Terrell Brown

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Terrell Brown is a junior undergraduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill. He was born in Norwalk, Connecticut, but moved to Hendersonville, North Carolina at the age of two, and has lived there ever since. Brown discusses what makes Hendersonville home for him, describing his family, friends, faith, and community. He tells the story of exploring his faith through the Catholic Church with Mexican friends from his community; he took communion and confirmation classes that were given entirely in Spanish. He describes his baptism as his first “big faith encounter,” saying that the second one was when he met his father for the first time, and they attended a church service together. He tells the story of how he came to feel at home in the Mexican community in Hendersonville, describing his friends and explaining that he was a chambelán at several quinceañeras. Brown explains that he was motivated to perfect his Spanish through his work at the Boys and Girls Club, where he noticed that many of the children struggled to connect with the staff because they did not speak English. He then discusses how race has become important to him, especially in college, as a biracial man. Finally, Brown discusses his family and its importance to him.



[00:00:06] Ana Dougherty: Hey Tae, so I’m Ana Dougherty, as you know, and I’ll be interviewing you today, and can you just give like a very basic introduction? Your name, and stuff?

Terrell Brown: Hi, I’m Tae Brown. I’m a current junior here at UNC. I double major in Spanish Literature and Culture and Global Studies, with a minor in African-American Studies – the Diaspora.

[00:00:26] AD: So, can you tell me where you’re from, and can you describe what makes this place home?

TB: So, I was originally born in Connecticut, Norwalk, Connecticut, but I moved to North Carolina when I was two years old to a town, medium-sized town called Hendersonville. And that’s what I consider to be home – Hendersonville. While I have relatives in Wilmington, in Connecticut, the majority who live in those areas, uh, I consider my small collective of about five to six people in Hendersonville to be called my, considered my home. And I guess one of the reasons, or several of the reasons why I consider Hendersonville to be my home, are the people that have served as mentors, as figures, my peers, my family, the schools, education, the faith, the immersion, that I’ve been able to experience in Hendersonville, that have really made it what I would consider to be home. Yeah.

[00:01:26] AD: And, so, what has your faith meant to you throughout your life? You mentioned your faith.

