After years of working as an author, top media executive and journalist for major networks, Keith Brown is now pursuing his dream of building his own empire. The former senior vice president of news and public affairs for BET is a partner, along with his wife, Maria, in the Perez-Brown Media Group Inc. The two live with their 4-year-old daughter in Harlem. The consulting firm provides strategies to companies to reach African-American and Latino communities.
With 20 years of experience under his belt working in television, including stints at MTV Networks, PBS, NBC and CBS, Brown is now calling the shots in his own company that the couple began earlier this year. Along with a goal of self-employment and self-determination, he’s also looking to share with the world some of his most passionate causes and issues.
“Social issues are really important to me,” he said. “I always felt that whatever I do and whatever I did had to have a sense of purpose. Being able to uncover the things that really affect us and impact our lives is a real privilege to be able to do. I feel that my career has been blessed with that.”
Brown is a native of Freehold, N.J., just 60 miles outside of New York City. Brown said he grew up in a working-class family alongside his extended family-his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all living nearby. Wanting to leave the rural environment of his youth, Brown had aspirations to move to the city.
He attended Syracuse University, where he majored in international relations and attempted to become a Peace Corp volunteer. Brown went to Africa during his junior year with Operation Crossroads Africa, where he lived in a small village in Botswana.
After graduating from Syracuse, he coordinated African and Caribbean programs with Operation Crossroads for college students. He then was able to return to the continent with students from that group.
“I wanted to tell the stories of what I experienced in Africa,” he said. “I wanted to do documentaries. That’s what really inspired me to get into the media. I wanted to tell stories about what I saw. There were so many misconceptions about Africa. I wanted to tell stories about the Africa I knew.”
Brown came back to New York in 1985, working at the Museum of Natural History, where he coordinated programs dealing with the African-American, African and Caribbean community.
Working to expand his interests with the media, he volunteered on the esteemed PBS weekly program “South Africa Now.” While working on the program, he learned the basics of producing and decided he wanted to be a journalist.
To learn the craft, he went to the Columbia Journalism School, where he earned a master’s degree. Right out of journalism school he was hired by Bill Moyers, working on one of Moyers’ PBS shows as a researcher and associate producer.
Soon, Brown followed that job with a stint at CBS News, where he worked for Ed Bradley on “Street Stories.” That experience was a high point professionally, as he served as the associate producer of the documentary “In the Killing Fields,” which received a Peabody Award, National Emmy Award and a Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism.
In 1995, the opportunity came for him to go on camera for the first time when he worked as a reporter for WFSB-TV.
“It was my first time doing local news and it was a challenge, but it really gave me incredible experience on really delivering the news,” he said.
In 1998, he fulfilled another ambition when he wrote his first book, “Sacred Bond: Black Men and Their Mothers,” about the relationships between mothers and their African-American sons. He was awarded a six-figure deal and the book became a bestseller. Brown went on a 12-city book tour and was featured on ABC’s “20/20” for the work.
After the success of his book, Brown went back to television, first with NBC News working for “Dateline,” then with a correspondent job on the PBS show “NOW with Bill Moyers.” In 2003, he was named vice president of news and documentaries for MTV Networks’ Spike TV channel.
BET President of Entertainment Reggie Hudlin approached Brown in 2006 to become the network’s senior vice president of news and public affairs. During his time at BET, Brown managed all editorial and creative programming content for BET News. Brown worked at the network during several historic moments, including: the election of President Barack Obama, the death of Michael Jackson and the earthquake in Haiti.
While at BET he earned more than 40 awards, including an Emmy, two NAACP Image Awards and awards from the National Association of Black Journalists.
“I was proud of the work I did at BET,” Brown said. “It was an amazing time in history to be at a place like BET with the coverage of the first Black president. It was a place where you could unapologetically talk to Black people, and that’s something I would not have been able to do anywhere else.”
He left BET in March to start his own media consulting firm, Perez-Brown Media Group Inc. and has already worked with companies like Gap Inc., Epix, Shine Global Inc., Lincoln Center and Mamiverse, a website for Latina mothers. The company is currently working on a documentary about mother-to-child transmission of AIDS in Africa.