For Wiley College graduate Chris Brown, education was always at the forefront in his life.
He was raised by a single mother, who worked hard to provide for him and his younger siblings and to make sure they were afforded all of the opportunities that she didn't have.
"Higher education was highly promoted in my household. I am the first one to graduate. My great grandmother didn't have a degree, my grandmother, nor my mother."
Brown, who was born and raised in Monroe, Louisiana, says life growing up wasn't easy, but he always saw a way out.
"Sometimes we went without. Sometimes, you know, utilities were disconnected, but my mom made sure that at the end of the day, that they were turned back on, and she did what she could" to make sure things worked out for the family, he says.
"I knew that I could only get out of this mess, get out of this struggle, if I promote myself with an education. So, I attended Wiley College and here I am today."
Wiley, in Marshall, Texas, is one of the 11 Historically Black Colleges and Universities supported by The United Methodist Church through its Black College Fund.
Brown graduated with a degree in interdisciplinary studies with a background in global administration and criminology. He is currently pursuing his master's in public administration at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona.
He says his education from Wiley changed his life.
"Wiley has given me an opportunity to be an example for young people all across the country and in my city and in my state. It allows me to be their voice and to help them find their voice.
"Wiley allows you to speak up for what you believe in and don't back down for anyone. And, that's what I like about it — the passion, the compassion ...," he says.
His success also has been an inspiration for younger members of his family.
"The further I go, the more I know that I challenge them to be greater than their current circumstances."
He's grateful for the Black College Fund and the education it helped support. He urges United Methodists to continue "pouring into the program."
"So many of the students that are gaining from this program don't have the resources, and this is truly their only way of making it. … To have resources behind you like that says that you can conquer anything in life."
He says the BCF isn't just helping today's students, it's paving the way for a brighter future. "If you continue to invest in the future, you'll reap the harvest of something great."
Brown's goal is to be an attorney one day so that he can help reform the criminal justice system.
"It's my only hope and my only prayer that I am making a significant difference," he says. "I think I already know (my purpose) at this point. It's to serve with a genuine heart."
Julie Dwyer, general church content editor, United Methodist Communications
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Black College Fund provides financial support to maintain solid, challenging academic programs; strong faculties; and well-equipped facilities at 11 United Methodist-related historically black colleges and universities. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Black College Fund apportionment at 100 percent.