DISMAS Interview with CEO Gerald Brown

Many of you may not know this about me, but the motivating courses that pushed me to finish my undergraduate degree were my sociology courses – the study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society.  Particularly issues that run common to the Black community.  I completed my final research paper on Mass Incarceration and Prison Privatization.  So, as you follow along with me and my blogging journey, you will see a strong undertone for social equality, as well as solution-oriented conversation and resources to support the upliftment of the Black community.

Today is Giving Tuesday, and my choice non-profit is DISMAS House Nashville.  DISMAS supports prisoner transition from incarceration to society, including on-site housing, resources, and access to training and technology.  Happy to know about an organization that can positively affect so many Black men, I encourage you to read on for an interview with their CEO Gerald Brown as well as information on how you can help with your time or finances.

Gerald Brown is a Memphis, Tennessee native and graduated from Middle Tennessee State University (Go Blue Raiders) with a degree in Business Administration concentrating on Marketing.  A star athlete in high school, initially Gerald thought that him giving back was through football, but he later determined that giving back meant working with people who helped make a difference in communities he’s connected. Using his charisma and gift of gab, Gerald will tell anyone would listen that there are alternatives to crime, and to not let your experiences or things that are out of your control lose sight of your ability to have a good life, developing a brand of second chances and saving lives.

Q. What was it like working with Boy Scouts of America?

A. “I was blessed to get an opportunity to work with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and I say blessed because I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t get the chance to work with them. BSA really showed me a different side of life.   A lot of times when I work in communities, there is not a lot of diversity.  BSA gave me a chance to be the diversity for which I sought. I used the opportunity to change perceptions of Black men in leadership.  I feel like my work in the community is bigger than me and that I really needed to help the person that’s going to come behind me.  I am helping the next qualified individual that looks like me to be able to work in rural and urban markets as well as working with the who’s who of the community and be  effective.    

So, I did that for two years and they loved me and I loved them, but there came a time for me to grow and spread my wings and become what they called, Scout Executive.  Meridian, Mississippi, Los Angeles, California and Columbus, Ohio were the options for relocation.  I prayed about it, and I thought, ‘man I love Nashville, I don’t want to leave Nashville, this is one of the most philanthropic areas, this is the Volunteer State.’

Q. And then you worked for Salvation Army?  Tell me about this experience.

The Salvation Army was great to me. They believed in me to the point, where, Gerald whatever you want to do, you can do it.’It was hard for me to say, You know, I’m gonna leave the lap of luxury.’ As far as a well-branded 150-year-old organization that helps all walks of life to one that just focuses on the transition and incarceration. There was this something in me that says, you know what if this is my legacy? This is what I’m supposed to do.  I grew up in an environment where everyone around me went to jail and so I’m thinking that this is a great opportunity for me to make a change for people that grew up in environments that I grew up in.  I was going to help this population of individuals to have a second chance.

Q. How did you find out about Dismas?

A. “I received a call from an executive search firm and they said, “Gerald, we want you to be our next CEO for DISMAS. ”  So I said, ‘Who me?’ (chuckles)

They told me more about the organization DISMAS and the position.   I started researching DISMAS and praying about my pending decision.  Then, one night in the dream, it became clear to me that this was something I needed to do. 

When I grew up, my father served 40 years in incarceration and subsequently died soon after that.  My cousin was in and out of prison for drug distribution, and my brother is a two-time felon.   I’ve seen the grips of what prison incarceration can do to a family, and I that’s one of the reasons that I’m so driven.  The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that being CEO of DISMAS would be a way for me to leave my mark on the world. I am flattered and honored to support a nonprofit that helps out people who are incarcerated and transitional.

Q. What has been your strategy for the transition?

You know, just from my experience with other nonprofits orientations that I’ve been involved in, the worst thing new management can do is change everything. I really wanted to get to know the staff, the committed volunteers that we have and as well as our processes because processes can dictate success and failure. I did not want to lose valuable time and as well as resources from someone else’s volunteer relationship. So, I would say the first 30 to 45 days, I was  listening, observing and learning as much as I could about the processes, e the financials, learning about the history of the organization as well as some of the things that were hot topics in board meetings. I wanted to really get a full scope of what we are? What do we need right now? And what we would need in the future?

