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James Brown: Black History in the Making

James Brown
Photo courtesy of Maina Mwaura

Sunday night was special in many ways to me. It was an incredible Super Bowl game, but also black history was happening right in front of me. James Brown hosted his 10th pre-game and half-time show. This marks an all-time high record for a sports broadcaster. I can remember meeting James Brown—or as I like to call him Mister Brown—during my darkest hour.

Dr. Fred Luter, who was the first Black President of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), introduced me to him. If I am being truthful, the only person who knew that it was my darkest hour was my wife. I had just been fired from my position as a mission pastor at a large Dallas, Georgia church. A month prior, my wife and I sat down with the executive pastor to express concerns about racism within the church and staff. We were told that all was fine. I was the only black staff member serving in a region that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene calls home. I liked them. They did not like me. I was at the end of my career, or so I thought. To be honest, after over two decades in the ministry, I did not recognize the path that God had before me.

I had always wanted to go into journalism. I also knew that I was 40 years old. It was quite possible that my time to dive into this competitive field was indeed over. Then in a twist of fate—or providence—God brought James Brown into my life. I am not into sports. At all. However, a couple of years prior, I picked up Brown’s book in a local bookstore and read it all the way back home. Brown has been someone I had somewhat followed but never thought I would meet. Nevertheless, God knows what we need at just the right time. Brown would end up letting me shadow him for a story for three months.

I received an up-close-and-personal view into the life of a sports legend. As I followed Brown, I realized that the reason some people call him a legend is not that he is a great broadcaster; it is because of what he brings to the table. Brown allowed a complete novice to follow him around the shop, as they say in the news business. During our time together, I learned that he was a Christ-follower and an ordained minister. It also became clear to me that for the people on the set, Brown was not only a complete professional but also someone in whom they could confide. He is approachable to everyone he meets.

Photo courtesy of Maina Mwaura

My journalistic eye noticed the teachable moments he inspired. As a man of color, I listened to every word that he spoke and put it into practice. As I watched Brown interact with others, I saw him repeatedly listen first then respond. I will never forget during one part of the NFL Sunday Show, he called me over so that we could talk. Mid-conversation he abruptly turned to tell the wider audience the play that had just happened. It was such a reminder to me of how God deals with us. He is watching the whole earth, but He can stop at any moment to spend time with us.

It has been over four years since I shadowed Brown. Much has changed in my life. I have interviewed US Presidents, and over four hundred influential leaders along the way. Nonetheless, Brown is still there for me when I need advice. We usually correspond with one another weekly. He makes himself available to answer all my many questions.

In a culture and business such as broadcasting, egos tend to run high. It is one of the most competitive arenas that I know. People in the industry tend to look out for number one and—at times—can come across cold and callous. Brown is the complete opposite. When I tell others that I had the privilege to follow him for three months, they also look in amazement, almost as if it is not true. Sometimes I cannot quite believe that it happened.

Brown’s historical feat is black history on full display. His example should be honored and emulated. As someone who has been mentored by Brown, I can tell you from firsthand experience. He has not only mentored me, he has also invested in me in more ways than I have space to write. Even now, while writing this piece I find myself getting a little choked up that God would allow me to not only witness black history but also have the privilege of having Brown as a mentor and coach. Through James Browns’ mentorship, God gave me a strong foundation for my journalism career.

I would have to agree with Boomer Esiason on this one: “We’re in good hands with maybe the best studio host in the history of the sport.” I can second this statement, having experienced firsthand what makes him part of the long and great list of Black History moments.