Bank. (He did go back to college in his mid-20s, earning a bachelor’s degree, and a 3.98 GPA, over eight years with a family and a full-time job.) 

As he toured Summit, Brown was blown away by the success that the organization was having in his old neighborhood. Each year, Summit enrolls more than 800 students who earn an average of less than $10,000 per year. Graduates go on to earn an average of $34,000 per year and 82 percent of participants are still employed three years later. A study conducted by Rainbow Research found a savings to taxpayers of $1.96 for every dollar invested in Summit.

“The best social service program is a job,” said Summit President Louis King (on left below). “Our greatest opportunity to add value to people’s lives is to help them complete their education, gain marketable skills and build strong networks.”

A steady job was a starting point for Brown. At 12 years old, he was able to buy back-to-school clothes. Today, at 39, he is able to live comfortably with his wife and three kids. But along the way, it’s also given him something more important – purpose. That’s his message to Summit students. 

“You have a purpose,” he said. “Take every opportunity to identify it. Then go after it with all that you have.”

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