Principal Barry Brown uses his life’s story to teach others

Gibbs High School principal Barry Brown spoke at Greater Mt. Zion AME Church earlier this year, revealing how he narrowly avoided becoming a statistic.


ST. PETERSBURG — Gibbs High School principal Barry Brown wants to use his life’s story as an example for today’s youth. Speaking at Greater Mt. Zion AME Church earlier this year, he revealed how he avoided becoming a statistic.

Brown has cultivated an extensive background in education, working in various positions in the Pinellas school system since 1995.

“When I think about education, there are a handful of names that come to mind,” he said. “People that influenced me from the beginning.”

Brown encouraged everyone to recollect a teacher or person who “pushed you to do better or be better in the classroom or as a person.” He praised his late mother as his ardent supporter and someone who thoroughly believed in him, yet he quipped, “Although she didn’t believe anything I said when it came to school and the teachers!”

Brown said he’ll never forget the impact some of his teachers had on him, especially since he had no father in his life during those years.

“[They] served as my daily examples of educated, strong Black men,” Brown stressed. “In the school system, I ask God daily to help me to be to the scholars I oversee today what they were for me.”

As educators, parents, relatives, and caregivers, we must remember that our work with our scholars isn’t always evident immediately, and sometimes we don’t see it, he remarked. 

“But that doesn’t mean that we did not impact their lives,” Brown said.

Tracing his journey, Brown said he “tore middle school up” at Azalea and still hadn’t settled down in his first two years of high school. While excelling on the basketball team during his junior year, a college scout came to see him. The scout “laughed at my grades,” Brown recalled. He became better at his schoolwork with support from caring teachers and mentors.

“After that visit, I got nothing less than a ‘B’ from that point on,” he said. “Prior to that visit, I did just enough to be eligible.”

After basketball season during his senior year, Brown said Jacksonville University offered him a basketball scholarship. 

“Unfortunately, outside of school, I was still lost,” he revealed. “Entrenched in my neighborhood life in Childs Park, looking for acceptance and approval, constantly trying to show my loyalty to my neighborhood — the same struggles our students have right now.”

One night at a party in Bradenton, he fired a gun into the air and was accused of shooting someone. Brown was arrested at Lakewood High the next week, made the news, and spent the next 55 days in the Manatee County jail. When his back was against the wall, Brown sought help from the Lord.

“Funny thinking about it now,” he recalled. “I was so bad in the streets, but when I was locked up, I was praying every day.”

He passed the time by reading the Bible and musing on how important freedom was to him. Upon his release from the county jail, Brown was denied participation in graduation and lost his scholarship to Jacksonville University as the charges against him were still pending. His coach secured him scholarships at other schools, and although the charges were still pending, he could attend and play for St. Petersburg Junior College.

“What God has in store, man can’t take away,” he said.

With the help of an investigator sent by the Jacksonville University coach and Brown’s public defender, the truth about that night in Bradenton came to light, and eventually, the serious charges were dropped, though he was charged with unlawful discharge of a firearm, among other minor charges. At the time, those charges were first-degree misdemeanors, but today they are considered felonies with mandatory prison sentences.

Consequently, Brown was given three years probation, 300 community service hours and four weekends in the Manatee County jail. In May 1991, he graduated from St. Pete Junior College with an associate degree and was awarded a full basketball scholarship to Jacksonville University. On the third day of practice at JU, Brown fractured his elbow, putting him out for the entire season.

He returned the next two years and graduated in 1994 with a bachelor’s in Sociology, then eventually returned to Pinellas to look for work. He discovered, however, that because of his record, many places refused to hire him.

His best friend got him a job as a substitute teacher, and in 1995 he began teaching at Boca Ciega High. Brown has been in the Pinellas County School system ever since, with seven years as an instructor, eight years as an assistant principal and 13 years as a principal.

“Who would’ve thought that I would be here, responsible for the education of our youth, considering my history?” he said.

As we continually face injustice and inequalities in our neighborhoods, the justice system and schools, Brown said, we cannot allow those pitfalls and roadblocks to be the narrator of our stories. He urged parents to start their children on the path of education early.

“The earlier you build their literacy confidence,” he said, “the more successful they will be. We must also be engaged as parents. When the school calls, partner with them to do what’s best for our scholars. It does take a village.”

Brown said in conclusion that the educational freedom of scholars requires truth, sacrifice, selflessness, love, commitment, determination, passion, intensity, loyalty, and grace.

One Reply to “Principal Barry Brown uses his life’s story to teach others”

  1. Marilyn Bell says:

    What an amazing article about Barry Brown. I worked for him for a few years and they were some of the most successful years in my teaching career. He was an amazing man of God and principal. Congratulations for always giving to our youth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

scroll to top