Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
April 14, 2022
VJ Brown | Moonshot edVentures
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is VJ Brown and I work as the alumni and partnerships manager for Moonshot edVentures. We’re a Denver-based nonprofit organization that is looking to diversify the talent pipeline in education, as well as create innovative learning environments by investing in the leaders from those communities. My role is focused on the Moonshot Fellowship program and supporting our Fellows through coaching, partnership, and facilitating experiences designed to help their ideas grow and thrive.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I was born and raised in Denver and had parents who were really adamant about three major things: working really hard, education is key, and the importance of investing in the humanity that makes people people. That has driven me to a place where I’ve been curious about how to build thriving communities by working directly with people. Part of that is figuring out how to leverage the power of people to solve complex problems. That has led me to roles in philanthropy, leadership development, and a number of different types of community initiatives. I also just love coaching. In my current role, I’m coaching people and developing leadership programs. I’m really trying to help folks maximize their ability to impact the communities around them.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I believe a strong and interactive community can take any challenges thrown at it. In order to do that, it’s important to develop systems and think about how to operationalize humanity as a means of facilitating growth, development, partnership, and collaboration. Basically, how do we ensure that every single person that is a part of the community has access and opportunity to thrive? I’ve always understood that equity is really important. The more we invest in everybody’s ability to have access and thrive, the more it benefits all of us. That perspective facilitated a strong value set that led me back into the area of education. We are seeing an education system that wasn’t designed to make sure all kids have outcomes that will lead them to thriving or even living once they’re out of it. It’s important for me to help empower people who have the brilliance to make things happen within that space to change those outcomes for those kids and to create systems to solve these problems. I think it’s almost as important to invest time to remind leaders how to be human and lead through a human lens. We can’t solve any issues to help make humanity better unless we are able to understand how we go about solving those problems. I’m pretty passionate about helping normalize and give people the confidence that that’s okay.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
I’m in a space supporting underrepresented leaders, so I think it’s the ability to help build confidence and affirm the genius that people already have. The impact of that not only leads to a more effective leader, but also leads to more effective spaces where they exist. Whether it’s creating something new or building off an existing organization, their ability to lead authentically really has a much larger impact than I think can be quantifiable. We’re helping to create new schools, and we’re helping to create new education-based nonprofits that are doing really interesting work. Ultimately we’re creating more opportunities for kids to learn in ways that affirm their experiences and allow them to take ownership of their journey. We aren’t able to see the reverberation and impact on those kids and families down the line. But I think we’re creating this really interesting ecosystem of building confidence that is also allowing for a different way of promoting and elevating equity that will pay off for generations to come.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate and blessed to be a part of various communities that had amazing people who invested in me, from my parents to educators who were a part of my life at an early age. Even leaders in different types of industries have shown me what happens when people lead authentically and are about showing up for their community instead of having a different motivation. They’ve shown me that there’s a way to actualize anything that you’re passionate about, even if that doesn’t necessarily fall into traditional ways of thinking about it. They remind me that there’s a way to do that while keeping your community first, continuing to grow and learn, and not necessarily sacrificing all of who you are in order to be successful.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
I ultimately want to normalize how important it is to be radically human when making decisions around complex challenges. I’m not sure what that looks like. I’ve bounced from philanthropy to the business world and now education. I’ve had the ability to navigate those things and help others do that within their own context. If we can actually create a stronger culture around being human, I think we would tap into a whole level of innovation.There’s a lot more we could do within our community locally, but also within the larger context of society. How do we build a larger culture where being radically human is not a detractor from being economically successful?
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
I think we’re in a time where anything that is seen as slow, inconvenient, or even difficult is not something that people want to try. Some of those things that are slow, inconvenient, or difficult are just larger extensions of what it means to be human as we learn and make sense of the world. Learning is not something that happens quickly for everybody with everything. It’s a process. A lot of times you have to make space for it. I think we need to get to a place where we apply that ability for the entire process of learning. We need to help people show up in the spaces in which they lead, where they learn, connect, and work collaboratively with each other.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
We truly believe that anyone has the ability to create something incredibly special. We like to throw out the term “moonshot thinking” and that it is the idea that the impossible is possible. We are really focusing on facilitating that for people who have often experienced that their thoughts, their experiences, their ways of thinking or leading were not valid or wouldn’t work. We’re directly trying to counteract that. When you have a space that is consistently facilitating and affirming people in their strengths and talent, then their ability to show up and authentically lead is far more effective. It’s not important whether they create something new and tangible, this is so important in helping them be their best selves and it’s important for the communities in which we exist.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
I’m not a big quote person but I always try to embody the spirit of author James Baldwin in the way that I approach my leadership. He focused on practicing radical love in the face of systems or spaces that weren’t necessarily designed for that to exist. That concept is truly what drives me.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
I have three calls to action. One, continue to support and uplift underrepresented leaders. Two, support Moonshot through donations, or by sharing what we do with different types of innovators, thinkers, and educators. Three, support our Moonshot Fellowship. We have some Fellows that are doing incredible work throughout the Denver Metro area, looking at building and scaling the impact that they have for the communities that they serve. They need community support to continue to thrive and we would love to see more of it.
At Orapin, we believe those who are working for the greater good should be known, supported, and celebrated. We give do-good organizations the resources and support they need to increase awareness and grow their audience so they can maximize their impact. If would like to be featured in INSPIRED IMPACT™, reach out to email@example.com.