“There’s no place like home:”  Ambassador Council member Christopher Brown writes on the hope built into every Habitat home

Christopher Brown, third from right, joins his Ambassador Council working at the Alder Commons build site in Hillsboro.

As a second-generation Portlander, my affinity for this city runs deep. And while some of those reasons are related to things like my family, the summer months, and the food scene, my deepest sense of gratitude comes from the fact that it was here that my love of jazz was first nurtured. 

For had it not been for the community of peers and elders who taught me how to play, I wouldn’t have had the experiences that I’ve had over the years, which include 13 years of living and working in the NYC area; international tours; two music degrees; extra work in big budget films with Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, and Richard Dreyfus; music videos with Beyonce and Damian Lillard; commercial work for Master Card and the Discovery Channel; a 20-year music career in the military between the Marines and Army National Guard; and current teaching appointments at Portland State and the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. 

With all of that said, it’s pretty evident that music has and continues to be a central focus in my life. However, I was told years ago that “sometimes the thing that brings you to the thing, won’t be the thing that makes you stay.” So, while the fun of music is what captured my attention as a child, it has been my ability to add value to businesses, organizations, and individual people through music that serves as my “why” today. 

The fact that I now sit on the Ambassador Council for Habitat for Humanity Portland Region is rather fitting. And what’s great about my connection with Habitat is that I get to stay rooted in my strength zone of music-making to advance Habitat’s mission. In fact, I’m proud to say that it was because of music and my ability to connect well with others that I was able to secure a last minute $10,000 donation in late December to help our Ambassador Council exceed our $100,000 goal for 2023. 

I’m writing this because as an ambassador for both jazz and Habitat, I hope to show you where the two meet in the middle, and hopefully create more interest in both. 

Christopher Brown said that one of the best decisions he’s ever made was combining his musical talents with Habitat’s work.

Without getting too technical, know that 99% of all Western music hinges upon a type of harmonic progression that when played creates a feeling that we musicians refer to as “home.” So just like there are plot twists in movies to help hold our attention, the manipulation of harmony serves the same function. And it does so by playing with your expectation for when and how you expect to hear the music make its way “home” (such as at the end of a song). In the same way that going home feels so good after a long day at work, in jazz, the payoff of making the listener work to follow us around harmonically before letting them in the “house,” always makes the wait feel that much more impactful. 

Another aspect of home that connects music to Habitat is the idea of an inspired environment. As we know, the seeds of creativity aren’t harvested in a vacuum. They grow to the degree that the soil in which they’re planted will allow. I was fortunate enough to have grown up in a home with all the comforts I needed, which let me stay focused on my dreams of becoming a professional musician.

This is the condition we aim to cultivate for every Habitat homebuyer, the ability to do more than survive, but to thrive. 

As a second-generation homeowner who inherited the home that I grew up in, I know first-hand how much I and my career as a musician have benefitted from the intergenerational wealth transfer that occurred between the passing of my mother in 2011 and me taking over my childhood home. But even well before that, as a child, I had the privilege of not being one of those kids who had to keep moving every few years because their family couldn’t afford to stay in one location for any length of time. I got to experience a childhood that went largely uninterrupted. And so now, I get to experience the benefit of allowing my music to “breathe.” In other words, I now have the luxury of saying no to opportunities that I don’t think are the best use of my time—which of course, stands in stark contrast to all the times in the past where I had to say yes to make my ends meet. 

In a similar way, Habitat is about so much more than building affordable homes. Habitat is about HOPE. Hope in the idea that when a family enters a Habitat home, they’re afforded the space to create a life that may or may not have felt accessible before. To say yes to new opportunities and chart their own course. Because the lost potential of one is a loss for us all, and every one of us benefits when each of us succeeds. 

In closing, I leave you with a quote by the great jazz musician Charlie Parker, who said “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” In other words, if systemic changes are always an inside-outside job, it’ll always be easier to provide transformative solutions for others when we ourselves have been transformed. Habitat has transformed, and countless others, through its work. So, if you’re not currently involved with any aspect of the work that we do at Habitat, I encourage you to get involved, individually or as a group, as volunteers, as a Playhouse or event sponsor, and even on the Ambassador Council, like myself. Explore all of the ways in which you might be transformed — and transformative — by combining your unique talents with Habitat’s work. Speaking for myself, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, as I’m forever changed because of it. 

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