TB: So I actually didn’t really have a defined faith growing up. My mother was Catholic, her family was strictly Catholic, however she decided to kind of take a hands-off role when it came to faith and religion. With her children, to allow us to kind of come to those own means by ourselves. And so, when I, I started exploring when I was younger, I would go to some of my churches that were – my friends who were on my baseball team – I would go to their churches here and there just to kind of see what it was. But at least for me at the age seven, eight, six, seven, eight, I really couldn’t tell. I couldn’t decide for what faith or religion or the impact it had on me being so young. And so over the next couple years, from the ages of about twelve to thirteen, fourteen, I kind of explored even more with my friends, as I attended their church services, their religious affiliations, just to kind of see if any of them honed in on me; a place that I considered to be my own. Something I could devote my time, spirit, effort, energy, emotionally, physically, mentally, into it. And so it was kind of a hard decision, and being that my town was so small, it took a lot, just to kinda move around and there were some times I would stay for several months. Other periods, there was other times where I would sit around at one church service and never returned. And there were times where I thought I found my church, but, there, I think that was more molded by the fact that I had some of my best friends who attended those churches, instead of me actually being fully, I guess, persuaded through the previous, I guess, like connections that I mentioned. And so that definitely played a deterrent from like finding a specific church that I fit in. So about the age of fifteen, sixteen, one of my close Hispanic friends – several of my close Hispanic friends – mentioned that they went to misa in español, at our local Catholic church. And so, I decided to attend, having a lot of Latino friends, specifically Mexican friends, I always wondered what the church service was like, and being versed in la cultura Mexicana back in my home town, I was really invested in just really stepping outside my comfort zone just to explore whatever was out there. And that actually started off with the youth group. One Friday night I decided to go to this, it was called Inmaculada church, Inmaculada Concepción, and I went to the youth group, and there was other youths that I remembered and knew from other high schools, all Latino and Latina youth, and so after attending that, it was, it was different, it definitely was. It was definitely inviting, it was definitely welcoming – uh, the peers, my peers were great, the individuals who led the youth group were great, I actually met the padre, and he was great, so it was just a great experience in general, and then really kinda honed in on me. And so, time and time again, I would continue to go, whether like every week, whether every other week… every other week, it was definitely an interesting phenomenon. And so, I enjoyed it, and it was something else, and they provided free food, as well, too, so I definitely, you know, I loved this place, for whatever reason that might have been. And so eventually they invited me to the church services, which were Sunday, and they were in the afternoon from like 1 to 3, and so I couldn’t really beat it, because, hah, I could sleep in. And so, I started attending the church services and even grew closer to like, the Mexican community in my hometown, through like spiritual and religious beliefs. And they were just still so welcoming and inviting. And even though I wasn’t necessarily Latino or Mexican, they still opened me, they welcomed me with open arms. Both the church community as well as the padre, as well as the deacons, as well as everyone else. There was always a smile, and I loved the music. I loved the performances they had during holiday celebrations. I loved getting to see my friends and being a part of the experience that they shared as well, too. So it was definitely great. And eventually, it was suggested that I start taking communion and confirmation classes to be baptized and have my communion and confirmation. And so, I decided to take an accelerated version with the adults, which was entirely in Spanish. And so, once a week I would go to a class, a communion class, a confirmation class, for two hours a week. And we would sit and explore the Catholic faith, and I took it with sever-, I was the youngest individual in the class, the others were adults. And so this was just another new experience that I wanted to kind of project myself into, to really get the full effects of what it meant to be, and I finally felt, at least, if not 100%, really close that I found a group and a spiritual slash faith-based group that I could really plug into and call my own. And so, it was definitely interesting. And as well, there were still a lot of youth retreats that I got to attend, there were a lot of, mission trips that were, were offered to me. There was a lot of conferences that I went on with the youth. And so from every corner I turned, there was just an opportunity to be interactive as well as just share these experiences with my peers, so I couldn’t beat it. But going back to the classes, it lasted several months, and then at the end, I was actually one of three individuals who, were being baptized. And so, uh, we would be introduced into the front of the church, on several different occasions before our large event, they would bring us up to the front. And they would-, everyone would literally hover over us with their ha-, well, not hover over us, but put their hands up and kind of just send their blessings. And we would do this at the end of, like, the church ceremonies. And it was just such a powerful moment to stand with two other individuals in front of the church, and just receive their blessings. And I’ve received support, time and time again; I just, I finally came across my madrina, which would translate to, uh, godmother in English. So I definitely had a religious support system set in place in this community that I felt so welcomed in, and that I felt a part of. And so when the event came, it was, it was one of the most beautiful events, that I’ve taken part in my life. It beats every academic or extracurricular, like, celebration or award or achievement I could ever have. And it was, it was amazing. And it was just, a moment, it’s hard to describe. The church was decorated in flowers and colors, there was hundreds of people there to see and celebrate this new step in my religious and spiritual faith, so it was definitely a great experience. And, I got to share it with two other great individuals as well. And then, the support I received from my peers in the church community, it was outstanding. And so, I loved that as well. So that described my first, I think, big faith encounter.

[00:08:18] My second one was actually when I turned twenty. It was the first time I met my father. And this was when I was in college as well, too, so. They say in college you either like grow in your faith or you kinda like stray away from it. And so at this point I kinda stopped going to Catholic mass here at school and everything along those lines. And when I, I met my father on my twentieth birthday, it was actually the same day I attended his church; he took me to church with him. And there was a type of connection that I felt in the church. Uh, it was… actually, I was standing in front of the church, and there was a lot, I guess, inside of me, meeting my father for the first time, and I didn’t necessarily know how to express that. And so when I went to church, the pastor actually, the preacher, was actually standing up. And he was ask- he goes around and asks if anyone had anything that they wanted to talk about; he would place his hand on people’s hearts. And, there was just a lot of spiritual energy and, and I guess charisma in the room. And, and so I was standing in the front. He was saying, before we end the service, and I felt really lucky that he didn’t come specifically to me, and, I guess you would say like read into my soul, read into my spirit to God, and then, all of a sudden he’d locked eyes with me, and – hah, so I’m thinking “oh, dang, I made it through almost this entire, this entire service”, and so, he locked eyes and he came over to me, and he placed his hand-, he asked if he could place his hand on my heart, and I said yeah, and then he says I could tell like, there’s been a lot of struggle in your life, into like the man you’ve wanted to become, there’s been a lot of pieces, a lot of crumbles, and, well I want you to know right now, that you no longer are those pieces, or those crumbles, but you’re a well put-together man. And you can tell anyone you want; then he goes, tell your mother that she no longer has to worry, about you being the man that you are, that you’re lost, that you’re looking for this identity anymore. Uh, and when he brought up my mother, it kind of hit me really close to home, that he could, I guess, foresee, or, I guess, really gage that there was a lot of disconnect with me and to the man I was becoming and the man I was looking to be, as well as my mom wanting me to be a man as well, too, and taking the steps. And so, I actually, just busted out like crying, and I didn’t expect to, I never would, I never wanted to cry in front of my father, especially the first time I met him. And so, when he laid his hands on me and he started speaking, it was, I don’t know… it was, I got these chills up my spine, up my back, and it was definitely a moment, and… I just started crying. And then, he kind of said, was it ok if one of my fellow deacon brothers gives you a hug, and I’m thinking in my head, why does he want to offer me a hug? So I said yes, and he gave me a hug, and to be honest, after getting the hug… it’s exactly what I needed. He knew, that after such a strong moment, I guess, just having like an embrace was definitely important for me at that moment. And ever since then, I haven’t found a denomination, but my spiritual sense and faith have grown beyond measures. And I, through that experience I feel like God has placed a lot of great individuals to be a part of my collective for a lifetime. And so I’ve strayed away from my Catholic denominational faith, but I’m slowly coming upon other ones, so the search has definitely been reinstated in my life. But I definitely do have a strong religious and spiritual background. I meditate, I put all my problems, love, compassion, whatever it may be, and I give it to God. When I’m making decisions, both large and small. So, yeah.

