The Work Seminar

Ep. 23: Dr. Chris Brooks - ThD Turned Impact Investor

June 08, 2022 Jesse Butts Season 2 Episode 8
The Work Seminar
Ep. 23: Dr. Chris Brooks - ThD Turned Impact Investor
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Chris Brooks was in the thick of his dissertation when he co-founded Brown Venture Group, a venture capital firm exclusively for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous technology startups. On top of that, he worked a full-time job and took his commitments as a spouse and father of four seriously. 

But what sounds like extreme sacrifice to us was “being obedient to my calling” to Chris. And that calling? Creating a new case for human flourishing in communities of color. 

Chris believes venture capital can move marginalized groups out of poverty and into living wage jobs, making that human flourishing possible. 

Christian theology — particularly Eastern-rooted theology — and economics are, to Chris, intertwined and inextricable. His doctorate and lifelong study of theology are indispensable to his entrepreneurship and devotion to economic justice. 

Books & other resources mentioned

Unsettling Truths by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah

The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto

Black History for White People podcast

Where to find Dr. Brooks and Brown Venture Group

Dr. Brooks on LinkedIn

Brown Venture Group website, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook

Check out more from The Work Seminar

Visit theworkseminar.com or find @TheWorkSeminar on social media. 

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Jesse Butts:

Hey everyone. Thanks for joining me for another episode. I'm your host, Jesse Butts. Today, I'm chatting with Dr. Chris Brooks, a doctor of theology from the Minnesota Graduate School of Theology turned impact investor. Dr. Brooks is now a co-founder and managing partner at Brown Venture Group, a venture capital firm exclusively for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous technology startups. Chris, welcome to the show. It's a pleasure to have you on.

Dr. Chris Brooks:

Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here with you, Jesse.

Jesse Butts:

So before we chat about how you found your way from theology to impact investing, can you tell us a little bit about what you do at Brown Venture Group and, by extension, what Brown Venture Group focuses on?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

Sure. I'll sort of take it in reverse order. So Brown Venture Group is a traditional sort of venture capital firm. And right now we are nearing the end of raising our inaugural $50 million fund. And the way that that works is we've been raising $50 million in capital while we've been also simultaneously deploying capital, which is somewhat unique. Many firms have the luxury of being able to raise it all and then like having a hard stop on the raise and then deploying it all. Our entrepreneurs are really starved for capital because of the historic inequities, so we've been raising and deploying simultaneously.

Jesse Butts:

And deploying simply means investing in these companies?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

Yeah. Yeah. We are interviewing companies every single week. Meeting new founders every single week. And making investments almost every single week.

Jesse Butts:

Just at a high level, what is the difference between venture capital versus ,say, getting funding from a bank or something like private equity? For any of our listeners who might not be familiar with these types of investing terms.

Dr. Chris Brooks:

Yeah. So venture capital is sort of like a higher risk way of making investments, but it's also a higher rate of return if you get it right. Bank loans and other forms of like debt financing, those are very traditionally sort of what they sound like, right. Like you take out a loan, you have X percent of interest you need to pay back. There's a wide variety of type of financing for companies or even mid to late stage companies. Venture is we exchange cash for a percentage of equity ownership, or, you know, a number of shares in an early company. And then as that company increases in value, we realize that value based on our percentage. And then all of our investors get paid on the gains. And then we as partners also get paid on the gains.

Jesse Butts:

Okay. Got it. Thank you. And is venture capital something where you are owners in a company for a very long time? Or is it something where once they hit a certain revenue number or they go public that you're paid out and then you're no longer involved? How exactly does that work?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

In our model, we are looking for what we call liquidity events, which means that there could be a company that goes public through an IPO, an initial public offering. They could be acquired in the private market. So let's say that there's a technology company that gets acquired by Apple, right. That's another way that our fund would potentially make money. The, the key is to help companies grow and scale and increase their valuation, so that when that happens, this liquidity event, they have a much higher valuation than when they started. And really, the gains that we make and that our investors make are based on the increase in value of the company.

