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I interrupted. "Hurry up, Daddy, the jury is in the box."
But he continued at his normal pace, retelling the story of my birth as he did on my birthday every year: "Dr. English says, 'It's a girl!' and I say, 'It's a girl!' I'm so happy and I run in to see you. Wrapped in a tiny blanket in Mom's arms is this pale baby. You were so white that you were translucent, so I say to Mom, 'That's not my baby. She's too white."
The judge was staring at me. "Miss Brown?" he queried, reminding me that the court was waiting.
"If I can have a moment, Your Honor," I responded. Then into the receiver, I whispered, "Daddy, the judge is getting mad."
But Dad was in the midst of our annual birthday ritual and refused to be hurried: "Then I picked you up and looked at your beautiful face and your little mouth and your almond eyes and I knew you were my baby girl. Happy birthday,baby. I love you so much."
"I love you too, Daddy," I whispered, "but I have to go."
"Are you gonna kick some booty in court?"
"Yes, Daddy, but I really have to go."
"Say, 'I'm gonna kick butt."
"No, Dad. Have a great day. Gotta go."
"Say it," he teased.
"I'm gonna kick butt," I whispered, trying not to laugh.
"Say it louder."
"Dad, I don't want you to have to fly out here and bail my butt out of jail for being held in contempt of court."
"Okay, okay. Good luck with your trial. Happy birthday, Boli." Boli, short for Tracinda Bolinda, his nickname for me.
"Bye, Daddy. I'll call you all tonight. I love you.
"I love you more." We hung up. Then, warmed by his love, with a smile on my face, I turned to the jury. "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Tracey Brown and I represent the people of the state of California."
Tracey L Brown: Thank you. I'm very glad you invited me.
Tracey L Brown: I knew I was going to be asking to interview him while I was doing the research for the book, and since he's maintained pretty close contact with my family, it was pretty easy to ask him, and he was gracious enough to agree to write the introduction.
Tracey L Brown: No question, his biggest role models was his father. And if any of you all could have met my grandfather, William Harmon Brown, you'd be equally impressed. He was a true optimist who never believed there was anything he couldn't accomplish. And my father inherited that trait.
Tracey L Brown: The role my father played in the '92 election I talk about a great deal in the book. He really started to build and reunite the Democratic Party when he was first elected chair of the party in 1989. And throughout those four years of the presidential campaign, from '89 to '92, my dad spent much of it as a one-note pep squad for the Democratic Party, because as many of you may remember, George Bush was very high in all the polls, particularly after the Gulf War, and not a soul alive believed the Democrats could win the White House. One of the most interesting parts of the research of the book centered around the '92 presidential campaign, because while there was a lot I knew, both from my dad and my own participation, interviewing all the other people involved behind the scenes makes that time really come alive in the book. My father remained personally close as well as professionally close with the president while secretary of commerce, and the President's current trip to Africa is really a culmination of three years of work my father did in building new trade relations there.
Tracey L Brown: Yes, I recount those moments in the book, but what is most interesting is how fortunate he was to avoid a lot of direct discrimination in his early years. It wasn't until he ventured outside of his nurturing cocoon in Harlem that he was slapped in the face with racism. In the book I tell a story about when my parents were driving to Virginia for my dad's first Army assignment and the restaurant they went to refused to serve them. It affected him a great deal, but one of the most important lessons of his life was to never let anything hold you back and never allow yourself to be victimized. My father always realized that race still matters in today's society, and that's why he fought so hard to provide opportunities for those frequently left out.I think the issues of race that affected him most deeply were entirely personal in that his mother, during many of his years, passed for white due to her light skin coloring. And I talk in the book about how he was ashamed of that.
Tracey L Brown: It's really depressing, the climate that we live in, in which any allegation by anybody is given credence just by the mere fact that it's reported. If my father were alive today, I'm sure you'd see him on every news program defending the President against these allegations.
Tracey L Brown: I appreciate your comments, Alfred. We're all doing well. We spend a lot of time together, which we always have. My mother was the most valuable resource to me in writing THE LIFE AND TIMES OF RON BROWN, because since they were together for almost 35 years and they were a true team, she played an integral part in his entire adult life.
Tracey L Brown: I do. I believe that the bar was lowered to a ridiculously low level during President Clinton's first administration, where Janet Reno appointed independent counsels on three Cabinet secretaries, the President, and the First Lady. In my opinion, which I document in the book, in referring to all the records involving the investigation, Janet Reno had plenty of information that indicated my father had done nothing wrong, but she appointed an independent counsel anyway.
Tracey L Brown: I'm looking at that photograph right this second. It was taken in his office at the Commerce Department one afternoon in '95 when I was home in Washington from a visit in L.A., and we had just come back from a hearty lunch. The picture has been on my end table in my bedroom ever since it was taken. I can't sleep without it by my side. I refer to in the book, when I talk about the interminable plane ride on the day of the crash, when I was flying home from L.A. to Washington.
Tracey L Brown: As Commerce Secretary, my father firmly believed that only through commercial engagement rather than simple sanctions and alienation can the United States have a positive effect on human rights all over the globe. That's why he focused his trade missions and implemented his policy of commercial diplomacy on so many nations that had previously been ignored. It's interesting to see now how the world is slowly changing its views on Cuba, Vietnam, and Iran.
