Paris: A Personal Journey
Christian Brown, 25, is an entrepreneur on a personal journey to find his best self. On January 8, 2022, he boarded an airplane at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport in Georgia, and landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport in France, 15 miles northeast of Paris. For centuries, Paris has seduced many, and Christian has been under the city’s spell since visiting for the first time in 2016, one of three trips he would make to Paris.
In 2018, 40 million tourists visited the City of Light, or in French, “La Ville Lumière.” Today, Christian (also known as Visionary Ceej) lives in the city on a special French Tech Visa, the fast-track way for non-EU startup founders to obtain a residence permit for France. “I want to be the James Baldwin for technology,” says Christian. “He disrupted things and made timeless art.”
After graduating in 2014 from Grayson High School in Loganville, Georgia, about a 39-mile drive east of Atlanta, where he was the starting point guard on the basketball team, Christian enrolled in Kennesaw State University, a college with two metro Atlanta campuses and nearly 43,000 students.
I was forced to find my path.
College was liberating for Christian. As a young impressionable teenager—like millions of students before him—he began hanging around with the wrong people and partying.
During his freshman year, his best friend was the “biggest drug dealer on campus. I happened to fall into that life as well, drugs, parties, women.” That same year, he hosted a party for his birthday and was arrested for illegal possession of alcohol. This was one of his first big mistakes that would have direct consequences and send him spiraling down the wrong path.
Without the proper focus and guidance, Christian was on the wrong path. In Kanye West’s song Jesus Lord, he says, “Man, it’s hard to be an angel, when you surrounded by demons (Jesus).” This was Christian’s predicament.
During his sophomore year, his off-campus apartment was raided and one of his roommates was arrested. Reflecting on the experience, he realized he could have lost his life, after those two run-ins with the police. “That’s when I had to change my environment and my mindset,” said Christian. He had learned that with personal freedom comes responsibility.
“Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch,” said James Baldwin. Christian was forced to find a new crowd, if he wanted to free himself from the negative environment and find a new path.
He dropped out of college and moved in with his friends, who were business students at Georgia State University (GSU). He kept hearing the word “entrepreneur.” This led him to an awakening. He started seeking people who looked like him and were entrepreneurs.
The word entrepreneur wasn’t in my vocabulary.
His GSU friends would inspire him to start a business called “Healthy Comfy Living,” which sold baby products produced by a Chinese manufacturer that Christian had contacted. Using his contacts and social media skills, the business grew. He would sell this business and move on to the next opportunity.
Looking back, “In high school, I didn’t know what the word entrepreneur meant,” says Christian. “The word entrepreneur wasn’t in my vocabulary.” Trial and error were his teachers.
Spread Your Wings
Christian saw his friends traveling, so he wanted to try it. He went to Paris in 2016 and was hooked. To feed his new travel habit, he got a job with Delta Airlines. The plan was to use the “best flight benefits ever.” It was time for Christian to spread his wings.
The idea of being a modern-day explorer was exciting. “It’s funny, because when I was growing up, I didn’t have the dream of traveling. After that first trip, I fell in love with being a stranger in a strange land.”
Over the next year, Christian would visit 15 countries, including France (twice), Nicaragua, China, the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Dominican Republic, the Netherlands, and Senegal. Hands down, he says, “Senegal is the best one on the list.” He was in his early twenties during this travel phase and loving life.
In Senegal, he admired the amount of hustle in the people. But the happiness that he witnessed on the people’s faces didn’t match their environment. Christian says, “I couldn’t imagine myself being that happy in an environment like that, a poor country.” One valuable lesson he learned was that “Happiness is in the mind and the heart. Your environment is your environment; it shouldn’t make up who you are.”
Podcasting & Publishing
After this wanderlust was satisfied, at least for the moment, Christian felt he was ready to return to college in 2018. It would not be easy to create a positive path forward and avoid the problems of his past. “I knew I needed a mentor, but I didn’t know how to get one,” says Christian. He started looking for a mentor in 2018.
