TYLER — “Every night, I stood on a bridge, debating, ‘Do I jump or not?’ ” C.J. Brown III said as he reflected on his time being homeless in Tyler.
Depressed, hungry and going through hot and cold weather changes, this was Brown’s life as he experienced homelessness in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
His home was a freezer box — an extra-thick cardboard box that he said provided warmth through the cold nights.
Brown said he was once the head of a corporation and built a good life for himself. He said he trusted the wrong people with his finances and ended up losing everything.
While experiencing homelessness, the Navy veteran said he found people like him were a community or a family, and they took care of each other.
“That’s why I became so focused on helping these people in addition to others, but the homeless are my team,” Brown said.
Brown said he made it his mission to do something to get himself off of the streets, and along the way, help others in the same position.
He would visit his local library to use resources, like computers and books, to study and research to put a program together. In the process, he interviewed homeless people, caseworkers and local nonprofit organizations.
Six months later, he began writing “28 Days to Employment” and completed it in a year.
The program is a 28-day workbook that allows participants to find their passion, their career interests and how to apply and find careers. Brown said the study program benefits the unemployed and veterans.
Publishers noticed Brown and were excited to pick up his book, but he declined their offers because he wanted the program to be free.
A local nonprofit organization also heard of Brown and his work and offered a contract to him, leading to his first class of 42 students, all of whom found jobs. Brown entered a three-year contract with the group until funding for the program was defunded.
Brown then launched People Power, a dedicated business that trains for career readiness through online courses, workshops and workbooks.
In addition to his 28-day program, Brown has written and published supplement programs, specifically for veterans and high school and college students.
Through his journey, Brown has become a motivational speaker, where he talks about overcoming the trauma of unemployment and poverty.
Brown said he has worked with eight nonprofit organizations that have used his program to address homelessness.
“People don’t realize the homeless are not bums. There are teachers, there are doctors, there are lawyers, there are business people on the streets. Not by choice, but the system doesn’t look at it that way. You don’t want to do anything? It’s not that you don’t want to do anything, it’s that you can’t afford to do anything” Brown said. “You need help, and that’s where we can come together and partner with the city and the county and nonprofit organizations and churches and get this moving. Poverty is a nasty thing.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, classes were paused.
Brown hopes to roll his program back out ahead of a new statewide homeless camping ban effective Sept. 1. He hopes to address homelessness in Tyler with churches, nonprofit groups and schools.
“We have to come together as a team. Not one group can do it all. We have together as a team,” Brown said.
Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (903) 920-2521.