Jesse Butts:

Okay. So I'm sure this is going to be a really fascinating discussion from theology to venture capital and impact investing. But I'm curious if we could go back a little. What originally prompted you to enroll in grad school? Why did you want to go beyond undergrad?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

So the backstory is interesting, as you say, I'm going to go way back and work my way forward. And I promise I'll try to be as pithy as I can but... my mother is a Jamaican immigrant who immigrated to the United States in 1963. She's the first person from her community to leave the island. To the best we can tell, one of the first Jamaican folks to immigrate permanently to the state of Minnesota and to the United States. So my mother comes from what we in America would call developing nation poverty. She's out of a community where there wasn't running water, no electricity, people were bathing in the river. That sort of a deal. My father is a foster kid from Iowa, and he is the oldest of several siblings. They were all placed into different foster homes and had widely, various different experiences in those homes. So my backstory has everything to do with sort of like poverty on both sides, interracial marriage. It's a very Twin Cities centric story. So the happenings in the Twin Cities are deeply connected to my backstory, and it's through those lenses... I was raised in a very Christian family in a very Christian home. And as I've gotten older, I got my undergraduate degree in theology as well. And once I started really digging into theology, there were a bunch of questions specifically related to race and economics that I just could not find satisfying answers to from the folks that I was with. I came out of a very conservative, predominantly white denomination, and they had almost no thought on race and economics and what God's life to the full would look like in communities of color. So I've been on a lifelong journey to figure out what does human flourishing really look like theologically in communities of color.

Jesse Butts:

You mentioned getting your undergrad in theology, and you were driven by these, these questions. Was the idea of going to grad school...was there a vocation in ministry that you were considering? Or was it really mostly focused on wanting to learn more and talk with other people and really dive into these subjects more than you did even an undergrad?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

My undergraduate program was not what I would consider to be education. It was indoctrination. So we were just basically like spoonfed a certain swath of theology. You'll memorize it, study it, be able to regurgitate it. And then if you're good at that, maybe you can get a, a, ministry position in one of our denominational churches. This is actually how most denominations work, right. It's indoctrination into that particular brand of theology. Then I had, you know, like a 20 year career. And once I got through my 20 year career, I had completely different questions. And I had long ago begun the exodus from the theological plantation that I was raised on. So by the time I got to my doctoral program, I was asking questions that were much more global in nature. You know, the, the world is 90% nonwhite, but most of the resources are controlled by the 10%. That just makes no sense to me. Um, pragmatically nor theologically. So I just, I entered my doctoral program asking completely different questions of the world, completely different questions of the Bible. And so my goal really was to figure out at the intersection of race, religion, and economics, what is God's preferred will? My doctoral dissertation was on a comparative analysis of justice in the of the earth. Trying to discern based on the race, the racial composition, the religious composition, the regional differentiation, like where do we find human flourishing in the earth? And to the best of our ability, is there any correlation with religion where that human flourishing exists? And I'll just save you the trouble and steal you, you know, give you the punchline right away. Predominantly white nations and formerly colonized nations are not doing so hot because of the long, really traumatic impact of white supremacy globally for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years.

Jesse Butts:

By what criteria do you mean they're not doing so hot?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

So like when you look at justice metrics, even looking at the United Nations, you know, sustainable development goals, right. Like there is a correlation to capitalism. I'm not an anticapitalist, but I will say that where capitalism is really extractive. Capitalism doesn't actually care about living conditions in poor communities. Capitalism doesn't care about health indicators in poor communities. Capitalism doesn't care about clean water in poor communities. So wherever you have poorer communities around the globe and capitalism is having an impact in those societies, the metrics just get pretty bad, pretty quickly.

Jesse Butts:

And you mentioned a 20 year career before you started your doctoral program. Were you in the finance sector and looking to... maybe not even career wise, but just, you know, intellectually pursue this path? What were you doing work-wise before you started this program?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

So my career has been quite varied, actually. I spent my first years out of college working as a juvenile corrections officer, because I got in trouble with the law when I was in high school, but that's a different story for a different day. Went from being a juvenile corrections officer into the Minneapolis Public Schools. Spent several years in of entered my, what I would call my nonprofit slash ministry part of my career, where I was working at various churches and Christian nonprofit organizations. Ended up having a couple of national roles where I was able to really sort of like go across the whole nation with my, my expertise and my responsibilities. And at the end of all of that, I just felt very empty. I just felt like there's all this activity and all this money flying around and all this Christian jargon flying around. And Black boys still don't graduate in north Minneapolis. And it all just felt very, very empty to me. So the, the last part of my career, the very, very tail end, I was doing corporate consulting for a Fortune 500 financial services company. And that's when my co-founder, Dr. Campbell, and I got together and started dreaming about and thinking about and planning Brown Venture.