So, I started implementing actions to gap items in March of this year. I started to suggest to the staff as well as volunteers, these are things that I‘ve seen over the last month and a half that we need to address and one of the big things was that our brand message was missing;  what was our kin elevator speech then we leave people with so that they know what Dismas does? How do we let the Nashville community know the full scope of our programming? How do we build our branding?  So we now started to print information that we can share with the community and for the first time we’ve developed sales kits.

We are a very small staff here and there’s no way that we can be successful without common goals.  We really had to gain the trust of our staff members to focus on a vision of all of us taking a piece of the pie, all of us doing cross training on things and in the event that one of us is out, there so another one can pick up and move and the others left off. I really try to open them up to Nonprofit 101 as a whole as opposed to just doing case management.


Q. What are you some of your goals for DISMAS?

Our organization has been around for 42 years and we really don’t have that awareness that we should in comparison to the organizations that have been around half that are more familiar when you think about prison reentry. We want to make people aware, what we do, what is the impact on the folks of the transition incarceration and what and how, what we do changes their lives? And so, once we raise that level of awareness, we will then ask the community, ‘How do you feel you can best utilize your resources to help us move the organization forward, whether that’s with your time,  or your  finances 

We’re still continuously determining the right medians to do that, whether that be in social media, television, radio, print ads, etc. We’re trying to really diversify how we’re getting the message out but there’s no substitution to one-on-one contact with people,  businesses,  and building relationships with folks, so they can be more engaged with us. One of the things that we like to impress upon the community is to come see the house, come learn about what we do. So, every Thursday we have what we call a ‘Program Preview and we share the story of our business, we feed you free of charge and then we give you a tour of our house and so you can get a feel and smell and see exactly what it is that we do and part of that is we have one of our residents, come and give their testimony, so you can put the theoretical information that we’re sharing with you and the practical sense with the person.

Q.   How many residents do you house here at DISMAS?

We get 350 applications annually from guys who are incarcerated and we have eight beds for five-month programs so roughly we serve 20 people. annually So, where are the other 330 going?  

I think we can get a lot of impact by having people that are engaged and really going to do the work to move forward as the board has decided, ‘Hey we need to expand our footprint.’ Because the population we serve is saying they want to come here and we’re not able to serve them. So, one of the reasons they brought me in was to use my fundraising experience 


Q. Tell me about 2424 Charlotte Ave.

We’ve hired a contractor, we’ve hired an architect, we’ve engaged several people on the feasibility of them supporting us and overwhelmingly we’ve had a lot of supported people saying “you guys should do this, you guys are the ones who have the most prominent transitional housing here.” 

So we’re going to go from an eight-bed house to a 76-bed center and we still want to keep the traditional sense of what we do. Our six cores of programming for the case management, physical and mental assessments, life skills, financial empowerment, we still want to keep that for our residents but we also want to expand the level of services that we offer to people who aren’t traditional residents. What we’re looking at two things: ones with this facility is that let’s expand our services to offer clinical services, let’s expand our services to offer alternative sentences with the judges, let’s expand our services to do more in the community than just the folks at the transitional phase. I’m ready to take charge and I want to open my eyes to this and get a good job of saving money.’ We’re addressing any type of mental issues, therapist’s issues, health issues.

We were just so blessed enough earlier this month to receive some support from the housing fund into the turnover of two million dollars.  We used that money to purchase the land at 24-24 Charlotte and we’re in the process now of pulling permits in hopes of having a groundbreaking summer 2017.  Grand opening is scheduled for summer 2018. All of that is contingent upon the community supporting us from a financial standpoint. We found some funding through some competitive grants that we applied for but all-in-all the community supporters are the reason for this to be successful.

Read more about 2424 Charlotte in Gethan Wards article in the Tennessean here – LINK.

How you can help?

Watch the video below – shot by Matlock Media.  Interviews with community members and current residents can help you decide to support DISMAS today!

Giving Tuesday – Support DISMAS by clicking HERE 


 Karla is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University with a degree minor in Sociology and is currently pursuing a Masters in Business Administration from Bethel University.  She is a Nashville Native and Lifestyle Blogger; a Free Spirit, and a Music Lover. If you need a Creative Consultant for your events, ask me how! To subscribe to her monthly newsletter click here.  She recently ran away from Corporate America.  If you want to talk to her about that, you can email: karla@nashvillesocialbutterfly.com

KB The Nashville Social Butterfly

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