By Vanessa Slay, CEHHS Student News Reporter, Class of 2023
Thousands of students graduate from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, each year, and of these thousands of students, many become prestigious alumni that continue to represent the university with pride. One such alumnus is Tony Brown, a graduate of the Class of 2000 from the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences’ (CEHHS) Sports Management graduate program.
“Sports has the ability to unite people,” he claims. Sports bring people together regardless of what is happening around them. Thoughts such as these intrigued Brown; how could he be a more significant part of that ideal? After finishing his undergraduate program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, he began to work for Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) in 1993. After a few years, Brown then moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he attended UT.
Originally from California, Brown accepted an opportunity to come to Knoxville to teach at Webb School of Knoxville and attend UT. “Los Angeles to Knoxville, here we go,” says Brown on the memory. At Webb, Brown also coached several of their high school teams while pursuing his master’s degree.
While the transition from Los Angeles to Knoxville was a bit of a culture shock, Brown found a place that felt like home at UT. Very literally, Brown lived just a block north of Cumberland Ave, as close as he could be to the university campus. “My faculty was phenomenal; for such a big school, they created a warm and familial setting for me to learn. When I had questions, they always made the time. On and off campus.”
Brown recalls the opportunities he was given through his program while at the university. One he recalls vividly is co-leading the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) basketball tournament at Thompson-Boiling Arena. Utilizing the knowledge he learned in the program, he and his co-lead were able to pitch and secure sponsors for the event and run many of the behind-the-scenes operations of the important event.
“There’s always some growth,” he says of UT. Observing the university as an alum, he realizes that that mentality is ingrained in him from his years at the university. After finishing his Master’s degree, he had a successful career in the sports business before returning to HOLA in 2003 and has leaded as their Chief Executive Officer (CEO)/Executive Director (ED) since 2006.
HOLA is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “help young people overcome barriers through exceptional, free, integrated programs and personalized guidance in a trusted, nurturing environment.”
HOLA also provides various options and opportunities for young people to explore their hobbies and interests, from visual arts, music, traditional academics, and so much more, to give people a chance to succeed.
HOLA also addresses the educational inequity that exists in many parts of California by placing classes like traditional arts into school and providing them courses after school hours to bridge the gap at any of their four centers in Los Angeles or in South Central Los Angeles in conjunction with Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC).
“There’s not enough time in the school day for young people to discover what they love,” he says. “My hope is to integrate the program, make the school day longer but less of a traditional school day, and allow them to develop their hobbies and grow up to be their best selves.”
In the last twenty years that Brown has been a part of HOLA, he has been an invaluable asset to the organization leading the expansion of their campuses, working with Los Angeles Recreation and Parks to manage a park in South Central; he is also hands-on with several schools as part of the Black Student Achievement Plan providing free arts programs for schools that are predominate black schools and communities.
Brown recalls a dream he had as a child: to one day be involved in bringing people together for the Olympics; however, now he believes that this is his Olympic stadium. He is uniting people to address the inequity in education and the barriers that still hinder students’ success.
“My goal now, at this point in my career, is to create the first unifying force in Los Angeles for out-of-school time providers and then lift that up so that other areas across the country can follow suit and do the same unification.”
Although he may not be able to attend many board meetings, Brown still keeps his bond with UT strong by continuing to serve on the Dean’s Board of Advisors for CEHHS. Brown has also been named a Distinguished Alumni by UT and asked to deliver the commencement speech for CEHHS in previous years. “UT will always always be front and center of my heart.” He mentions that as an alum, he always feels welcome back to UT, hearing the university band playing at games; the game day experience is extraordinary.
“I still find them valuable,” Brown says of his experience at the university. “It’s not just theoretical at UT; I found that at CEHHS, I had a balance of theoretical and practical. A perfect blend.”
Brown believes that his time at the university and in CEHHS has genuinely continued to shape his decisions and his pathways from educator to sports management and business to leader of a multi-million dollar non-profit organization.
“I’ve raised millions of dollars over my career for young people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to those types of funds, and thousands of thousands of young people have benefited from investment in quality resources, and I was taught the skills to do so and given the opportunity to grow in my leadership through the UT’s CEHHS.”
If you want to give or volunteer with Heart of Los Angeles, please reach out through their website, heartofla.org.