The great grandson of a slave, Bob Brown was born in 1935 in North Carolina and was raised by his grandmother. Their home was bought with her earnings as a maid for the Southern Railroad. Brown recalls that in his youth, his grandmother prayed with him every morning, asking that the Lord would help them rise above their circumstances so that they could be helpful to others. "It was embedded into me throughout my childhood," he says. "Not a day went by when she didn't remind me of her basic philosophy of helping others."
Once, when Brown was young, an old man came by their house and asked for a meal. After he left, Brown asked his grandmother why she gave food away when they could barely feed themselves. She said to him, "If I never teach you anything else, remember that what you have is not your own. It belongs to the Lord, and the Lord wants us to share it with others." From that day on, Brown has tried to do that in his life. He says, "I've found out through experience that she was right. It was her legacy to me."
A good student, Brown won a scholarship to study his freshman year at Virginia Union University. When his grandparents' health declined, however, he returned to High Point and enrolled at North Carolina A&T State University. On weekends, he earned money shining shoes.
After college and stints as a local policeman and as a federal narcotics agent, Brown decided to return to High Point and open a public relations company. "I had a desk, a chair, and a phone in a one-room office on the second floor of an abandoned theater," he says. When the business began to prosper, he started to spend more time in the civil rights movement. He traveled with the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to raise money for the cause, and Brown was even arrested twice for seeking service in segregated restaurants.
In 1968, he was appointed Special Assistant to President Richard Nixon and put in charge of community relations, civil rights, emergency preparedness, small towns, and day care. Brown started and developed the U.S. Minority Enterprise Program and initiated the U.S. Government Black College Program.
About his own success, Brown says, "I think for me it was something called '˜stick-to-itiveness.' You have to have a lot of faith, a lot of integrity and character, be willing to work hard, and become what I call a '˜tenth miler,' not a '˜second miler.' If anybody wants you to go one mile above the limit in terms of hard work, go 10 miles, and most of the time you're not going to have anyone else even close to you."
Brown says his Horatio Alger Award has meant a great deal to him. He has been active with the Association since his induction in 1990, serving on the board of directors and as chairman of the Strategic Planning Committee. He says, "My wife and I have put a lot of needy kids through school, which is why I am so excited about the advances the Association has made in this area. We have greatly expanded the number of students we help with the high costs of college. Our members should all be proud of that."