“Have you ever heard of Michael Brown?” I have recently been posing this question to a range of people in various settings: from “woke” friends at intimate dinner parties, to well-informed researchers at education conferences, and to community leaders and elected officials dedicated to social justice.
The non-verbal response has usually been some combination of a pregnant pause, raised eyebrow, or facial expression conveying, “Duh, the answer is painfully obvious!!!” The spoken replies include “Ferguson,” or “That’s the black kid killed by police,” or “Hands up, don’t shoot, right?”
Yes, of course. The most well known Michael Brown today is the eighteen-year-old, black male robbery suspect who in 2014 was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Although the official DOJ investigation concluded that the evidence did not support an indictment of the officer, Brown’s death has come to symbolize for many the ultimate exercise of racist state power.
But there is another Micheal Brown, and his is a story of triumph.
In 1993, my Harvard Business School classmates and I often marveled at the caliber of remarkable black men we knew at Harvard’s graduate schools of business, law, politics, and education. Our collective presence...