The new FAAM president first became involved with the high school basketball league 17 years ago as an assistant coach. But Omar Brown said that connection almost didn’t happen — when a FAAM volunteer coach first asked him to help with a team, he initially said no.
“I told him, ‘I don’t want to be around someone else’s kids.’ Like, I just couldn’t imagine what it was like,” Brown said.
“And he asked me again, and he framed it a little differently. And he said, ‘Hey, why don’t you come play basketball with my team?’”
That approach, Brown recalled, encouraged him to come out. And he’s been involved with the non-profit, formerly the Fellowship of Afro-American Men, ever since.
Once Brown started as an assistant coach for FAAM, he said he realized there are many life skills you can teach through basketball. Whether it’s hard work, being a good teammate, or being in situations you can’t control and learning to control yourself, Brown said he saw the importance of mentoring men like him for high school attendees.
Brown, 47, a longtime Evanstonian who has served on the boards of several local organizations including the Youth Job Center, YOU, the McGraw YMCA and the NorthShore University HealthSystem, is this year adding a new role to his roster, taking on the role of President of FAAM.
According to Brown, the 54-year-old basketball and cheerleading program for high school students is on the cusp of a transformation, and he’s looking forward to leading the organization through it. His first meeting as the new FAAM president was on July 21.
FAAM was founded in 1968 to fill a gap in extracurricular programs and has since built its reputation using basketball to teach life lessons. Members of the local black community volunteer each year to lead and mentor basketball and cheerleading teams. Last year, FAAM added 14 boys’ basketball teams and six girls’ basketball teams.
Inspired to Serve
Brown said he was inspired to serve by his experiences growing up in Evanston and by his grandmother C. Louise Brown, former director of public health for the City of Evanston.
“What really inspired me is that I have the ability to serve, I have the talents to serve. And I’m willing to take the time to serve to make sure my community has someone who looks like me on these boards and in these places,” Brown said.
He graduated from Northeastern Illinois University with a BA in Political Science and an MBA from Loyola University Chicago and an MA in Public Policy from Northwestern University. He is currently senior vice president of people and culture for the Big 10 Conference, based in Rosemont. His previous jobs include positions as a consultant and as head of human resources for the Chicago Transit Authority.
Dedicated to the future of FAAM
When former FAAM president Willie Miller retired, Miller recommended that Brown follow in his footsteps. Other longtime FAAM alumni approached Brown and encouraged him to accept the position. He was elected president on April 28 at last season’s closing meeting.
Brown says he has a long-term commitment to the organization. “When I was a FAAM coach, I really prided myself on not missing a workout.”
He believes it’s a combination of his dedication and his business history that makes others see him as a good fit to lead FAAM.
“And then you add in my business history… and my commitment to the community and the advice and other services I’ve provided. Where are you going next?’” Brown said.
‘Best game in town’
Bryant Wallace, 52, has been part of the Evanston community for 10 years and says Brown is a “special kind of person.”
“When we have a chance to sit down and just talk, you will see that he is [a] great thinker with great ideas. And he loves to run them,” Wallace said. “His passion and the love he has for the community is really contagious.
“Whenever there’s a group of us sitting down and we’re talking about what’s next, or what we’re working on, Omar is one of those guys. [who] … helps put these pieces together.”
This year’s draft and registration for the new FAAM season is September 24, with the season starting October 15 for kids interested in basketball or cheerleading.
“It really is the best game in town,” Wallace told RoundTable. “Not just for basketball, but for athletes, for parents, for the community, for history – there are so many ‘whys’.”
Read more about FAAM’s history elsewhere on the Roundtable’s website, here and here.