Dr. Randy Brown | The Opportunity Cultivator

Dr. Randy Brown

Driving into Como is a different scene from most of Fort Worth. Como, a neighborhood in the heart of the city, is a community with the stigma of being a “bad part of town.”  It’s a predominantly African American community surrounded by upper-middle-class white neighborhoods.  And on the surface, Como does present itself as a poorly kept and suspicious area to enter as an outsider.  Most Fort Worthians have their presuppositions about Como and “hope” is not typically on the lineup.

Passing by run down or boarded up homes, a neighborhood convenience store with a gang of loitering men, littered yards and streets, it’s hard to know what to reasonably expect from Dr. Randy Brown and his new endeavor, Rivertree Academy.

Dr. Randy Brown, a tall and quiet-spoken man, asks to start the interview with prayer.  He prays for Como, for Rivertree Academy, and that we would tell the story well.  As he closes, there’s a certain weightiness to his prayer and my own presuppositions surrounding Como.  Perhaps the general perception of Como has been misguided or viewed with the wrong lens.  And it seems Dr. Brown, a permanent resident of Como, has the insider’s perspective to help provide clarity.

Dr. Brown, a family practice physician, could be represented as the “Healer” – a healer of bodies, young minds, and the Como community.  But this assumption would include the belief that Como and its members were sick, weak, and wounded, and thus in need of healing.  While those individuals do exist in Como (as they do in all communities), after meeting Dr. Brown it’s becoming evident that wounds are not what define or plague this neighborhood. Dr. Brown defines his new home as “tight-knit… rich in community, full of history, and dignity, and pride,” and with a desire to self-sustain.  It’s a neighborhood desiring to grow, but that needs leadership, tools, and opportunity – not fixing or gentrification.

But how does someone so completely different from his surroundings infiltrate a foreign place and effect positive change?  How does he become accepted? How does he shape (not change) a different culture and actually see fruit from his efforts?

Dr. Brown’s infiltration of Como ultimately has not been about the revitalization of a neighborhood – of a place - so that it would be more aesthetically pleasing, more walk-able, with better property values.  Dr. Brown is about the revitalization of a people.  Not to displace them or replace them, but to encourage them and their future lives.  Not to heal the sick but to cultivate a garden.  To help the current tenants flourish – to educate, provide resources, and guide growth. Dr. Brown’s profession may be a physical healer, but he is a seed planter, a gardener of people; a cultivator of opportunity.

He sees that “everyone of these kids has the potential to change the world.” 

What this community really needs are young leaders with the opportunity to fully thrive, and Dr. Brown has become their resident caretaker.

Dr. Randy Brown was raised in an upper-middle-class white family in Midland, Texas. At a young age he realized he had a heart of compassion for the poor and felt called to be a missionary.  After completing medical school, Dr. Brown and his wife Anda eventually ended up residing in Fort Worth.  With five kids, Dr. Brown was ready to fulfill his missionary calling and move his family to Thailand.  While his wife was supportive of her husband’s life calling, she was less than enthusiastic about uprooting her brood of children and moving to a developing country.  Seeking a new plan, Dr. Brown was receptive to the Lord’s call to instead be a missionary in Fort Worth, a missionary in Como.

Starting in 2002, he spent the next few years learning the community.  He asked questions, seeking to know the neighborhood’s needs and dreams.  Driving around one day, he stopped to talk with a group of men.  Clearly an outsider, he explained that he was here to sincerely help the neighborhood.  These Como men answered that he should help the children. Heading their directive, he began focusing on ways to reach and develop the kids of Como.  By 2006, as connections and relationships continued to build, Dr. Brown’s family was ready to sell their home and move into the neighborhood.

To begin helping the children of Como, Dr. Brown first started taking Como kids to a summer camp called Opportunity Camp. Op Camp is a week-long summer camp for students from Como Elementary.  School counselors nominate the students who demonstrate leadership potential.  The week focuses on “raising up [those potential] leaders with high moral character, vision, and skills that will make a dramatic difference.”

While this week is highly instrumental in shaping the children, students would experience a camp high and still come back to broken homes, a tough school environment, and peer pressure. The kids needed consistent mentoring.  So Dr. Brown created a discipleship team called “Mighty Men.”  This was a group of ten young boys who Dr. Brown has mentored over the past few years. When talking about this group, his response is tainted with weariness.  These tough relationships have clearly had their ups and downs.  Only four of the ten boys have graduated, and the last young boy is on track to graduate this school year.  The other five boys have not graduated and have dropped out and fallen prey to the gang culture.

 But instead of giving up and moving on, this trying experience led to the idea of a school and the birth of Rivertree Academy.  After nine years of living life alongside Como families, it became evident to Dr. Brown that the pressures of gang life overpowered the leadership development and personal investment that the Mighty Men had experienced.  By late middle school and early high school, the boys struggled, like most teenagers, with choosing the better path.  Only their submittal to peer and cultural pressures typically ends with crime, violence, and gang involvement. With only a 50% success rate for graduating, Dr. Brown knew he needed to get these boys out of the negative and recidivistic environment.

