February 21, 2012 | Borough of Manhattan Community College
Terry Tom Brown was going through a rough time.
“A guy I dated only for a month,” he recalls, “suddenly stopped returning my phone calls.”
Feeling rejected and confused, Brown channeled his feelings into what he knew best—words.
He submitted an emotional essay about his relationship—well, lack thereof, at the time—to The New York Times’ popular “Modern Love” section.
“I was supposed to be studying,” says Brown, a BMCC graduate. “Instead, I stared at the cracked screen of my cellphone, waiting for a call.”
The bad news? Brown and his ex didn’t reunite. The good news? The New York Times published his essay last fall.
“The New York Times was the first outlet outside of school that published my writing,” says Brown. “It was very validating and reinforced my decision to follow this career path. Additionally, the ‘Modern Love’ section is very popular. To have people write you, and thank you, or to tell you that they connected with your writing, and then share their own stories, is amazing.”
A Long Island native, Brown enrolled at BMCC in 2008 as Liberal Arts major and graduated in 2010. It was at BMCC where he realized he wanted to write professionally.
“I had no idea what to expect,” says Brown, a former makeup artist. “It had been many years since I’d stepped foot on a college campus. I remember sitting in the Murray Building, anxiously wondering if I was too old to go back to school.”
At BMCC, Brown served as editor of Voice of the Voiceless, BMCC’s student-run newspaper.
“Writing for the college paper gave me the opportunity to engage with the diverse types of people who are educated, teach, and work at BMCC,” he says. “It opened me up to different cultures, lifestyles, and ways of thinking. My reporting allowed me to discover everything the school had to offer.”
Mentor and mentee
“English Professor Gary Richards taught me that no matter what your aspirations are for the future, you need to be the person who can accomplish those goals today—live your dreams every day, and the rest will fall into place,” says Brown of his BMCC mentor.
Richards told Brown he “needed to be a writer.”
“I left his class that day, exited the Murray Building, called my mom, and cried because I was so happy,” says Brown. “I have Professor Richards to thank for that feeling; it’s what kept me going ever since.”
Brown’s days of feeling lost and uninspired in the cosmetics industry were over. He had a new, self-fulfilling career path.
“I recognized Terry’s talent, and I’m pleased to learn about his latest achievements,” says Richards of his former English student.
Eye on the literary prize
After graduating from BMCC, Brown received a Phi Theta Kappa scholarship and is currently completing his Bachelor’s degree in English and Comparative Literature, with a focus in Environmental Biology, at Columbia University.
“BMCC and Columbia are in some ways very similar,” says Brown, who is interested in a career in book publishing and continuing to write professionally. “Both schools are incredibly diverse, and have fabulous professors.”
Why study writing and biology? Always fascinated by animals, Brown has worked at The American Museum of Natural History for many years. Fittingly, his national column for The Observer, is called “Love and Other Animals.”
“I’ve been a geese-wrangler with the U.S. Wildlife Service, a butterfly docent at the American Museum of Natural History, and a caretaker for all sorts of exotic animals,” explains Brown. “I enjoy studying animal behaviors and relationships. Writing about animals in a monthly column for The Observer has helped me navigate my own interpersonal relationships.”