It was back during his childhood in Inwood when Jeff Burns Jr. began reading magazines like Ebony and Jet, and taking note of the achievements African American men were making in civil rights, politics and medicine.
He also noticed many of them had something in common: Howard University, the historically black university in Washington, D.C., and Burns knew he had to attend that school someday.
Burns’ book, “The Brotherhood of Drew Hall,” is about the men he met while attending Howard, his friendships with them and their accomplishments. Drew Hall is the main men’s dormitory at the school and also the largest dorm of African American men in the collegiate world.
As a 17-year-old in 1968, Burns made his way down to Howard’s campus. As he was moving into Drew Hall, he met other like-minded young men. “They knew what they wanted to do from day one,” said Burns, the vice chair of the John H. Johnson School of Communications Board of Visitors at Howard University. “Many of my fellow Drew Hall brothers are the top person in the world for what they do. The top business executives have been on top earner lists for ten years, bringing in about $2 billion annually. They have also assisted their communities by donating money or helping in neighborhoods.”
Monchell Johnson, a Lawrence High School graduate, is one scholarship recipient Burns has helped through the Five Towns Community Center. Burns has sat on the board of the Lawrence-based service-based agency. “I was born and raised in Inwood, and wanted something different, like a chance to attend a historically black college or university,” Monchell said. “I had always felt at home at Howard. I was able to go there through this scholarship.”
Diane Johnson, president of the board at the Five Towns Community Center, had Burns appear at her book club meeting, where participants also read and discussed his book. “Everyone was able to draw an inspirational message from his book,” Diane said. “Not everyone has had a chance to go to a historically black college or university. Burns’ presence really brought his book to life.”
Although there have been many accomplishments, there is still work to be done to overcome the struggle many high-achieving black people face: economic reciprocity, or bringing more money earned back into African American households, said Burns. “As black people, we must keep moving forward,” Burns said. “Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. has an economic development program designed to empower people financially.” Jackson’s Wall Street program is an annual summit with workshops and networking sessions focusing on assisting black-owned businesses.
Monchell Johnson echoed Burns’ sentiments and said that for her generation, education is the struggle. “Not many young people are being pushed, prodded or groomed for higher education,” he said. “Even if they do become successful, they’re not taught how to manage their money.”
Burns hopes that those who read his book will be inspired to achieve their own accomplishments, and remember to honor those of African Americans. “We are behind the rest of the world in science, engineering and math,” he said. “Let’s focus more on those African American leaders of science and technology.”