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ANTWAN J. BROWN BA,CM – The link  between the community  and the employer

BY KRISTINA TRUMAN

Antwan J. Brown is both an entrepreneur and a West Michigan Business Development Specialist that has spent years focused on connecting individuals that have various barriers to employment; with area employers that have a need for their specific talents and skill sets. Brown, a graduate of Aquinas College with degrees in Business Administration and Communications, says that he has always had a passion for helping others find their pathway to a better life through education, personal growth and development, and gainful employment opportunities.

The city of Grand Rapids and West Michigan overall is continuing to grow in many ways. This is such an amazing time to be involved at any level in the processes or projects that put our citizens back to work to further help enrich our communities. Antwan says that he focuses particularly on men and women that have disabilities, have successfully recovered from a history of substance abuse, or that have re-entered society from incarceration. “What I’ve discovered in working with this population for almost the last 10 years is that many of them have a great desire to be successful, a burning passion to work and provide for their families. Some have marvelous input on how to improve the communities they may live in. However their faith has been shaken and they’ve become extremely discouraged by the number of doors that are closed in their faces because of what seem to be a visible physical disability, or a criminal charge from their past that has continued to follow them, even once they’ve paid their dues to society.”

Brown estimates that since he’s been in this field of work he has been instrumental in helping provide a few hundred people with employment in West Michigan. “I’ve gone to homeless shelters, prisons, county jails, rehab and recovery programs, and mental health institutions to work with those in need of a voice to the decision- makers in the employment world. Iin many cases, these individuals have great challenges when it comes to pursuing employment alone. My goal is not only to help them get a job, but to help them understand what it takes to keep their job, keep their employer happy, and maybe even make a case through hard work and dedication for promotions or pay raises within their respected organizations over time.

One of the things that I love most about my work is that God gave me a heart that is pleased and happy when I help someone regain or build confidence in their skills and abilities. Many times, we can easily become discouraged if we only focus on the negatives, the obstacles, or the things we are unable to do, but there is something powerfully motivating about simply building on our actual abilities; identifying what is that we enjoy and can do, and doing it at its absolute fullest capacity. Sometimes, we must take the responsibility of reminding those around us how wonderful and unique God created each of us.

Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio as a kid, I could see firsthand the traumatic effects of employment deficiencies, the impact of the drug epidemic on both the communities around me and within my own family. I’ve seen individuals come home from being incarcerated only to return to a life of crime because they can’t find anyone willing to give them a second chance to prove themselves in the workplace as an employee. I didn’t quite understand what was happening then, but as I got older and gained more knowledge about barriers to employment, I began to examine ways that I could use my skills and resources to help these people.

My high school basketball coach and mentor, Mr. Jim Mullally, is the reason that today I never run from challenges or obstacles. He stepped up in my life at a very influential time when I was faced with great adversity, uncertain of who I was or even wanted to become, and a decision or two away from becoming yet another statistic. Coach took me under his wing and showed me the tough love I needed, supported me and told me not furthering my education was not an option for me. He somehow convinced me that my social economic status didn’t matter, but my future would be more about making positive decisions and my willingness to never be out worked at anything I wanted to do. I still remember our conversation about personal appearance, eye contact, a handshake, proper communication, and most of respecting others. He helped me understand that to build or add anything positive to my life that would impact my future, there must first be a solid moral and ethical foundation within myself that would guide my decision-making during hard-hitting times. 21 years later, these are many of the same personal growth and development training elements I use with those I spend time helping today to prepare them for the workplace.

How have I found success during my years of doing this type of work? For each of us success is defined very differently, and it’s identifying what success is to one’s self that creates the feeling of self- fulfillment. Helping those in need see the reality of a better life is just the beginning for me—helping them to achieve it success to me. I’ve found it effective that on many occasions as a liaison I’m the voice to employers on behalf of someone that has the skills and a great passion to work, but perhaps doesn’t interview or communicate very well. Many times, I’ve worked on things such as a transportation plan, emergency childcare plan, or even financial management and budgeting with those that I work with.

My efforts are to help them see the positive impacts of employment in their lives, and encourage them along the way to keep pushing forward to sustain and grow within their jobs. Helping others understand the impact of their decision- making not only with the employers that are willing to give them a chance, but on themselves, on their families, and their overall communities. When I assist them on getting to the table with an employer contact from my network, I’ve made sure we’ve done our due-diligence and that we are prepared, and that the individual is ready to follow through on their commitments to an employer willing to give them a chance.”

LIFE AFFILIATIONS

  • Born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio
  • Husband and father of two amazing children
  • Graduate of Aquinas College 2001
  • Motivational/Inspirational Speaker and Life Coach
  • Job Development/Business Development Specialist
  • Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS) State of Michigan
  • Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services
  • Board Member: Access of West Michigan
  • Planning and Development Team: Operation Appreciate Freedom (Supporting our Veteran’s in need)
Speaking in the community on behalf of those with disabilities and barriers to employment in more of the senior age group that had a desire to work and still contribute to their communities and the economy by working. I love being an advocate and a voice for all age groups, and focusing on what they can contribute to an employer with a desire to give them a chance. The seniors in the Grand Rapids and surrounding communities have a wealth of knowledge and experience to offer to both our younger generation of potential employees, as well as area employers who see the value that they can add to their business models.

2013 State of Michigan Champion Awards

The award from the State of Michigan (MRS) was presented for our efforts for successfully putting individuals with barriers to employment back to work in the State of Michigan. The award was driven by strategic plans that I assisted in developing and diligently worked on with the help of Sharlene Organ (Rehabilitation Counselor at MRS) to match an employers goals and employee needs with the skills and abilities of out of work West Michigan residents facing barriers finding and retaining gainful employment based on their disabilities, prior criminal convictions, and various other challenges. Together, we strategically built on their current skills and abilities, matching them with the needs of the employer, to fill employment needs and build an amazing successful partnership.