BY INGRID BROWN
BROWN… you are created not to make a living but a difference in humanity because you are unique and priceless.
WHILE growing up in the tough inner-city community of Greenwich Town in Kingston Krishna Brown read about a woman who had five master's degrees and immediately decided he would not allow his financial limitations or social standing to prevent him from attaining the same.
Today, Brown has not only attained five Master's degrees and numerous post-graduate diplomas, but continues to excel as a linguistic consultant, trainer and life coach in Madrid, Spain where he has been living for the past 14 years.
Founder and director of livingenglish.com Brown has, among other things, worked for the European and Spanish presidency as a liaison officer to ministers of state, served as a freelance interpreter and translator with the United Nations, a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) teacher trainer at the Ministry of Education of Madrid, and linguistic consultant with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Madrid. He is currently employed to the CSIM, University of Complutense, Madrid as a TEFL professor and CUID -- a Spanish university for distance education.
Faced with the choice of taking the wrong path like so many others he grew up around in the inner city, Brown said he realised from a very early age that education was his passport to a better life.
"At age 15 I wrote down on a piece of paper that I wanted to have five master's degrees because I read an article in the newspaper of a lady with five master's and I said, 'if she can do it, I can do it too'," he said.
As such, Brown said he applauded the Jamaica Observer for telling these stories so people can read and be inspired to excel.
"I grew up all my life surrounded by violence and with the possibility of doing the wrong things or taking drugs or something illegal, but my parents ensured that we had a strong belief in God and that we did the right things," said Brown, who explained that although he lived in such a tough community his life revolved solely around home, school and church.
Brown recalled his years growing up in a small house with his five siblings and having to study by candlelight either during the frequent power outages in his community or late nights when violence raged in the area.
"In the height of the violence I could not chance studying with the light on late at nights because you didn't want to alert gunmen to the fact that you were up for them to start shooting up the house, and so sometimes I would go to study under the bed," he recalled.
But from an early age he showed great academic ability as he was determined to follow in the footsteps of his brother, who was head boy at Kingston College (KC).
Thus, it came as no surprise when he sat the Common Entrance Exam he was the only boy from the then Greenwich All-Age to gain a place at KC, one of Jamaica's top all-boys' high schools.
At the famous North Street institution Brown was even more determined to excel, eventually becoming head boy two years after his brother, a historic achievement for two siblings.
Brown said his father was the sole bread winner, having worked at Jamaica Gypsum and Quarries six days a week, while his mother took care of the home and ensured that Brown and his siblings did not end up with the wrong crowd.
So instead of hanging out in the community, Brown said he spent as much time as he could at school engaging in a host of extra-curricular activities.
By the time he got home it was almost dark, and given the frequent power outages in that area of Kingston Brown said he would study with a kerosene lamp or candle.
"Because it was a one-room situation everyone wanted to sleep, and so sometimes I would go into the bathroom and lock the door and stay there and study until the wee hours of the morning," he said.
Being an active student at school gave him the opportunity to develop good leadership qualities which made it difficult for him to be influenced by the things happening in his community.
Brown said he did not make the fact that he was from an inner-city community prevent him from exhibiting leadership qualities at school where there were boys from different social strata of society.
He credited persons like his chemistry and form teacher Opal Branche, his vice-principal Helen Douglas, and his cadet instructor Captain Michael Bennett for his growth and development while at KC.
So exemplary was his performance that on graduating he got a job at KC teaching Geography and Spanish, which allowed him to accumulate savings to take up a place at the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Around this time, Brown said his mother died, resulting in him having to take on an even greater responsibility in the family for his younger siblings.
"I used to help to take care of my younger siblings and so I would comb their hair and help to prepare them for school," he recalled, adding that his father worked even harder to keep the family together.
"When I was studying, my father would be up with me until all hours to make me some tea and see that I was all right. He was ever present and worthy of emulation. He was gentle, compassionate, caring and loving. I have the greatest father in the world and I am so proud of him," Brown said.