[00:11:51] AD: So, what do you consider to be your culture? You mentioned having a lot of friends in the Mexican community, and, could you tell me more about the Mexican community in your hometown, and what it means to you?

TB: So in my hometown, there was definitely, I was being pulled in different directions. Going to a predominantly white high school, going to a predominantly black middle school and elementary school, there were a lot of pulls in my search for identity, that I necessarily couldn’t find, and so I guess it was my… I don’t know if it was like a subconscious pull, I just went to the other large population in my hometown, since I couldn’t really see myself falling into these other communities, black and white communities. And so I found the Mexican culture. And, starting from a young age, some of my best friends, they were these two twins, their names were Juan and Pedro, and I would always ask them from kindergarten all the way up through elementary school, how do you say colors, from red, how do you say thank you? How do you say good evening? How do you say good morning? And it was just that interest that sparked in me, since I was young, having these Mexican best friends. That just really kind of piqued my interest in… that interest, I guess, it started so young, is what brought me to who I am today. And, so yeah, and it just continuously continued to grow, I held onto these Hispanic best friends, Mexican best friends, throughout my high school, middle school, and even now my college career. I came across one of my lifelong friends, who I consider to be my lifelong friend at least, in seventh grade. His name is Luis, he attends UNC here with me, he’s taken me to Mexico with him, uh, and so yeah, I guess it was just that interest, and going to Catholic mass in Spanish, being a part of quinceañeras, I was a chambelán, which is an individual who serves in a really large event for a female’s fifteenth birthday in which she is considered to be stepping into womanhood. So it was definitely an honor to be invited to be in those, about six of those, and out of those six, I was probably the principal, the main chambelán, about three times. So from attending parties to religious services, to Christmas, I would go to posadas, from just attending informal like dinners over at my friend’s house, to like barbecues, weekend barbecues, just to hanging out with my friends, every corner I turned, I found myself doing something in the Mexican community. And I think that that community saw that as well, as well as my workplace, the Boys and Girls Club, so that was also another place. I think that was a very solidifying and concreting factor with me in the Hispanic community.

[00:14:38] And so, I guess reflecting on it, the Boys and Girls Club, I saw a community of kids who really had a disconnect with a lot of the staff that worked there, myself included, and I really just tried figuring out what that disconnect, what attributed to that. And so, one day it just kind of hit me, like, these kids, some of them didn’t speak English, so in the summer time we had programs that revolved around migrant education youth, and a lot of them were either speaking uh, a couple of words of English here and there, or they just weren’t comfortable speaking English, so they spoke it back at home. Some of them felt more comfortable speaking Spanish, some of them thought that they could be slick I guess, and speak in Spanish, uh, so that the staff of the Boys and Girls Club, myself included, wouldn’t understand. So I kind of took it upon myself, I guess just seeing this marginalized community who felt a barrier, or a block, being able to connect with the staff – something I could definitely relate to in my identity, being a biracial man – so I decided to take it upon myself to really learn the technicalities, learn the language more in-depth, in every manner in which I could, to really connect with that community. And so I guess, after like connecting with the youth of the Boys and Girls Club, learning the language, being a part of the religious services, being a part of the festive services, being a part of the holidays, having some of my best friends who were in the Hispanic community, that community really saw the effort and the passion I had, and the love I had for that community. And I think that’s what made it so easy, I guess, to identify as being a part of the Mexican culture in my hometown. Instead of focusing on becoming a part of it, it just was something natural, something that I, even reflecting, like right now in this moment, I didn’t see myself, it wasn’t a forced event… it was just something I came across, and I just had a passion and wanted to be a part – I didn’t even want to be a part of it, it just came like, natural. And so, if, what I identify, I would consider myself to be black, white, and I consider myself to be, at least in my hometown, part of the Mexican culture. And even some of the individuals in my hometown, would uh, consider me to be a part of the Mexican culture, and so, that’s reassuring as well. And so yeah, I think that’s what I would identify as, I guess, at least in my hometown setting, that’s what I would identify as.