Rivertree Academy includes an elementary day school in Como and also a boarding school in south Fort Worth called, Malachi’s Farm. Starting this August, the kids will attend Rivertree Academy in Como from Pre-K to 5th grade, and then, during the crucial teen years, move to the boarding school for 6th-12th grade and separate from the negative culture.  The kids will live at the boarding school and not only receive a quality education, but also learn tangible farming skills on the campus’s 120-acre grounds.  The parents can come and visit the kids at the farm on the weekends, but the goal would be to provide a new and gang-free environment for these Como kids to grow up in.  Most important, this opportunity is for Como families only. No other applicants accepted.

 Here the kids will be taught to...

“learn well, love well, work well, and lead well.” 

This mission’s purpose is really a part of cultivating opportunity in the community– planting seeds of education, providing tools and resources for nurturing personal growth, and ultimately providing a safe and hopeful future for these kids.  But most importantly, the end goal is not that these kids would graduate, go to college, and move on, but that they would move back home and be community leaders and end the cycle of poverty and crime that is the current day-to-day life in Como.

Dr. Brown changed his life for these boys, for this community.  He uprooted his family and replanted into a new neighborhood struggling to produce real fruit.  He cut his professional career to part-time, sacrificing financial potential and career growth for the sake of a new and less predictable path.  He’s inspired others to join him, and these other “outsiders” have moved into Como as well.  But the beautiful part is that he and his team have been welcomed with open arms into the Como community.  Como and its members have defied stigmas and are partnering alongside Dr. Brown and his team to cultivate opportunity for their future.

 A lot can be learned from this City:SHAPER, this Opportunity Cultivator, about believing in and investing in the people of Fort Worth. Dr. Brown referenced a quote by Henry Ward Beecher, “Gold is evidence of gold wherever it may be,” and it is his faith and belief in the human dignity that exists in Como that has inspired revolutionary change in the current culture.

Dr. Brown and his Rivertree Academy team are doing amazing work to bring about hope and opportunity in Como. Join or support these City:Shapers by volunteering, providing resources, or through financial support.

 The School (pre-K – 2nd grade) opens this August.  And they will add a grade each year, until the opening of Malachi’s farm in 2018.

 If you want to learn more, contact Rivertree Academy – Dr. Brown will not only impress you, but also inspire you; and you may find yourself relocating to the tight-knit and welcoming community that is Como.

By Miranda Holland


Freddie Jones | The Melody Planter

Meet Freddie

A popular trumpet player and composer in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex and Founder of Trumpets4Kids Foundation which allows him to give away instruments to kids in need.

Like an arborist plants trees so future generations will have shade, Freddie Jones plants music so future generations will have a soundtrack for life.  Right now, music surrounds you.  When you walk into church, there’s music.  When you go to a restaurant, there’s music.  When a bride walks down the aisle, when you watch a movie, when you attend a sporting event, and when you go shopping music plays in the background.  Music expresses something words alone cannot, and Freddie doesn’t want that expression to go away.

Freddie uses a trumpet to express what he’s feeling so other people can relate.  For him, the trumpet is “…the only instrument that connects our lives and affects our lives in ways we don’t actually think about.”   In the Bible, trumpets started wars and ended wars. Trumpets make announcements.  A trumpet plays Taps when somebody dies. Trumpets proclaim a king’s arrival. Trumpets start horse races.  In Tibet, trumpets signal the beginning of a time of meditation.  It is one of the only instruments to cross cultural and time boundaries.

People with passion can’t help but to act on their passion.  For Freddie Jones, that passion is music, specifically jazz.  He composes music, records music, and plays with his band whenever they get the chance.  He’s played his trumpet overseas, at corporate events, as part of the Fort Worth Library Jazz Preservation Project, at clubs, and most Dallas Cowboy football games.  Currently he has four CDs released. But all that still isn’t enough to release all of his passion. He needs other people to play music, too.  So he gives trumpets to kids.

Music is important right now, " Jones said with a faraway look in his eye. I wondered if this African American man was thinking about Ferguson and the racial tensions in America, about how much this country needs something that can cross cultural barriers.

If he was, he didn’t say. “Music is important to give to kids because if we don’t, it’s going to go away."

“If we take [music] away, we take 25% of our life away without even knowing it. I think it’s wonderful [to have] accountants, architects, salespeople, and all of those things. But if you take the musician away, that’s another thing.”

When we met, Freddie Jones was preparing to give a speech in another town about adding Arts to the popular STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) educational push.  Adding Arts would make it STEAM.  Not only does Freddie value music, but he also values what music contributes to overall education.

“If a kid is reading music, he can read a math book. If a kid can memorize a song for all-region music, he can memorize a poem for English class or the law to become a lawyer. Kids who learn to read music improve their math scores.”

Yet many schools and districts continue to cut funding to the arts programs.

The education goes beyond the classroom. “You want violence to stop? Give 200 kids in a neighborhood an instrument. Only thing they’ll be fighting over is who [makes] first chair or who’s going to the concert. And they’ll make friends that they’ll keep forever.”