After saving enough, Brown began pursuing his first degree in Geography at UWI.
But those university years were still very challenging. as Brown said there were some nights he was unable to go home because of the flare-up of violence in Greenwich Town.
"Sometimes there would be curfew in the area and so I would call my father to find out if it was safe to come home, and if it wasn't I had to stay by friends for days until it was okay to go home," he recalled.
During this time, he worked part-time tutoring students in Geography, Spanish and Mathematics to assist with his living expenses.
After graduating with an upper second honours, Brown went on to complete a post-graduate diploma in foreign language education before getting a scholarship to do a master's degree in environmental management, also at UWI.
He explained that there was a time he had the option to attend school in Mexico, Argentina, or Chile. However, he decided to remain in Jamaica because he didn't want to leave his sisters alone in the inner city while his father was away in England.
After completing his master's he got a full-time job at Montego Bay Community College, but before long he started searching for another opportunity for learning and got a six-month scholarship from the Spanish embassy to study in Spain.
But Brown said he was in for a reality check when he got to Spain, as the scholarship money could hardly cover his rent.
"I was living in a basement flat which cost half of the scholarship," he said, explaining that he had to be constantly moving in search of cheaper accommodation.
"People think once yuh guh to foreign yuh rich, but I struggled more outside Jamaica than I did here because it takes time to adapt and learn the ropes," he said. "At one point I was working five jobs to survive."
According to Brown, he has always felt the need to be constantly upgrading himself.
"The day I die is the day I stop learning, and the day I stop learning is the day I die," he said.
Among his numerous certifications is a master's degree in international co-operation and developmental aid and a post-graduate diploma in educational coaching, a post-graduate diploma in tourism development; a master's degree in business administration, master's degree in design, planning and management of training courses; a master's degree in life, executive and company coaching all from the European Institute of Business Studies and Euroinnova in Spain; a master's degree in international relations and foreign trade from the Institute of Professional Training and Employment & The College of Political Scientists and Sociologists of Madrid; a post-graduate diploma for Spanish language and literature teachers at the Spanish Agency for International Co-operation in Madrid.
Brown said he got a break to gain permanent residency in Spain when Government announced plans to legalise the status of immigrants as long as they were able to secure a contract from a company. Having prayed about the situation Brown said he boldly walked into an Indian restaurant and relayed what he believed God was telling him.
"I went in there and spoke to the man and say 'the Holy Spirit say that you are to give me a contract to work here'," he said, adding that he was surprised when the man did as was requested.
But although he received his permanent residency Brown said he always saw Jamaica as his home and still returns to the family home in Greenwich Town whenever he visits. His father, who still lives in the community, also visits him in Spain.
Brown said whenever he is in Jamaica he always seeks to give back through motivational talks.
But even as he still struggles to eke out a life in the fast-paced city of Madrid, Brown said he acted upon his vision to found the One Love Charity in 2013 and started a slew of projects with the awarding of the Naomi and Aston Brown scholarship of excellence, in honour of his parents, to Shaquille Thomas, a student at KC.
At least 80 per cent of the money to fund the charity comes from Brown's pocket and 20 per cent from donations. This, Brown said, means he has to cut back on his personal needs in order to give back.
His sister, Suzette Lawther, who lives in Florida, provides great support to his charity.
"At nights I lie in bed thinking about all those children who were in the situation I was in and that motivates me to keep on doing what I do," he said.
He credits his parents for instilling in him an appreciation for being charitable as he described them as "living NGOs" who were always helping others even though they did not have much themselves.
His advice to people growing up in similar circumstances as his is to find their purpose and vision in life.
"You are created not to make a living but a difference in humanity because you are unique and priceless, and God created you with gift and talent that humanity needs," he said. You must learn to be confident, persistent and believe in yourself while having a positive attitude and spirit of unwavering optimism, heartfelt gratitude and contagious joy."