Kevin Brown has overcome just about every obstacle put in front of him. He’s never let failure or people giving him a hard time stop him from doing what he loves. But most of all, he puts others first, leads by example and goes above and beyond, even in these uncertain times.
As a child, Brown was introduced to Special Olympics through a local recreation program. They trained. They competed. And eventually, they formed a volleyball team that would become a staple in his life. "We had a volleyball team that I've been a part of for 43 years now," Brown said. "We played together and most of us are still there."
Over the years, that decision to be a part of a team turned into a long list of accomplishments, including competing in five international competitions—spanning from 1989 to the most recent in 2007 at the Special Olympics World Games. In his team’s final volleyball game of the World Games Shanghai, Brown’s team trailed 8 – 12 against China, the host country. With a timeout to take, his coach made it a point that they had to do it their way if they wanted to win. With Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver among the audience members of 5,000 fans, his team pulled off a thrilling win.
Brown’s athletic achievements are just part of his story, as Special Olympics New York also trained him to be a leader starting in 1992. Athlete leadership creates opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to develop and demonstrate their abilities in leadership roles. This is accomplished through leadership and skills curriculum training, with athletes leading the way in sport, events, health, schools, youth, communication and governing roles. A great example is Brown’s role representing his fellow athletes as a member of the Board of Directors for Special Olympics New York. He’s taken the training and experience gained through athlete leadership and put it into action by sharing his message and leading by example for his fellow athletes.
"As an athlete leader, I try to go out there and tell the athletes not to give up. If you can set your heart to something, you want to keep going for it and study and keep practicing. Go out there and tell people, ‘you can do it.’ And that's what I try to tell all the athletes, and tell people, that's how I got my job by not giving up."
When the novel COVID-19 global pandemic hit our communities, sports came to a halt. Businesses shut down, and people weren't able to do anything in large groups. Everything went virtual. Brown jumped into action.
"One of the things that I find the most touching that Kevin does is in this very virtual world, he opens up his house to his teammates who don't have internet access, so that they could still participate in virtual sporting activities," said Kelly Sheehy, Senior Manager of Organizational Development for the North America Region.
"When I grew up, my family didn't have much money. We didn't have anything," Brown said. "I want to provide them with the opportunity to go out there and do the things that I'm doing."
And it's that same attitude and determination—the same he and his team had when trailing in China and how he leads by example as an athlete leader—that helped him land a job with one of the most important agencies in the United States.
After graduating high school, Brown began to clean the Federal Building in New York. He was a model employee. Always thorough. Never late. Always courteous. Brown's supervisor saw his work ethic and how he handled his cleaning duties and thought he'd be a perfect fit for an open opportunity with the FBI. When Brown’s supervisor discussed it with him, Brown thought, "That would be an honor. I would love to work for the FBI and have a nice federal job, retirement and everything." Though he was initially nervous since he only had a high school diploma in special education, Brown decided to give it a shot.
One day later, they submitted the appropriate documentation. Brown began to study for the Federal Civil Service Exam, a competitive eligibility test required of some, but not all, government candidates. And so, his journey to become an employee of the FBI began.
"We made an appointment, and I took the test," Brown said. "I missed it by 30 points, so we found a tutor and I studied for five years."
On the second attempt, he passed.
When the Albany FBI office had an opening for a Support Services Clerk, he accepted the job. He's been there 24 years, although he says, "my job title has changed like four times since being here." He's currently the material handler. "I x-ray packages and check for anthrax," Brown said. "I make sure all the mail is safe coming into the building."
He holds one of the most important jobs. What comes into the building goes through him first. Brown has seen things change since he started in the late 1990s, especially after September 11, 2001, and now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"After 9/11, it became more strict on deliveries and everything. So as soon as something came into the building, no matter who it was brought in by, it came through me," Brown said. "I have to make sure there is nothing hazardous or explosive in the packages."
He knows the drill. If a package comes across as suspicious, he handles it with caution and puts it into a bag. He calls his supervisors, and they handle it appropriately. His ability to stay calm and focused while handling a dangerous situation allows him to be one of the best. The skills he's learned as an athlete leader set him up for that success: communicating, staying calm in the moment and working together to reach a common goal.
Today, he still goes to work. Despite what restrictions are in place due to the pandemic, working at the Bureau never stops. He says, "We have to be more careful now. With contact with people, we have to wear masks."
He remains an athlete, an athlete leader and is heavily involved with the Law Enforcement Torch Run® (LETR). During the 2003 Special Olympics World Games, he was an athlete runner as part of the LETR Final Leg in Ireland. Each year, he participates in the Special Olympics New York Torch Run and Polar Plunges. Most notably, Brown currently serves as the athlete representative on the LETR International Executive Council and is the voice for over 5.4 million Special Olympics athletes around the world.
When he earned Employee of the Quarter, nominated by his co-workers at the Albany branch of the FBI, he took $100 from his bonus check and donated it to Special Olympics in honor of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. "I wanted to thank her for founding Special Olympics and for helping people with disabilities," Brown said. "If it weren't for her, I wouldn't be where I am today."
For Brown, Special Olympics has provided him with many opportunities. It's given him a purpose and a platform to share his story. It's helped him gain valuable leadership training and life lessons that translate into his work with the FBI. For that, he is a success story. And as an athlete leader for Special Olympics, his goals aim to impact many others and inspire future Special Olympics athletes to come.