Jesse Butts:

As you were kind of wrestling with what you can do about all the inequity and injustice, was the theology program... did you enroll in that too to kind of inform your approach? Or how did that, at least your that time, how did that fit into the inklings of the Brown Venture Group?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

So my graduate studies sort of trajectory made its way through several schools before I completed my doctorate. I spent some time at the University of St. Thomas in an executive MBA program. I spent some time at Fuller Theological Seminary in a global leadership program. I took a couple of courses in strategic leadership and philanthropy and several things. I chose Minneapolis Graduate School of Theology because it had a global worldview and a global focus, and I really wanted a non-Western doctoral program. So I chose that school for that reason. It's exactly what I got. Many of the graduates, most of the graduates are probably from outside of the United States. And one of the best things that's happened to me in the last several years is that my worldview and my theological perspective have been informed by people that are not from the West. I'm getting much more of an Eastern perspective, and it is a radically different theological worldview. Once you take theology from the East where the Bible and its writings originated then from the West, where I feel like we've sort of manipulated and twisted things to fit our agenda.

Jesse Butts:

If you don't mind me asking, like what are some examples of how that Eastern perspective has shifted your theological perspective?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

Well, let me give you one big example. I think this might actually be the primary example. So one of the core values in the East is hospitality, right. Everything is communal and is hospitality driven. A theological worldview from the East is very communal in nature. The Bible was predominantly written to communities not to individuals. What we've done in the West is we've taken a very rugged individualistic approach to scripture and to theology. And, you know, we hear these really, in my opinion, not so theologically sharp statements. Like, If you were the only person on planet earth, Jesus would have died for you. That actually doesn't fit into the worldview nor the narrative of the Bible. It's just something that rugged individualists made up at some point to push a rugged individualist gospel. Salvation in scripture is really a communal event. But in Western society, it is a one-on-one like you and Jesus in a booth having a conversation. I am grateful for my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but it is just the tip of the iceberg of what Christianity is supposed to be. God's concept of justice and community is a word called Shalom, right? Shalom is a word about sort of like what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the beloved community. It is a sense of shared wellbeing, a sense of shared responsibility, communal responsibility. In the West and in America, it's like, I'll get mine, you get yours. And you know, I worked hard to get this, I'm going to keep it. And if you look at many of the nations of the earth, either the top source of revenue in those nations, or one of the top sources of revenue in those nations, is remittances. Family members from abroad, from the diaspora sending money home. That is what I think of when I think of God's sort of way of thinking about justice and community. We're supposed to be responsible for each other. Am I my brother's keeper? Yes. Yes, you are actually your brother's keeper. But in the west, we have gone away from that way of thinking for the most part, and we've tried to satisfy that biblical mandate by doing what, you know, philanthropic stuff. It's just, it's so far from what God originally intended.

Jesse Butts:

I'm hearing so much, you know, when you mentioned shared responsibility, the sense of giving, that sounds like it, it was really informing those early... or like when you were founding Brown Venture Group with, I'm sorry, I forget the, the name of the person that you mentioned.

Dr. Chris Brooks:

Dr. Paul Campbell.

Jesse Butts:

Okay. Were you completing your dissertation at the time that you started this? Just kind of time-line wise, where were you when you were in your theology program and starting the, your firm?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

Yeah, I was in the thick of it. I was doing a lot of research, heads down, reading tons of books., And I, you know, I was in a theology program, but because of the nature of my program, I was reading a lot of books on global economics. And reading 444 page Harvard business books. And combining them with, you know, some of the traditional Kierkegaard and CS Lewis and other, you know, theological works. But I've always leaned into economics for most of my career. I've jokingly called myself a closet economist. And I am, I am definitely not an economist, but I'm really, really interested in and passionate about how money solves problems. Again, I think this is at the heart of the gospel. The heart of the gospel is that God intends for people to have life to the full on planet earth. You can't have life to the full, if you're not making a living wage and able to provide for your family.

Jesse Butts:

Was that one of the key motivators for going into, to venture capital and impact investing? Did that seem the best route to, to get people, to be able to live that full life? Or the best route for you, maybe?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

Yeah, from, from my perspective and I would speak for my business partner, Dr. Campbell, as well. I think we would imagine that the best way to help promote advanced life to the full would be an economic solution that creates enormous amounts of wealth in a very short amount of time. There are, there are several types of business models. Some of them are like lifestyle businesses. Some of them are 10 to 20 year growth models. We're looking for companies that can scale very rapidly. Employ a number of people very rapidly. Create huge economic value very rapidly. And as we invest in founders of color that are employing communities of color, that whole economy that is sort of centered within communities of color produces a completely different result than what we've seen thus far in American history and in Western history. And in some ways in global history. We need brand new economies of scale to emerge in and from communities of color so that those folks have the opportunity to control their own destiny and not be held captive by economic systems that were never built for their success.