Tracey L Brown: What most surprised me in my research for this book was realizing how many lives my father touched. Even people that never knew him or worked with him were inspired by him. And as a child, as any child feels, you see your parents as your parents, and it often takes a while to appreciate the contributions they make outside the family. In terms of the research I did for the book, I interviewed 200 people that he grew up with, worked with, served in the Army with, and I was very fortunate that my grandmother had kept a lot of his old papers and documents from school during his early years. Also, my father was a total pack rat, and we have endless file cabinets at my parents' home with documents dating back to his early Urban League days. I was also surprised and touched by learning about his early history in Harlem and the Hotel Teresa and what an incredible era that was. I'm actually now thinking of writing a book about Harlem and the hotel during the 1940s and '50s.
Tracey L Brown: Thank God, they all love it. It was very gratifying to hear so many different people tell me that I really captured him.
Tracey L Brown: The similarities were that in dealing with both personnel and staff as well as my brother Michael and I as teenagers, my father tended to be a pushover. In THE LIFE AND TIMES OF RON BROWN, I recount many stories of how difficult he found it to fire or punish people. He always wanted people to like him and never wanted to be the bad guy.
Tracey L Brown: The Ronald H. Brown foundation can be reached at 202-835-0700. The main focus of the foundation has been to start the Ronald H. Brown Center for Politics and Commercial Diplomacy, which is a school in Washington open to college juniors and seniors all over the world who want to spend a semester at the Brown Center, taking courses in everything from speechwriting and polling to international business. As for scholarships, this past weekend we selected 20 Ron Brown scholars out of 4,000 applicants. These African American high school seniors will receive $40,000 each toward their college education. They are his real lasting legacy. The Ronald H. Brown Foundation can be reached on the Internet at www.rhbf.org.
Tracey L Brown: I was not offended by the President's comments in which he admitted that America was wrong to participate in the slave trade. America was wrong. I think the President's heart is in the right place in terms of creating a dialogue about race. Unfortunately there are no simple solutions, and without a simple solution, all dialogue seems like rhetoric. As to trade missions to Africa, in the book I talk about my father's commitment to Africa, which had virtually been ignored by previous commerce secretaries and administrations. His very first trade mission was to South Africa, and it resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits for U.S. businesses as well as thousands of jobs for American workers.
Tracey L Brown: I wrote this book to tell my father's story, which is an inspirational one to people across color lines and political lines. If the effect is to "clear his name," I'm certainly pleased. His legacy, which is exemplified by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Ronald H. Brown Foundation, is to provide opportunities to those who have been left out and disenfranchised.
Tracey L Brown: I personally don't believe them, particularly the allegation that he was shot in the head. But I can assure you that if I did believe it, I wouldn't rest until I found out who was responsible.
Tracey L Brown: As I recount in the book, my father was elected chairman of the Democratic party in 1989, well before then-governor Clinton became a candidate. My father wanted the Democratic party to be unified and ready for the general election against George Bush, regardless of who the democratic nominee became. He met Clinton when Clinton was the governor of Arkansas in 1988, when my father was running for chair of the party.
Tracey L Brown: I interviewed my family extensively to get their memories and impressions for the book. However, I didn't let my mother or my brother see the manuscript until I was well into my second draft. I was terrified that they might not like it or approve of something that I felt strongly about. Luckily any disagreements were minor, and my family is fully supportive of the book. As an African American, I felt a bit sensitive and defensive about my grandmother's history in passing for white. But I also learned that it was fairly common during that era. Thankfully my grandmother reacted positively to the book as well.
Tracey L Brown: That's a great question. My mother was adamantly opposed. She felt and continues to feel that public service and the scrutiny and unfair attacks that go along with it simply isn't worth it. My father taught my brother and me that there are many ways to participate in and have an impact on a political system without being a candidate. In other words, it would have been a tense time around the Brown house if my father really pushed to run for President.
Tracey L Brown: People tend to forget that Vernon Jordan spent a large part of his career as a civil rights activist at the National Urban League. So without question, he has paid some dues. My father, like many people who believe strongly in civil rights, believed that there's always more to do.
Tracey L Brown: I'm working on a book about the Hotel Teresa and Harlem during the 1940s and '50s. I haven't yet decided if or when I'll go back to practicing law, which I really miss. Hopefully I'll find a happy medium.
Tracey L Brown: I talk about this in the book with regard to the climate that is so pervasive in politics now. Whoever the loser is tries to get even in any way they can, including personal attacks, however unsubstantiated. In the end we are all losers, as we've let political discourse disintegrate to such an ugly level, which makes the important issues that most of us really care about go unaddressed.
Tracey L Brown: Yes. In the book I recount the details of the crash investigation as well as pending litigation and legislation by all of the families that lost someone in the crash. What disappointed and concerned most of us was the way the Air Force handled the investigation of the crash, which was wrapped up in a mere six weeks, while most crash investigations take over a year. None of us would tolerate ValuJet investigating and punishing itself. Why should we tolerate that from the Air Force?
Tracey L Brown: Both the hardest part of the book as well as the best part was that it was therapy for me. I think anyone who has lost someone will appreciate how my family dealt with our grief. We are all different people and dealt with it in many different ways. One of the most valuable lessons I've learned from this horrible tragedy is that there is not a right or wrong way to grieve. Writing about my father enabled me to remember him and all of the wonderful memories that we had together as well as work through the utter loss and despair that I continue to feel every day.
Tracey L Brown: I hope the lesson that people take from my father's life is that regardless of any obstacles that you face, be it discrimination, lack of education, or an independent counsel, you can triumph and make a difference. I want to thank everyone for your insightful questions, and I hope you are as inspired by the book as I was by having Ron Brown as my father.