Applying lessons learned in shop class and 4-H, the high school sophomore and would-be electrical engineer wired his family’s rural southern farmhouse for electricity. But when he graduated as class valedictorian, James Brown did not have the money to go to college. No financial aid existed for someone like him in the late 1950s, recalls his wife, Reopa, no matter how promising or ambitious.
Today, James and Reopa Brown use their Greater Milwaukee Foundation fund, the James A. and Reopa Brown Fund, to give underprivileged children the educational opportunities they themselves did not have.
The couple and their infant son moved north to Milwaukee from Jackson, Tennessee in 1961 for jobs and a better life. Money was tight and times were tough. James eventually found work as a driver for United Parcel Service. He became UPS-Wisconsin’s first black supervisor, first black manager and first black UPS stockholder. After 28 years with the company, he retired in 1993.
The days were often long and hard – for James at UPS and Reopa at home with four children, but it was all worth it, the childhood sweethearts agree.
In retirement, the couple shares the many blessings they have received. They are active with their church; Reopa enjoys visiting and cooking for those who are sick. James serves on the board of Our Next Generation and as treasurer of 100 Black Men of Greater Milwaukee. They enjoy their family, especially the grandchildren.
Above all, James and Reopa are hopeful people.
“Some of the things we do can make a difference,” they said.
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