Jesse Butts:

Could you talk a little bit about those, those economic systems that were not built for their success? Like what are some of the roadblocks that I might not be thinking about for communities of color as they try to start businesses? Scale businesses?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

So let's just focus on the United States for a brief moment.

Jesse Butts:

Yeah.

Dr. Chris Brooks:

The United States was founded, the economy was founded on stolen land from Indigenous Americans. And free stolen labor on the backs of Black African slaves. An entire economy was built on that. That is now the largest global economy in the world. And what you will find if you do any, even just preliminary research is that those two groups of people on which this economy was scaled are benefiting very little from this enormous global economy. If you look into our founding documents as a nation, you will read that this country was founded exclusively for the benefit of White landowning men. From both of the documentation that undergirds our nation to the actual practices that were prevalent in the very earliest years of this nation, it was never created for people of color, nor women, to own anything or be successful. It was always white landowning men that were supposed to own everything and control everything. If that's the seed you plant, that's the tree you eventually grow 400 years later. So that's the tree that we all live in right now. And Brown Venture Group is trying to help America re-imagine a different root system that would produce a different tree.

Jesse Butts:

When did you found Brown Venture Group? And was it, just timeline-wise was this right after or during the dissertation?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

So Brown Venture Group was founded really sort of like in the middle of my research, my dissertation. I didn't complete my doctorate until 2020. And Brown Venture Group was founded in June of 2018. So I was in the throes of like wrapping up a lot of my research, getting ready to go into committee and get pounded on a little bit, all the things, you know. But this experience of founding a venture capital firm was extremely important to my thesis, my theological premises, my... you know, when I graduated with my undergraduate degree, I viewed the world through a very narrow lens. Then my career sort of beat that out of me. As I watched the Christianity that I had been raised in be impotent to solve some of the most unsolvable problems in America. By the time I got to my doctoral dissertation, I was already basically gone from the theology of my undergraduate degree. Like that stuff just did not work, did not ring true anymore. Founding Brown Venture Group actually concretized and clarified a lot of what I had been thinking. That I was then able to leverage, to complete my doctoral dissertation and bring clarity to what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, which is replace human suffering with human flourishing in Jesus' name.

Jesse Butts:

I can't imagine founding a business and completing a doctoral program simultaneously. I'm kind of curious from like just a practical, logistical perspective, how did you achieve that?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

So I'll also add, before I answer the question, I have a wife of 25 years and four children.

Jesse Butts:

Congratulations.

Dr. Chris Brooks:

So, you know, founding a company. And I wasn't getting paid by the company. So we were doing that in the margins. I had a full-time job, a wife and four kids, and a doctoral dissertation, all of that. So what did it require of me? It required waking up before the sun was up almost every single day and going to bed long after everybody else was in bed almost every single day. It was an extreme sacrifice if you look at it through the lens of sacrifice. But I really see it as like being obedient to my calling. So it didn't feel like labor. It didn't feel like I was doing anything particularly exceptional. It felt like I was being obedient to the call of God on my life. And therefore this, this season of my life, when I was probably the busiest I've ever been is one of the most life-giving seasons I've ever had in my 47 years of life.

Jesse Butts:

Is what you're doing now... does that feel like labor? Or, you know, because mentioned at that point, it didn't feel like labor. It felt like, I'm sorry if I'm mincing your words, but, you know, answering your calling. Is it still feeling like that? Or has there been any kind of shift in that orientation?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

That's a great question. It's definitely labor. Uh, now, you know, now I'm not doing the doctoral program, and I don't have a different full-time job. So really right now it's just like Brown Venture Group full-time plus, and then my family. The laborious part of what's going on inside of Brown Venture Group is really having to interact with systems that were never built for the success of people of color. It is really challenging to get, you know, systems that have a root system of white supremacy to understand why they would ever invest for the flourishing of, of people of color. And it's doubly challenging when those people are Christian and you have an expectation that reading the same scripture and serving the same God, you would have some sort of insider language to convince them. And in the current era of American history, that stuff just doesn't work. The predominantly White conservative church does not seem to care about what's going on in communities of color. Even though, according to my Bible, we're all brothers and sisters in Christ. It just doesn't seem to matter.

