By Dennis J. Freeman
The beat goes on for Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown and the Amer-I-Can program. Even without the financial backing of the Cleveland Browns, the NFL franchise he played for and has been embedded with for the last couple of decades, Brown and Amer-I-Can will find a way to make it over the temporary speed bump it faces.
Amer-I-Can is not about one person, one group of people; just one message. And that is helping others to find their place in society and to help them to become better people.
“The journey is forever,” Brown said in a 2007 interview. “You can never reach all of the people in need. There are so many people in need. So many people are suffering. We’re all on this journey and we should work together.”
Brown’s journey of leading others to redemption through Amer-I-Can, a program he started in his Hollywood Hills home in 1988, began as a program aimed at keeping at-risk young people off the streets of South Los Angeles. During those early years, often times the backdrop of those weekly meetings was brokering truces between different factions of the Bloods and Crips, two of LA’s most prolific gangs.
The program has since expanded to various states across the nation, and has even made its way into the social fibers of several countries such as Belize and Ghana. The great thing about Amer-I-Can is that the 15 chapter, 60 to 90 hours life management curriculum is open to all comers. Businessmen sit side-by-side with housewives and gang members, where accepting self-responsibility and self-accountability are mandated. Owning up to your actions is a requirement.
Brown, who formed the Negro Industrial Economic Union during the 1960s to empower African Americans, said that is the beauty of the program.
“The curriculum is the Bible as a product that we have created that b rings about great results,” the 6-foot-3, 230 pound Brown said. “See, with Amer-I-Can the more you move away from me and deal with the principles the more powerful and effective it will be. There is no agenda. Almost everything has an agenda that limits it to being explicable to every human being. There’s an emphasis on caring, caring about people; not money and power and Super Bowls and whatever.”
Caring for others is what Ronald “Looney” Barron tried to make his life’s mission after going through the Amer-I-Can program. The program allowed him to distant himself from a life of crime as a gang member into a life of teaching students about the pitfalls of self-destruction. The 40-year-old Barron was a popular and noted gang interventionist for Amer-I-Can before he was gunned down senselessly earlier this year by a 16-year-old graffiti tagger.
He may be gone, but his work in inspiring young folks to better themselves by making better life choices remains legendary as he became a main cog in Amer-I-Can’s outreach to the youths on the streets. Barron’s life is a perfect example of what Brown and wife, Monique, director of the Amer-I-Can Foundation, work endlessly at promoting.
“The program is unique in that 90 percent of the people we employ are ex-felons,” said Monique Brown. “We take that negative influence and empower them, train them to deal with their conditioning, to deal with their families, to deal with their childhood and take that same energy they have to turn it into a positive. It transcends gender, race and economic status. This is a program for everyone. The common concern in the group is that each person helps the other get better.”
After going through the program herself, Monique Brown said her husband is simply driven to help improve the life of other people.
“What I see is that if he touches one life, if he touches one person-that drives him,” Monique Brown said. “If one person connects and really feels something…that’s what he does. He bridges gaps. By going through program it changed my life in ways I never anticipated. This is one thing that amazes me to watch how he is able to take someone from the highest level and put them in a room with someone from the streets…what amazes me is how he gets people to understand we all want the same thing. We all want to be loved and getting to inspire.”
Jim Brown believes that once a person accepts responsibility for his or her actions, the transformation they’re seeking can then begin.
“That has always been in the back of my mind,” he said. “The principles are global. The principles are universal. It is based on principles. It’s not based on money. It’s not based on power. It’s based on human development.
“There are two things you’re asking a person to do and this to make a better life for yourself and then help other people. That’s the only thing we ask. The first part of the job was to educate the disenfranchised and the poor, and to walk in the land of the predators and get them to start understanding their roles in changing their lives.”