Discovery in McHenry Library Inspires First-Generation Alumnus to Become a Champion of Social Change

When Chance Brown (Merrill ’89, sociology) arrived at UCSC in 1985, he was embarking on a solo mission that was unfamiliar and overwhelming. The first in his family to pursue a college degree, Brown relied on the staff in the Educational Opportunity Programs (EOP) office to help him navigate the complexities of college life and the academic rigor of a selective college. 

“I only knew what I knew; having a strong work ethic wasn’t enough. I needed people to support and encourage me,” said Brown who was overjoyed when he learned about the university’s new Student Success Initiative, launched this fall. “The university values first-generation students, and this is a powerful way to put those values into action.”

The Student Success Initiative is a five-year philanthropic campaign aimed at increasing financial support, creating programs to navigate university life and cultivating experiences that will give all students an equitable opportunity to achieve success and experience social mobility.

“First-generation students don’t have any context of the college experience, and I know first-hand how important support systems are for success,” he said. “College is an extraordinary opportunity. Your degree is the foundation of your career, and it will follow you and open doors throughout your life.”  

Brown says his time at UC Santa Cruz was transformative, and he attributes his ability to graduate in four years, with honors, to the people who supported and encouraged him along the way. One of the most memorable to him was sociology professor, John Brown Childs, currently a Professor Emeritus, who was instrumental in empowering Brown to reach his full potential. 

“When I got to UCSC, Black students accounted for about three percent of the population, and they had a 10 percent graduation rate in four years. Those statistics were not in my favor, but professor Childs, through his example, inspired me to create new statistics. He taught me to believe in myself, and he helped me become a better man.” 

Brown dedicated himself to his coursework, spending hours in McHenry Library. It was there, in the E185 section of the third-floor collections, where he discovered a gateway to history that influenced his life in formidable ways, both personally and professionally. 

E185 is the universal library section, designated by the Library of Congress, for books on African American history. 

“It was like an entire world opened up. All of this history that I hadn’t learned in high school was right there. As soon as I finished my coursework, I would head to that section and create my own Black History syllabus. I read about Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice, W.E.B. Du Bois, the first Black man to receive a Ph.D. at Harvard, and Alain Locke, the first African American Rhodes Scholar. I realized there were some Black scholars who made tremendous contributions to this country. Their success gave me a sense of agency. It inspired me to achieve high grades and graduate in four years. I was going to be part of a legacy.”

Brown’s insatiable desire to absorb as much as he could about Black heritage motivated him to excel in the classroom, and his tenacity paid off. He received the College Service Award from Merrill College at graduation and went on to earn a Master of Science from the Milano School of Policy, Management and Environment at The New School, as well as a Management Policy Certificate from Harvard. 

He has dedicated his career to transforming communities, empowering economic mobility and enabling people through education. Brown worked for the Ford Foundation and the National Urban League, garnering a national reputation as a social-change advocate, which earned him a spot on the 30 under 30 Future Leaders list in Ebony magazine.   

He has served in roles for 100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte, NC, and as a board member for Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) Charlotte, that offers free college preparatory schooling for high school students in underserved communities. He is a founding member of The Gentlemen’s Factory, which promotes economic empowerment for men and women leaders from underrepresented populations. 

Brown has excelled as a human resource professional, currently serving as director, talent development and D&I at SPX Corporation, a global supplier of highly engineered HVAC and Detection & Measurement products and technologies with 4,000 people in 15 countries. He leads Diversity and Inclusion, leadership development and management programs, and trains employees on online learning platforms. 

“Education is a transformative tool. My education at UCSC changed my life. I’m honored to be working on projects that enable people to develop their skills, giving them knowledge that enables them to do their jobs more effectively and expand what they know. Through education, we can enrich the lives of people who can make companies better and improve society. It’s a way of paying forward the power of education.”