Former Dallas police chief David Brown told a crowd at the Hilton Garden Inn on Tuesday night that his mother sacrificed her earnings, forgoing even a car, to send him and his brother to Catholic school, where he learned to read.
It sent him on a course to get a scholarship to college, where his family expected him to be a savior that would get them out of poverty. However, during his senior year, Brown came home to announce he was quitting school to become a poorly-paid Dallas police officer. It was a great disappointment to his parents, but 30 years later, Brown is one of the most widely respected law enforcement officials in the country.
Brown was the keynote speaker for the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce's 127th annual Banquet, which was dedicated to first responders.
Brown was in charge of the Dallas Police Department when, in July of 2016, a sniper killed five officers and injured nine others. A robot armed with explosives eventually killed the perpetrator, Micah Johnson, who investigators said was racially motivated.
Brown said that night, which began with a protest against police, changed his life.
"Each of these officers had wives and children and as chief, I had to console the families," he recalled. Brown said there was an outpouring of support and financial assistance, to the tune of $11 million for the widows, from all over the world after the shootings.
Brown became famous during that event for calming the nerves of the city during a period of intense racial tensions, but he also earned recognition before that for using innovative methods to reduce conflicts between police and civilians. He reduced officer-involved shootings by 40 percent and excessive use of force complaints by 70 percent during his tenure. He recently wrote a book entitled "Called to Rise."
Brown's message on Tuesday was that people of different races and backgrounds can find common ground if they take the time to open up and talk with people who don't look like them.
"Race can be shaped how we want it to be," he said. "Be part of the solution, not the problem. Our democracy works best at the local level."
The other purpose of the evening was to recognize local business leaders.
The Circle of Excellence award went to Neptune Aviation for its high standards of community involvement and social responsibility.
The 2017 George Award went to Tom Severson, an executive at First Interstate Bank in Missoula.
The George Award is the Chamber's highest award given to an individual who has made significant contributions to the community.