FAAM’s new president first became involved with the middle school basketball league 17 years ago as an assistant coach. But Omar Brown said that connection almost didn’t happen – when a FAAM volunteer coach first asked him to help with a team, he initially said no.

“I told him, ‘I don’t want to be around somebody else’s kids.’ Like, I just couldn’t imagine what it was like,” Brown said.

“And he asked me again, and he framed it a little bit differently. And he said, ‘Hey, why don’t you just come to play basketball with my team?’”

That approach, Brown recalled, encouraged him to show up. And he’s been involved with the nonprofit, formally the Fellowship of Afro-American Men, ever since.

Omar Brown is the senior vice president of People and Culture for the Big 10 Conference, and the new President of the FAAM organization. Credit: Provided photo

Once Brown started as a FAAM assistant coach, he said he realized that there are a lot of life skills you can teach through basketball. Whether it’s hard work, being a good teammate or being in situations that you can’t control and learning how to control yourself, Brown said he saw the importance of the mentorship of men like himself for the middle school participants.

Brown, 47, a longtime Evanstonian who has served on the boards of several local organizations, including the Youth Job Center, Y.O.U., McGaw YMCA, the RoundTable’s advisory board and NorthShore University HealthSystem, this year is adding a new role to his list, taking over as president of FAAM.

FAAM game ball. Last year the organization included 14 teams for boys and six for girls. Credit: Teel Miller/FAAM

According to Brown, the 54-year-old basketball and cheerleading program for middle schoolers is at the cusp of a transformation, and he’s eager to lead the organization through it. His first meeting as FAAM’s new president was on July 21. 

FAAM was founded in 1968 to fill a gap need for after-school programs, and since then, it’s built its reputation around using basketball to teach life lessons. Local Black community members volunteer each year to lead and mentor basketball and cheerleading teams. Last year FAAM included 14 basketball teams for boys and six for girls.

Inspired to serve

Brown said he’s been inspired to serve by his experiences growing up in Evanston and by his grandmother, C. Louise Brown, a former public health director for the City of Evanston.

“What’s really inspired me is I have the ability to serve, I have the talents to serve. And I’m willing to commit the time to serve to make sure that my community has someone who looks like me on these boards and in these places,” Brown said.

He graduated from Northeastern Illinois University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and has an MBA from Loyola University Chicago and a master’s of public policy from Northwestern University. He is currently senior vice president of People and Culture for the Big 10 Conference, which is based in Rosemont. His past jobs include positions as a consultant and as head of Human Resources for the Chicago Transit Authority.

Dedicated to FAAM’s future

When the former president of FAAM, Willie Miller, retired, Miller recommended that Brown take up in his footsteps. Other longtime FAAM alums reached out to encourage Brown to accept the position. He was voted president April 28 at last season’s wrap-up meeting.

Brown said he has had a long-term commitment to the organization. “When I was a FAAM coach, I really prided myself on not missing a practice.”

He believes it’s a combination of his dedication and experience that makes others see him as a good fit to lead FAAM. 

“And then you add my business background … and my commitment to the community and the boards and other services that I’ve done, it makes a natural fit to bring in someone like that to try to transition FAAM as we look to say, ‘Where does it go next?’” Brown said.

As to the future of FAAM, Brown told the Roundtable the organization has existed for 54 years, and his job is to figure out how to make it exist for 54 more.

Brown realizes that since there are other options for young people in Evanston who want to play basketball, FAAM wants to continue making its game more competitive so that it’s seen as a program where people who are serious about basketball (but also people who might just want to become accountants) can improve.

This season the group is bringing back girls teams as well. “We really want to have the league we’ve been known for and famous for which is boys basketball, girls basketball and cheerleading,” Brown said.

He also hopes to engage players across Wilmette, Skokie, Rogers Park and elsewhere.

FAAM believes the organization can capitalize on community partnerships with old alumni, their parents and previous mentors.

‘The best game in town’

Bryant Wallace, 52, has been a part of the Evanston community for 10 years, and says Brown is a “special kind of person.” 

“When we get a chance to sit down and just have conversations, you will see that he is [a] big thinker with big ideas. And he loves to execute upon them,” Wallace said. “His passion and the love that he has for the community is truly contagious. 

“Whenever there’s a group of us sitting around, and we’re talking about what’s next, or what are we working on, Omar is one of those guys [who] … helps pull those pieces together.”

The 2021-22 FAAM champions, the Spurs, pose for a team photo. Credit: Teel Miller/FAAM

This year’s draft and registration for the new FAAM season is Sept. 24, with the season starting Oct. 15 for kids interested in basketball or cheerleading.

“It is truly the best game in town,” Wallace told the RoundTable. “Not only for basketball, but because of the athletes, because of the parents, because of the community, because of the history – there’s so many ‘becauses.’”

Read more about FAAM elsewhere on the Roundtable site, here and here.

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at dmb@evanstonroundtable.com...