Sojourner to Son: Th3 Adopt3d On3
Th3 Adopt3d On3 is a one-man play presented by Jeffrey Brown about his childhood spent in New York City’s foster care system. Jeffrey Brown, 31, was 3 years old when he was taken away from his biological mother and spent the following decade of his life navigating within the foster care system. When I first met Jeffrey at the Artrepreneur Festival in June, he humbly told me the message behind the play was of “peace in accepting the unknown.” I had never been to a one-man show before, and I usually limited those words to a casual phrase with not much thought regarding what it could really be. After watching Th3 Adopt3d On3, I’ll never misuse the term again. The two-hour performance at BKLYN Commons written, produced, recorded and edited by Jeffrey Brown was a deeply emotional, humorous, and engaging creative production that I’ll remember for a very long time.
What I admired most about Th3 Adopt3d On3 was how innovative Jeffrey was in leading the audience through areas of his life that could only be understood if told in his own words in his own unique way. Jeffrey’s ability to use sound, comedy, and imagery to guide the audience through the hurdles of his life was impressive and refreshing to experience. Every scene came with an accompanying original song performed, written and produced by Jeffrey himself. That man hit all the falsetto and bass notes! By using props and clothing Jeffrey transformed into different versions of who he was due to the adversity he faced. Every chapter of his life was narrated by a “new” Jeffrey that emerged with every garment he wore. With these garments, whether a blazer, a red bandana, or even a straight jacket, Jeffrey tapped into our minds and emotions to help us understand his difficult past that was shocking to some, and very familiar to others. Richard*, an audience member who himself is a foster child spoke with me about how Jeffrey’s unique story telling allowed him to reflect on his own experience dealing with survivors guilt knowing not every child is “chosen” like he and Jeffrey were. Jeffrey’s creativity put emotion into words and seized the attention of everyone in the room. His work solidified the importance of telling your story in fullness and in truth and opened the eyes and the hearts of many.
Strength doesn’t come from winning. Strength comes from deciding not to surrender to the pain. Jeffrey Brown used creativity to translate pain into performance and was able to share areas of himself that people are often times silenced by. Jeffrey touched base on very sensitive topics such as domestic violence, substance abuse and sexual abuse and was able to find a balance between comfort and pain using music and humor. In one particular scene, Jeff Brown wears a corduroy blazer and appears to be at a club, buying rounds of shots for himself and others. What appears to be a simple bathroom break turns into to a moment of retrospect as his drunkenness sets in and he looks at himself in a mirror. Because the entire show is set on a 4ft long stage, when Jeffrey looks into the “mirror”, the audience is his reflection staring back at him. As memories of domestic violence abuse replayed in his mind in that bathroom scene, we also heard the simulated sounds of the screams of the victim who had endured the abuse - his mother. The silence of the audience spoke volumes to the conviction I felt, having been under the influence before when my consciousness brings me to a disturbing place. The dazed look in Jeffrey’s eyes as he narrated the dark thoughts of his mind seemed all too real and I later learned that it was real. In a recent interview with What’s a Good Guy? podcast, Jeff reveals how none of his performance is acting and every time he gets on stage, he revisits the trauma of his past. “I’m telling you my life. Its never easy. It’s the same pain every time, it doesn’t get lighter.” Jeffrey’s vulnerability and transparency is the secret weapon that allows the audience and future audiences to bear witness to the strength that is exhibited every time Jeffrey gets on stage.
It’s no secret that the number 3 plays a significant role in Jeffrey’s life. Jeffrey was born on March 3rd, entered the system at 3 years old, placed with 3 different families, adopted at 13 years old into a family with 3 foster siblings, and there we were, seated at the 3rd performance of Th3 Adopt3d On3. It’s only right that this performance would be special. Lily Mae Brown, Jeffrey’s adopted mother housed 12 foster children (1+2=3) and at the 3rd performance of the Th3 Adopt3d On3, Jeff Brown gifted his adoptive mother the “Guardian of the Year” award. Lily Mae Brown spoke about her son with tears of happiness in her eyes saying “You know, I was only supposed to have him for 3 weeks!” Jeff sang to his mother an original “Lily Mae Brown, I love you” selection resemblant of Boyz 2 Men’s “Mama” and he asked the audience to help him sing the tune to the woman who changed him from soujourner to son. Love flowed throughout the room as Jeff fought back tears to describe how important being an advocate for foster children is to him, how passionate he was about giving back and how none of that would be possible if it hadn’t been for the love of Lily Mae Brown.
On David Letterman’s My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with Tiffany Haddish, Haddish shared with Letterman her experience with the foster care system having to migrate from home to home with only a garbage bag of belongings. She spoke of the feelings of worthlessness that felt similar to garbage because she never knew whether or not she would be treated kindly or her living in a safe environment at her new home. Because of this, Tiffany gifts children with suitcases when she makes visits to foster group homes. “When I was 13, I said to myself, if I get any form of power, I’m gonna figure out a way to make sure kids don’t feel like garbage. It’s the worst feeling in the world having to just [relocate with no explanation.”] Jeff takes a similar route of paying it forward by not letting his role of Th3 Adopt3d On3 remain on stage. Jeffrey most recently paid a visit to HeartShare St. Vincent’s as guest speaker at their 2019 stepping up ceremony to speak with foster children about getting accepted into college. What makes this sentimental gesture so important is because HeartShare St. Vincent’s is the very agency that served Jeffrey during his time in the foster system and the recipient of the donations raised at every Th3 Adopt3d On3 performance.
Th3 Adopt3d On3 was a powerful testimony of feeling lost, being found and finally belonging. The third showing of this play was a special one that moved me to tears a few times, and also made me blush with laughter. Seeing Jeffrey on stage, and hearing the great reviews of his friends, colleagues and strangers confirmed that it cannot stop here. With talent like his, I’m not interested in whether or not Jeffrey will be the next Jamie Foxx or Tyler Perry, because I know he’s one of a kind. Changing the adoption narrative from “last choice”, into “first pick” is no easy task, but I’m telling you without a doubt that Jeffrey Brown’s Th3 Adopt3d On3 play is our chosen one to change the game. Congratulations to Jeffrey Brown, can’t wait to see the greatness that lies ahead for you!
Thanks for reading,