 Kids, people in general, make music with what’s available to them.  Everywhere in the world, in every culture, even in the forest, there’s music.  “Hispanic kids are playing mariachi music. Europeans play European music… Bach, Beethoven, etc. And the black kids are playing nothing, because they don’t have any instruments. So we’re learning rap and creating music based on what we have in our neighborhood.”

“For me giving a trumpet to a kid is almost vital. Because if I don’t do it, who’s going to do it? I’m worried that some kid who could actually be an amazing musician and write some stuff we’ve never heard won’t have an instrument to develop on.”

So Freddie gives trumpets to kids. His foundation, Trumpets 4 Kids, is seven years old.  Freddie has interviewed each trumpet recipient personally, requiring each one to agree to certain terms (go to class, give the horn to the music program if they decide to quit playing, etc.) before officially transferring ownership.  Students receive trumpets for one or more of the following reasons:

  • A child wants to be in band but can’t afford to be.
  • If there is a gifted child who has problems and music could help alleviate those problems, rich or poor, the foundation will give them a trumpet.
  • A kid can be nominated if he/she needs a place to belong; a trumpet opens doors to band.

The goal is to give away 15 trumpets each year, but there isn’t really any stable funding.  For the past seven years, Trumpets 4 Kids has given kids the gift of music through the generosity of donors, special deals on trumpets from Freddie’s friends in the music business, people donating their own instruments, a couple of grants from the Fort Worth Arts Council, and with Freddie’s own money.

Trumpets 4 Kids has provided trumpets to students at Northside High School, Polytech, James Middle School, and the B Sharp Youth Music Program in Como.  While the vast majority of trumpets find their home with students in Fort Worth, other recipients hail from Bedford, Grapevine, Carrollton, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Italy.  “We want to be worldwide in hopes of bringing trumpet players here from other places,” Freddie explained when I asked about the international gift.

Those trumpets have changed the trajectory of kids’ lives, and the stories are multiplying.  Freddie told me about a homeless kid who got a trumpet in middle school and ended up going to college.  He’s attending a conservatory in South Carolina and sent Freddie a picture of himself with famous trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

He told me about a suicidal sophomore who could only play two scales when Freddie gave him the trumpet.  Before relinquishing the horn, Freddie asked him, “If I give you this horn, are you going to play through the rest of high school?”  The kid said he would.  Two years later, he made All-State Band and went to college on a full ride.

But Freddie’s hero is a young girl who overcame serious psychological challenges with the help of music. Before she got the trumpet, she missed a lot of school.  In middle school at the time, she had to commit to Freddie that she wouldn’t be absent so much if he gave her the horn.  According to a school counselor, the girl never missed another day of school all the way through graduation.

Music changes lives.  Freddie knows that. Like a farmer planting a seed, he watches the gift of music grow in the lives of kids to see how it will affect the planet.  If you want to help him sustain the soundtrack of our lives by helping him the gift of music, visit Trumpets4Kids.com.

If you want to hear Freddie play, check out his YouTube channel or his personal website.

If you want to be inspired to pick up the instrument you’ve neglected for too long and contribute your own melody to life, have a conversation with Freddie Jones.  It worked for me.

Look for Freddie at BREWED most mornings, drinking his favorite latte while brainstorming on the location he'll plant his next melody.

by Tiffany Marshall

Jo Dufo | The Locksmith

Meet Jo Dufo

Dreamer, artist, life giver, healer, teacher and co-founder of Z.O.A.S Creative & Healing Arts.

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Every few years, we all come across someone who seems to live life to the fullest and without limitations.  They are special people and make everyone around them begin to dream again.  They are life givers and we all long to live life like them.

Jo Dufo is one of these special life givers.  She lives in the Near South Side of Fort Worth where she has her own in-house art studio with an open door policy.  Her home is often filled to the brim with people seeking to learn to live life to the fullest. 

Monday through Friday you will find Jo at Metro Opportunity High School, an alternative school in Fort Worth, where she teaches art.  

The pencils and paint brushes are instruments she uses to rediscover what's inside each student.  You see, Jo's really in the business of unlocking stories... reminding students that they're valuable and have lots to contribute. 

Life brings labels and limitations and often these labels are falsely placed on us by others.  Over time, we begin to believe these lies are facts and soon they start forming and shaping the way we see ourselves. 

Students at Metro Opportunity High School are on campus for various disciplinary reasons.   Jo says,

"Most students when they enter my room for the first time won't even pick up a pencil.  They refuse to interact and see it as a waste of time.  They are closed off and not willing to let anyone in." 

For Jo, this is a beautiful invitation to begin to create a "personal plan" to help each student begin their own journey, to rediscover their worth and gifting.

WATCH JO'S VIDEO

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By the time students leave her classroom, most have a new perspective and a renewed view of themselves and their future.  They are set free and are able to make positive choices for themselves. 

It's almost as if the doors been kicked in with new opportunities! 

It only took a good locksmith to unlock the door. 

Jo Dufo, you truly are a City:SHAPER! 

-Look for Jo driving around Funky Town in her custom painted truck enjoying life to the fullest.

By Joey Turner