Jesse Butts:

You're not seeing this cooperation in a lot of the White Christian communities, conservative Christian communities. Are White, liberal Christian communities living up to this? Or are you experiencing issues in that area as well?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

So, let me give you a term. Let me just do a little bit of wordsmithing with you. I don't think what God requires of his body is cooperation or collaboration. I think that's a really low bar. I think what God mandates and requires is interdependence, right? If one part suffers every part suffers with it. If one part rejoices every part rejoices with it. This is part of the reason why it's so baffling that we can't get the majority of the church in America to suffer with us. Like it just, it, it's, it's, it's unfathomable. In terms of the quote, unquote liberal Christians, I'm not sure that we're getting vastly different results from that group of people, because what you, what you got to understand is that both sides have a lot to, or they feel like they've got a lot to lose economically. If people of color start to rise up. And you know, you can be conservative or liberal, and we have way more liberal people sort of leaning in with us than conservative people, but it's really challenging as a person of color to get either side of the aisle to open up their wallet. In my mind, that's really almost like the final test of whether or not you're actually leaning into racial justice. I wouldn't even call it racial justice. I would call it biblical justice. If you're leaning into biblical justice, there's going to be a cost. And it's highly probable that that cost will be financial as well.

Jesse Butts:

What are you on a day-to-day basis doing at Brown Venture to achieve this biblical justice? And I, I mean, this in kind of just, I'm curious what you, what a venture capitalist actually spends their time doing, but also, you know, if you want to take kind of a loftier angle to that too, I'm curious on both ends.

Dr. Chris Brooks:

So starting very, very lofty. One of the things that we are trying to do is create a new case for human flourishing in the earth. We have to put together, piece together human history and prove that, economics, global economics, has not worked for all communities. Therefore it's not biblically just, right. If one part suffers every part suffers with it. If one part rejoices every part rejoices with it. So building that case, and trying to get a globally united case for investment. I mean, that's, that's pretty lofty, but we're working on that every single day. Tactically, what we do as venture capitalists is we... there, there are two really primary things that we do. Raise and deploy capital. So we spend a lot of our time talking to potential investors or investors. And we spend a lot of our time talking to founders of companies, listening to their ideas, making decisions about whether or not those ideas are investment ready. And-or investment worthy, in terms of what we've decided that we want to make investments in.

Jesse Butts:

You mentioned earlier that you were doing work you, you just weren't, I don't want to misquote you... maybe you know, you weren't feeling fulfilled by. Can you talk a bit about how you made that break? Or any words of advice you might have for, a listener who wants to change the full-time job or go back to school or whatever it is that, you know, pardon the pun, takes a little bit of a leap of faith. How did you personally change directions?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

My answer is true of, of myself. It's true of us as a firm. And I believe it's true of the founders that we make investments in. The foundation of everything is your why. W H Y. You have to be extremely clear and have very, very deep convictions about what you want to do, and why. And if you have a really, really deep, compelling, why, then when the winds start blowing and people disrespect you, and times are tough and, you know, the enemy is attacking, and all the things... you can lean back into your why and say, Yes, I see that the world's falling apart around me, but I am not giving up because the reason I do this really matters. So like at Brown Venture Group we started our company really based off of some very simple data. And the very simple data was that in 2018, when Dr. Campbell and I started, you know, giving some serious thought to this, women in America were getting less than 1% of, of investment in the venture capital industry, a $70 trillion industry at the time, women were getting less than 1%. Black folks in America were getting less than 1%. Latinx folks were getting less than 1%. Indigenous people were basically not even on the map. So if you took Black people, Latinx people, women and indigenous people and put them all into a big ball, less than 5% of venture was going to all of those categories. And not only did Paul and I, Dr. Campbell and I, feel like that was ridiculous. We felt like that was a stench in the nostrils of a holy God. It was deeply theological for us. So we approach our work as we have a theological responsibility, a biblical responsibility to break this unjust system so that God's human flourishing can advance in all communities. So when times get tough, and the wind starts blowing, and people think we're crazy and, you know, investors that make promises, don't keep them. We just remember we're on the side of biblical justice here, and we're gonna keep going.

Jesse Butts:

That figure is so startling to me. When I... when that combined cohort, I believe you said less than 5%?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

Less than 5%. And that includes women who are 50% of the United States population.

