Mike Brown graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2001 as the first black student-athlete to portray the Notre Dame Leprechaun. Since leaving campus, Brown has served the University as Director of the Monogram Club Board of Trustees from 2010 to 2013 and as Director of Young Alumni on the Board of Trustees of the Alumni Association of 2005 to 2008. He completed his degree in Management Information Systems and currently works at the University as the Regional Director of Athletic Advancement.
This slice of Signed, the Irish is part of a year-long celebration honoring Thompson’s legacy and the extraordinary contributions of our Black student-athletes.
“You have blue and gold blood like everyone else.”
These are the words my former cheer coach, Jonette “Coach Jo” Minton, shared in a one-on-one meeting after being named the next student to serve as Notre Dame’s Leprechaun mascot, and the first black student to portray the role.
Those words have stayed with me as a reminder every time I walk into a room or situation.
I am here.
I belong here.
As I reflect on celebrating more than 75 years of black students at Notre Dame, of course I think of Frazier Thompson. He was the first black graduate of the University of Notre Dame in 1947. I arrived on campus as a wide-eyed freshman 50 years later. I am extremely grateful to him and to the many people who paved the way for me to be there.
I believe everyone has their own personal journey at Notre Dame and within any community they may be part of. The more we welcome the value each person brings to the community and increasingly create a community of diverse backgrounds and experiences to feel included, the more that community will be enriched.
Overall, my experience as a student at Notre Dame has been overwhelmingly positive. I was challenged and experienced significant growth in all aspects of my life, but it was not like that for everyone and, in particular, for many black students and other undergraduates. represented within the ND community.
Many of my black friends were in the library asking to show their student IDs as proof of membership.
Many also tricked people into thinking they were at Notre Dame because they played varsity sports.
I’m from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and I was planning on going to Marquette University until I met a Domer from the class of 1983, Mike Peterson, when I was in high school. in high school.
Once he learned more about me, he asked if I had considered going to Notre Dame. I had never thought about it and honestly, I didn’t know where the school was. He insisted that I apply and when I was accepted, I made the decision to decline a full scholarship to Marquette and went with my heart, which for some reason was with Notre Dame.
I hadn’t visited the school, I would eventually have to take out student loans, as well as find a job to afford it, but that’s where my heart was.
Even though I didn’t know anyone in ND, I dove in head first.
I joined the gospel choir, played intramural football, started a new step club, took part in new activities like inner tube water polo, broomball and ultimate Frisbee in the first two years there.
Then, in the spring of my second year, I wasn’t accepted into a study abroad program in London…which unknowingly paved the way for me to try and serve as a Leprechaun, thanks at the insistence of my dorm mates.
I entered the process with nothing to lose and thought I would do it for fun. I felt like my tryout went well, but I wasn’t 100% sure they would let a black guy do that.
During the interview process, I was asked if I still wanted to play the part if they put a head on the mascot (the Leprechaun doesn’t wear headgear like most others do).
While I said yes, inside I was furious and thought to myself, “the first black person is called the Leprechaun, and they decided to put a head on the mascot? Surely not!”
I knew it wasn’t going to go well, so I didn’t focus too much on it and just left the trial knowing that I had done my best.
When I was named Leprechaun, I invested everything in the role, focusing on bringing energy, passion, and spirit to every game, event, etc.
I never tried to be like the other Leprechauns. I had no gymnastics background, had only recently learned the Fight Song and the Alma Mater, and didn’t know much about ND football history. But I knew I had energy, spirit and passion – as well as a love for this university – I knew I belonged in the role.
Friends told me there were people in the stands making derogatory comments about a black person in the role, but luckily no one directly yelled at me or confronted me about it .
This has not been the experience of all Leprechauns.
Since then, we’ve had two additional black students and two women in this role, and while most people were receptive to it, there were still some who were/weren’t. But like all Leprechauns before them, they each brought something special to the role and enriched the experience of Notre Dame family and friends.
Through it all, I encourage us to appreciate the gifts each person brings to the community.
I encourage us to continue to make conscious efforts to ensure decision-making and learning rooms are filled with people from diverse backgrounds.
I encourage us to continue to focus on doing our best to use our gifts to make a difference in our global and local communities – and to anyone reading this five, ten or fifty years from now, always remember “You have blue and gold blood like everyone else.”
I’m glad you’re here and thank you for enriching our community.