[00:17:04] AD: And you’ve mentioned to me before that race is something that has been really important in your life – can you tell me more about that?

TB: So, back at home, I was definitely, I was, I knew I was black and white. And so, before coming to college, even throughout high school, I never really looked at these two identities and what they might encompass. It was just kind of a day-to-day thing, that I did my work, I went to school, I worked at the Boys and Girls Club, I worked at a retail store, I had all these great relationships. But I really never saw race in the relationships that I had, or the environments that I was in. Yeah, I really never considered my race as being a factor of, how the way I would be treated, from driving down roads to being stopped at police stops, to walking into stores. I never really considered those things. And I think that was also attributed to my mother, being so, well, just to having a really like, hands-off role, and letting me figure out who I was, in regards to identity, both race, both emotional, physical, mental identity as well, too. And so, coming to college it was definitely a cultural shock, because you are educated at college, and you are educated on what it means to live in the skin, kind of that you do. And uh, it’s not explicitly taught in lectures, but through the material and everything, and sometimes it is an explicit lecture on race, being equipped with that knowledge, really allowed me to see a really overarching picture, that necessarily isn’t seen, unless you go to like, really educational institutions that can show you these different things of what racism means, of what sexism means, all these intersecting social inequities. And so when I came to college, it was the first time I really started to question who the man I was in my skin, being a black and white man, and sometimes I do identify solely as being black, and I guess it changes from the setting I’m in. If I’m in a predominantly black setting, there is a need to kind of affirm my blackness, just because I’m a biracial man, but then again I hate, it really eliminates the experiences that my mother shared with me, seeing as she is a white, full-white female. And so I’m, I guess I’m careful about what I say in each setting, depending on the setting. It is unfortunate that I have to do that… I don’t have to, I guess it is unfortunate that that is something I decide to do, depending on the setting I’m in. But, yeah, I guess living in my hometown, being the community man I was, I didn’t’ really have to think about race. And being involved in all three populations, the predominant populations, black, white and Hispanic, there were really no questions of my race or where I fitted in. So coming to college really opened my eyes to some of these larger social inequities around race, around blackness in particular, and so, when I came to college it was definitely for me a discovery about finding out what that blackness was – my identity as a black man. And I connected with the Hispanic community when I first came in, but then after a long time of reflection and contemplation, taking a semester off from school, I really wanted to figure out who it meant to be Terrell Brown, Tae Brown, as a black man. And then meeting my father, also I think impacted that as well, seeing as though that’s where I got my black identity from, was my father, and being a black man, and so race is definitely an issue that I’m interested in. I feel that there is a lot of intersectionality among other social inequities – gender, class, creed, ability – they all are connected to race in the larger, grand scheme of things. And I’m just fascinated, I guess, through my personal identity, with exploring other races as well, too.

[00:21:05] AD: Can you tell me, can you describe an image or a scene that captures something special or important to you, or about your life?

TB: So I have a little picture in a frame of me, my mother, my two older brothers, my sister, and my two baby nieces. And even though it is just like, it’s the first I guess, official, like, family picture we took, all together. And I took it last year, I think, maybe in like August or October. And my baby nieces have these like, wild looks on their faces, and they are turning their heads, they’re not standing still for the picture, and, my other baby niece kind of has this like, lost look on her face, like she often does. My sister is trying to hold down her daughter, and my mom’s trying to hold down my other baby niece, and my brothers in the back – one of them has got a slight smile on his face, the other one’s got a great smile, my sister also has a slight smile on her face, and even though it’s not like, your, I guess, professional, like family picture shot, it was the best photo I could use to describe, like, the personalities and the characteristic traits of my family. And so like, looking at that picture is just a reminder of like, this is where I came from, this is my collective, this is my family. And it’s just an image I hold near and dear, after a long day of schoolwork, after a long day of whatever I might be doing, just looking at that kind of gives me the motivation now, just to say, this is what I’m pushing for, this is why I’m trying to be more than what my race might entail, than what my religion and my faith might entail – it’s for my family. Of course it is for me, but it is just for my family. And I think that image just sums up, who I am, as well, too and what I believe in, who I love, and why I fight for, everything – it just encompasses everything.

[00:22:57] AD: Thank you so much. Is there anything that you thought might come up or just that sort of remains, that you wanted to say?

TB: No, I don’t think so. Thank you though.

AD: Thank you so much, I guess that’s it for this particular interview. [00:23:21]