The rest of Dane County is beginning to learn what those in the District have known for quite some time: Percy Brown Jr. is a rising star.
Brown was named a Rising Star, one of five President's Award presented by the Urban League of Greater Madison, at its third annual Urban Cabaret at the Monona Terrace on Friday night.
"He is a difference-maker in the lives of numerous youth,'' said Dr. Ruben Anthony Jr., the president and CEO of the ULGM. "He is a living example of how you can be great if you work hard and dream big. He is one who we expect to rise to higher heights in the realm of education and the community at-large.''
District officials on hand to see Brown receive the award included Superintendent Don Johnson and Deputy Superintendent George Mavroulis.
"I'm humbled to have received the Rising Star award but I pride myself most as having a voice for the voiceless,'' Brown said. "I want to empower more people. They tell me I am speaking on behalf of them. I want to continue to be a fighter for change. That is the foundation of who I am.''
Brown discussed the honor and his work in the District last week on Forward Forum, a one-hour interview show produced by the Cable Ch. 4 in Sun Prairie.
Brown joined the District in 2012 as a Dean of Students at Middleton High School. For the past two years, he has served as the District's Director of Equity and Student Achievement.
During that time, more than half of the staff have been impacted by professional development related to equity, he said.
"They now say they see things in a different way,'' Brown said. "We have raised awareness and that makes it easier for them to see how some barriers still exist.''
He worked for five years as a minority services coordinator at Madison Memorial. He then served for a year first as interim assistant principal and then as Dean of Students at Madison East. He worked as an instructional resource teacher for the Madison Metropolitan School District before joining MHS.
He has also served on the Madison Equal Opportunity Commission and the City of Madison's committee for evaluating the need for police cameras. Anthony also praised Brown for actively leading discussions in the wake of the Tony Robinson shooting.
"It's been heartening watching a young person in this community who has had some challenges but had lots of successes, too,'' Anthony said of Brown. "When students had no one else to go to at MHS, they knew they could go to Mr. Brown.
"He is one of the great leaders to arise from the south side of Madison. He doesn't seek attention but is doing so much quietly.''
Brown received his bachelor's degree from Delta State in 1998 and added a master's from Edgewood College in 2011.
Brown, who was born and raised in Madison, attributed his passion for racial and social justice to his family upbringing. His father was from the Mississippi Delta, while his mother was raised in Florida. His parents were actively involved in the Civil Rights movement and moved to Madison in the 1960s.
"I was fortunate enough as a child to have those stories shared with me,'' he said. "As I got older, I realized the work my family did extended into my DNA. I see myself as a man of service. We have inequities that exist in this community. It's not a black-only issue. I want to play a role in helping to change outcomes.''
Brown has tried to help current MHS students learn more about U.S. history by taking them on trips the past three spring breaks. The students have traveled to Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and Mississippi during that time.
He was thrilled the students had an opportunity to meet U.S. Senator Ron Johnson and visit Arlington National Cemetary, Mount Vernon and the Civil War Museum among other places. Last year, students re-enacted the Freedom Rides in the Deep South.
"For them to be able to witness Mississippi and hear from my father and uncle what the movement was really about ... it really raised some issues for them,'' he said. "It was eye-opening. We exposed them to history, particularly black history, that we don't teach in our curriculum.
"If I could recreate that for every kid in our community, not only the greatness of our country but where we have struggled, that is so important because they are the game-changers.''
The National Urban League was established in the early 1900s. The Friends of the Urban League in Madison was formed in 1968. The mission of the Urban League of Greater Madison is to ensure that African-Americans and other community members are educated, employed and empowered to live well, advance professionally and contribute to the common good in the 21st century.
Johnathan Gramling, the editor and publisher of the Capital City Hues, and the YWCA of Madison received the Whitney M. Young Jr. Awards. Gramling has been involved in civil rights and other issues for the past 35 years. The mission of the YWCA of Madison is to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
Other President's Award winners included Will Green (Grassroots Hero), Madison Community Foundation (Community Champion), Carola A. Gaines (Exceptional Community Collaborator), and C. Wade Harrison (Distinguished Service).