A self-described former ‘group home kid’ from Monroe, N.C. used his writing and speaking abilities, as well as his understanding of politics and community organizing to make an impact during the 2020 election cycle in Wisconsin.
As a teenager, Jarrett Brown lived away from his family at an at-risk youth shelter, a wilderness camp, a hospital, group homes, foster homes, and with a supervisor’s family.
“It all started after my mother got cancer in 1996,” Brown explained. “Money got really tight for our family and I was angry that sometimes all of my needs weren’t met. Both of my parents worked, but the medical bills caused financial issues.”
Brown always did really well academically, but he was constantly at odds with authority figures. He was stayed in trouble at school and had several minor scrapes with the law as a juvenile.
“At school, I got every kind of detention or suspension that existed,” he said. “I had before school detention, after school detention, lunch detention, Saturday school, in-school suspension, and out of school suspension. You name it and I earned it.”
During a span of three and a half years, Brown attended seven high schools and graduated from Monroe High in December 2003. Since then he has worked in the construction and meatpacking industries and as a newspaper reporter. All the while he has taken college courses, mostly in history and political science, as time and money permitted.
“What I’ve learned is that there are ways to make change, but you have to have a plan and you have to be courageous enough to follow through with it,” Brown said. “For more than 12 years I fought to improve conditions in the meatpacking plants and to reform the labor union I was in. I was going up against a powerful corporation and powerful union leaders that had a vested interest in not changing.”
This year, Brown, who now lives in Green Bay, W.I., has used his voice to support candidates and causes during the leadup to the 2020 elections. He authored six published newspaper op-eds, appeared in seven political digital or T.V. videos, appeared in five political mailers, gave three public speeches, and gave two pro bono consultations to government entities regarding worker safety during the pandemic. Various newspapers, online publications, and radio stations have written about his efforts.
“I think 2020 has been a difficult year for everyone,” Brown said. “We are all facing so many problems. I’ve tried to stand up for things that I believe in and force the people in charge to take notice by speaking publicly. I’ve had some setbacks and some successes, but I just keep pressing forward because there really is no other option.”
Brown has said that though he is no longer the troublemaking youth that he once was, he isn’t afraid to stir things up if necessary.
“There is a right way and a wrong way to stand up to those in positions of authority,” Brown said. “The right way is to voice your concerns in an appropriate way, find others who agree with you, and then use your collective power to force the hand of the people who make the decisions.”