Jesse Butts:

I am curious, just going back a little, when you were talking about your Why. I'm curious how, you know, finance became the way to implement your Why? Did you always kind of have a head for numbers? Why are you taking on your mission with finance versus other way?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

So that's a complex question. What I will say is, many of us, maybe most of us in communities of color recognize that despite all of the gains we got from the hard work during the Civil Rights Movement and before, and since really, economics was not correlated as much with some of the political gains and policy gains, and, you know, economics is the final frontier for true equity, true, you know, civil rights. And so when I worked in Minneapolis Public Schools, Hennepin County Juvenile Corrections, the nonprofits sector, the one thing that was always missing were economic solutions that were sustainable, right. Like grant money comes in. Something gets started. There's amazing work going on. Grant money runs out. That thing stops. You hire some amazing people, the funding stops. Those amazing people go do something else. You know, you invest money in a community. That community grows to a point where the folks that live there can't even afford to live there anymore. They get pushed out. All of the arrows pointed very directly to the center of economics. So we knew, just sort of intuitively, that any solution that we proposed would have to have economics at the center and actually would have to have theology at the center. And the second concentric circle outside of biblical theology would have to be economics and economic theology. So we are really, in my opinion, coming from a biblical economic center, looking at life to the full, human flourishing, as God's mandate to his people. And I'll just restate this one more time. Although I've probably said it a hundred ways already. It's it's confounding that people who claim to love Jesus and study his word cannot see that the way that the American church is currently operating is not producing the desired results that God has mandated. It's, it's, it's confounding. I can't understand why it's so hard to make this argument.

Jesse Butts:

When you were talking about answering your calling, do you think that means that you need to, to love the actual work you're doing? Or is it more in your experience, and I mean just speaking for you personally, is it more about loving the goal or the mission and just doing what it takes to, to get there? Like whatever your special talents or experience are and applying those to that, that passion, that mission that you, that you have?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

I have a tattoo on my left bicep. It's the Hebrew word for covenant. Brit. And I have that word tattooed on my left bicep because in my opinion, it is after the names of our God, the most important word in all of holy scripture. I view calling as covenant. My calling does not depend on what I ate for breakfast, whether or not my relationships are going well, where my emotional state is at. A covenant's a covenant. And when I lock in on God's call on my life and I say, Yes, Lord, here am I, send me, I'm establishing a covenant with the Lord. So my pursuit of biblical justice, biblical economic justice, that's a covenant.

Jesse Butts:

How do you describe your relationship to work? How large of a role is it playing in your life now?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

That's a really interesting question. I believe that human vocation is hardwired into human beings by God, right. Tend the garden. So I see it as, you know, part of living an integrated life. Now I'm not on my laptop at 8:00 AM or 8:00 PM when I'm sitting with my family, right? So you have to draw some clear boundaries between the various parts of your life, especially between your vocational life and your avocational family life. But I really do try my best to live an integrated life. So like my family is extremely aware of the work that I'm doing. My children are being raised on the same principles that I wake up and fight for every single day. I am not a different human being in, in any environment. I am the same me at church as I am at a gala as I am in my living room as I am in a boardroom as I am when I'm down at the juvenile detention center counseling teenagers. I'm the same Chris Brooks. Because I believe that that is the only way to actually achieve any mission. You can't have various iterations of yourself. You've got to be you and live a fully integrated life everywhere you go.

Jesse Butts:

What are some questions you would recommend someone who's out of grad school or maybe still in grad school, and they're thinking about ... I know for you, theology is deeply integrated into what you do, but for somebody who has a calling, you know, that's not a clear correlation, at least to them, related to what they studied? You know, what should people kind of at a crossroads, maybe that's the better way to phrase it, be asking themselves to find work or, or that, that vocation that you mentioned, to, to see what they can do, where they can apply their talents?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

I am of the belief that every human being is uniquely created by God, in his image for a specific purpose, which might sound churchy or whatever, but there's only one person who was born in your family of origin, in your birth order, in your community of origin at the exact moment in human history that you were born, that has had your series of life experiences that God has embedded with your passions, your gifts. So every human being is a very unique one of one, and if you don't bring what you've got to the earth, we just don't get it. Nobody else can bring it. There's no other you. So my admonition to every human being, wherever they are is to really lean in to, Why did God place me on Earth for such a time as this? And lean into personality tests and inventories. And interview your parents if they're still alive. And ask them, like, What was I like when I was a kid? Like, what did you notice about me? Interview your spouse, your children, your coworkers, whatever, right? Like figure out to the best of your ability why God has placed you on the earth for such a time as this. And then just take one step at a time. And let God's word be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path. You may not see the entire road, but as long as you're walking where God's leading, every step is guaranteed to be effective.

