Motivational speaker and author Kevin Y. Brown chooses not to tell the fact that he was raised in the foster care system practically since birth and that he didn’t let that stop him from becoming the influential man he is. Serving as president of Legacy Thinking Labs, he uses his experience and triumphs to inspire others to be their best and to give students the tools they need to graduate from college debt-free.
A native of California’s Bay Area, Brown, 28, said his drug-addicted mother gave up him and his sister, leaving them on the doorstep of a relative before Child Protective Services were called. Moving from home to home, he was soon in a shelter. From the time he was born to age 18, he was in a total of 13 homes in the foster care system.
“Being in the foster care system as a child is like being an employee at a temp agency,” he said of his experience. “You never know when your temp job might end, like you don’t know when you will go to another home. People are going to remind you, ‘You are like family,’ but you are not family.”
Brown said that in some homes he stayed in while in foster care, he experienced hunger and even physical abuse. In a few cases, he was separated from his sister, whom he credits as being a mother figure in his life.
In high school, he excelled in basketball, and when he was 18, he was encouraged by two mentors to apply for college. He wanted to create his own life. Brown was accepted to 27 colleges and universities and settled on the historically Black Clark Atlanta University. He said going to an HBCU helped him establish a sense of self.
“HBCUs can help enrich your self-identity and responsibility to those behind you and those who came before
you,” he said. “I wanted to get as far away from my upbringing as possible.”
During the first week of his freshman year, he overheard some students discussing their fears of having to leave college because they could not pay for it. Brown decided that if he had to take out a loan, he was going to drop out–which was not an option.
Not wanting to pay for college and stay, he did everything possible to pay for school. He budgeted what he needed every year, excelled in academics, leading to numerous scholarships, played on CAU’s basketball team and participated in extracurricular activities.
Brown graduated from college with a degree in fashion design and business supply chain management completely debt-free. His entire college education is valued at $140,000.
Said Brown, “Anyone can do it. It’s a commitment more than anything. I received scholarships from places like the United Negro College Fund and worked as a resident assistant, which paid for my room and board. I knew so many of my friends who had to take jobs just so they could pay their debts.”
Doing what some might deem impossible inspired Brown to write a book about his experience to help other students do what he did. His book, “10 Ways Anyone Can Graduate From College Debt Free,” serves as a roadmap for students and families on how to pay for college. In it, he lists over 100 scholarships totaling $10 million. The book has been used in schools and organizations.
Today, Brown resides in Harlem and shares his story with the world through his motivational speaking. He talks to students about college and also to kids living in the foster care system. He’s currently working on a multi-city tour with the Boys and Girls Club of America and on a self-help book slated for release in 2014.
“It’s a humbling experience when you think about what you were living through and where you are now. It almost brings you to tears,” he said. “My motto is ‘I am the brand I am,’ which means there is a tipping point where you have to take on the responsibility.