David Brown was 13 when he understood the power of public relations. He didn't know the field by name yet, but he knew that famous people are only famous because someone made them so.
And he told hundreds of Philadelphians about his discovery in an essay he'd written for the city's bicentennial celebration in July 1976.
"Take the President for example," he wrote. "Everyone knows his name. But do you know the names of those people who back him up?"
Brown would eventually put a name to his discovery in college, when he would major in public relations. He would hold numerous jobs in the field and run his own public relations firm at age 27.
Now, more than 40 years after he read the essay at the celebration in Fairmount Park, Brown will receive a Public Relations Society of America award to commemorate his contribution to the field at the organization's International Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana.
He is the first African-American to receive the award. "It is bittersweet," Brown said, commenting on the field's lack of diversity. "We need to acknowledge more practitioners of color."
This isn't the first time Brown has been recognized for his work. An ordained Reverend in the United Methodist Church, Brown has been recognized by President Obama as a "Champion of Change."
"They (the White House) were very fascinated by the fact that the agencies and the work that I've done has been social-mission focused," he said.
Brown decided early on in his career to spend his creative energies on causes that would benefit the community. "There's always going to be somebody who's going to take big tobacco or big gaming (accounts)," he said. But he chose to avoid such accounts because of their negative impact on the community, instead focusing on empowering nonprofits.
"With your passion and your creativity, you can make a change," he said.
Last year, he joined the Department of Strategic Communication, where he shares this ethos with Klein College students. In his Public Relations Management and Problems course, students focus on using their skills to help nonprofits. Brown said he wants to inspire his students to be more deliberate with their time and the type of work they choose.
Donnalyn Pompper, a colleague at the Department of Strategic Communication and a longtime friend nominated Brown for the PRSA award.
"I could not think of one person who could even come close to outshining what Professor Brown brings to the field of public relations education," she said, adding that brown devoted his life to education, social justice, and public service.
"We're just so lucky to have him at Temple."