Jesse Butts:

Were there any important books or lectures or, or anything really, whether, you know, related to theology or not, that helped you find your path that you would recommend to others?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

So many that it's hard to list them. I will say that almost anything that is written or spoken by Mark Charles, an Indigenous theologian, is extremely important. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah has written some books. In fact, Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah coauthored, a book called Something Truths. So they have this book. I wish I had the name in front of me. I wish I hadn't, I didn't know you were gonna ask me that question. And I believe it's called Inconvenient Truths. But they just released it a couple of years ago. It's, it's basically like the real telling of American history. From the founding documents forward. And that stuff has been super helpful. There's a book by an economist named Hernando de Soto called The Mystery of Capital. It's probably the most important book to me after the Bible. He's not a theologian, but it actually does create a theology of the poor and helps me understand that they are not the problem; they're the solution. We like to think sort of from a top-down perspective, like those with all the wealth and money like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, clearly, they're the ones who have the answers. No, every human being bears God's image. So let's listen to the ones that have been marginalized and maybe we can create a better future state of the world. So those have been extremely important. For those, especially that want to lean into stuff related to race. There's this podcast called Black History for White People. It's fantastic. It, it is fantastic and helps. It's really more like from a sociology perspective or an anthropological perspective, but it helps explain some of the thoughts and behaviors in America. And it's not a huge leap to sort of cross reference those with scripture and figure out like some of the things we're saying and doing are definitely not in line with God's will.

Jesse Butts:

I'll admit this is a purely self-interested or selfish question. I'm a 37 year old White man. I've had a lot of advantages for no other reason that I was just born this, this race, you know, this gender, and I'm comfortable in my gender. You know, for people like me who are in this position, where can we start to, to help these marginalized communities? Whether it's, you know, through helping their businesses or some other ways to ensure that they're achieving a living wage and a better quality of life. Like, what are the things that you would recommend people like me be thinking about and doing?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

So my answer's going to be controversial, Jesse. I apologize to you in advance. I don't know that there can be any progress made, especially from white males in America without a root, a taproot of repentance. Even just living and breathing in this society and being okay with the injustices done to women and people of color requires a taproot of repentance, because without that repentance perspective, that posture of repentance, you can read whatever you want. You can make friends of whatever race and gender you want to. Like, you can go hang out in the hood. None of it's going to matter if you don't honestly allow God to break you over the fact that America is a very unjust place when it comes to people of color and women. And it's, it's a challenging journey, but what I will tell you is, for the White men, and there are many, many, many, many of them that I interact with on a regular basis that have leaned in to like, God break my heart for the things that break your heart, like for real. The world that they walk into on the other side of that repentance is just beautiful and has all of the opportunity, even economic opportunity. Most of the world's innovation in the future state of the world will be coming from women and people of color. So. I mean, there's a pragmatic aspect to this, but I think priority before you get to any of the doing, I think there needs to be a really hard conversation between you and God.

Jesse Butts:

Is there a version of that for nonbelievers, atheists?

Dr. Chris Brooks:

That's a really challenging question to ask me. I, I believe that there is. I can't speak from the perspective, for example, of Islam. I don't know what Allah mandates Muslims to do. What the God of the Bible mandates is that you really, really, really pay special attention to the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner. And who are those folks in America today? They're immigrants fleeing persecution, trying to make their way to America. They're single moms who, you know, all the Black men in their community, or some of the Black men in their community, have been killed by the police or locked up because there's a disproportionate targeting of Black men in America. They're the children of those fathers that are incarcerated. Many of them wrongfully incarcerated, who have been, in a sense, orphaned because the state keeps locking up all their dads and uncles. The Bible would tell us as God's people, we better do a... like, pay special attention to them. And I believe that Jesus spends a lot of his time walking along the margins of society. Because they are not the problem, those folks in the margins. They're the solution.

Jesse Butts:

Well, thank you Dr. Brooks for this wonderful conversation. I appreciate your time.

Dr. Chris Brooks:

It's been great talking to you, Jesse. I hope I talk to you again.