by Greg Scott
CARBONDALE, Ill. — SIU Carbondale alumnus Ken Brown, an entrepreneur, motivational speaker and success coach, proudly subscribes to Winston Churchill’s motto: “We make a living by what we got, but we make a life by what we give.” The 1988 food and nutrition graduate’s actions support his beliefs in a big way.
Brown, a Chicago native, is donating $100,000 to fund scholarships for minority students in various majors at Southern. His gift was made in cooperation with the University’s Hope and Opportunity initiative, which seeks to raise $1 million to provide equal opportunities and financial assistance to minority students and other traditionally underrepresented populations.
“My parents taught me that education was the way out of poverty. I took a leap of faith by attending SIU,” he says. “I’ve been afforded tremendous opportunities. According to the word of God, of whom much is given… much is required.
“I want to leave a legacy for students who have a desire to attend college, but may not necessarily have the means to do so. It is important for me to be a messenger of hope.”
Rickey N. McCurry, vice chancellor for institutional advancement and chief executive officer of the SIU Foundation, says: “Ken Brown is a gentleman who has conquered challenges to acquire a great deal of success. He is clearly thankful for the skills and knowledge he acquired as a student at SIU Carbondale and aspires to return the favor by supporting the educational goals of ambitious students who follow him. This represents an outstanding display of philanthropy and generosity on his part.”
The University and Carbondale communities can hear Brown’s story firsthand during his visit to campus on Monday, Jan. 25, and Tuesday, Jan. 26. Brown will be speaking and visiting with various student organizations and leaders, the University’s student affairs division and campus administrators.
Presentations are open to the public at 7 p.m. both days. On Monday, attendees are invited to gather at the Student Center Auditorium, while Tuesday’s presentation will be held in the lower level of Grinnell Hall on campus. Book signing sessions are scheduled to take place after each event. In addition, Brown will also speak at a Brown Bag Luncheon at noon on Tuesday, in the Kaskaskia/Missouri Rooms of the Student Center.
The Division of Student Affairs is sponsoring Brown’s campus visit in conjunction with the SIU Foundation.
The owner and operator of two McDonald’s restaurants in the Detroit area by the age of 35, Brown says he relishes the opportunity to share his message with students at his alma mater.
“Life and success are about choices, challenges and change. Life is 10 percent of what happens to you, and 90 percent of how you respond to it,” he says. “Any student can be successful. Once you make your mind up to be successful, all that can stop this from happening is yourself. There is no other competition.”
Larry H. Dietz, vice chancellor for student affairs, says Brown’s message should resonate with the University community.
“I think he’s got a great message to share with people. It’s always good to have an alumnus come back and have a strong message to deliver to our students,” Dietz says. “This is a great opportunity for people to see a real success story and hear how he got from point A to point B. He came from very modest means and worked as a busboy and waiter when he came to SIUC as a student. He readily admits he could not have made it to where he is now if not for the support and assistance he received along the way.”
Brown, 43, was born to unmarried, teenage parents. He experienced a humble beginning to his life, including 10 home evictions. Despite financial challenges his family encountered, Brown’s parents stressed perseverance and insisted that each of their children attain a college education. He subsequently applied for Pell Grants, guaranteed loans and financial assistance. Brown entered SIUC in the fall of 1984. However, Brown had a modest C average in high school. Southern accepted him through its Center for Basic Skills (now Center for Academic Success), a special admissions program for students who display promise. He received probationary acceptance to SIUC, and had to earn at least a B average during his freshman year to be processed through general admissions. Brown wasn’t going to be denied; he accumulated a 3.15 grade point average and was accepted into full admission.
“I had a burning desire to be successful. I wasn’t the best student academically on campus, but there wasn’t anyone on campus with more desire. Desire is crucial to being successful as a student or employee,” he says. “My mother and father taught us that all things are possible if you believe. SIU presented me with an opportunity to be the author, director and star of my own destiny. “
Brown joined the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity his sophomore year. Additionally, he learned various facets of the restaurant business as a student worker at Saluki Grill, a small café on campus, which spurred his interest and passion for food service and management. After graduating from Southern, he was hired as an assistant director for ARA Services, a food management company. He spent the next 12 years progressing to various roles within the industry, including general manager for Wendy’s, sales manager for Kraft Foods, and sales consultant for The Assmussen Waxler Group and McDonald’s Corp., prior to becoming a McDonald’s owner.
The SIUC graduate’s book entitled, “From Welfare to Faring Well,” depicts his journey from welfare to millionaire. Brown has subsequently retired from McDonald’s, and currently serves as a life and success coach, and speaks to Fortune 400 companies, schools, churches and various organizations worldwide. In addition, he has authored and sold 20,000 copies of two life-changing books, “A Leap of Faith” and “L.I.F.E. – Living In Freedom Everyday.”
“As a life and success coach, my primary focus is to help people enhance their vision, find their passion and understand their actions,” Brown says. “The word of God is that to be truly great, you must first serve others. Once you find a need and fill it, you never want for money again. That is what SIU did for me. It provided solutions for me. I want our current students to have that sense of empowerment.”
Brown and his wife of 18 years, Deidre, live in West Bloomfield, Mich., with their three children – Austin, 14, Bradley, 11, and Drake, 8.