After taking a year off from school, his first class was Entrepreneurship 1101. Mike Russell, advisory board chair of the university’s Entrepreneurship Center, was the guest speaker. During the class break, Christian asked Mike to be his mentor, and Mike agreed.
What I realized was, it wasn’t just me mentoring him, it was us mentoring each other,” stated Mike.
“It was an opportunity for Christian to learn, bounce ideas off of someone, and it became a long-term relationship,” says Mike. “We set goals and KPIs (key performance indicators), which helped Christian realize his true passion.”
Mike suspected Christian’s true passion was writing, among other things. “At the beginning his primary goal was making money as quickly as possible. When he realized that wasn’t an option, we focused on his true passion and helped develop skills around that.”
“What I realized was, it wasn’t just me mentoring him, it was us mentoring each other,” stated Mike. “Christian helped me create my legacy.” Mike became the founder and Chairman of ETS Foundation in Kennesaw, Georgia, which was formed to help underprivileged people with educational expenses.
One reason this new relationship worked is because both are men of faith, with an emphasis on family. Referring to Christian, Mike says, “He’s a family man. I got a chance to meet his family and have dinner with them.”
Christian quotes Proverbs 11:14: “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” Christian adds, “Relationships are so powerful.” His relationship with Mike would pay off in many ways but it was not transactional. It was based on mutual interest. Christian met with Mike every week for the next two years. Mike observes, ” Christian has great ambition. He’s a quick learner--just a true good overall person. And he’s a hard worker.”
While in college, Christian started the podcast, “Your Visionary Podcast” in late 2018. The purpose of the podcast was to educate, inspire and motivate young adults. He describes himself as a “visionary,” using his travel experience, creativity, and knowledge of technology and business to make a positive, sustainable impact on the lives of others.
In its third season, the podcast has 50 episodes, with titles that range from “How to Identify Your Gift,” to “How to Overcome Writer’s Block in 3 Steps,” to “Taking the Leap of Faith, From Corporate Executive to Successful Entrepreneur.” Christian was able to garner over 2,500 subscribers within the first six months of launching, utilizing a social-media strategy.
Christian was never far from his journey and writing when he traveled. With so many new experiences, sights, sounds, smells, stories, and learning, he had lots to write about, turning his travel writing into two books: 1) Blue Dreams, about his travel to the Bahamas and 2) Negus, about Nicaragua.
Christian was 21 when he published his first book of poetry. Since then, he has published a total of three books; his publishing company has released eight books for clients, including 70 50 10: The Journey to an Entrepreneurial Legacy, a story about Mike Russell, his former boss and mentor.
Perhaps his idol had rubbed off on him. James Baldwin said, “Well, I had said that I was going to be a writer, God, Satan, and Mississippi notwithstanding, and that color did not matter, and that I was going to be free. And, here I was, left with only myself to deal with. It was entirely up to me.”
The Next Journey
No matter where you are, you can’t run from yourself because your psychological baggage comes with you. Christian has lived many lives, from nearly scoring a perfect score on his SATs, to college dropout, to college graduate, to world traveler, to writer, to podcaster, and publisher.
I think it’s cool that the topic of mental health is being talked about more now, says Christian
Christian’s issues took a toll on his mental health. Professional athletes are starting to acknowledge the mental health challenges they face, like NBA players Ben Simons, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Lover and World Champion and Olympic gold medalist gymnast, Simone Biles. “I think it’s cool that the topic of mental health is being talked about more now,“ says Christian. He still feels there’s more room to eliminate the stigma.
Therapy to learn about his past behavior in relationships was necessary for Christian. He said, “Therapy helps to dissect the past.” He went through that process for a year in 2020. “It helped me so much with my mind,” says Christian.
In the future, his plan is to launch his mental health and wellness app, Blemish, “to build imperfect people for a better tomorrow.” The target audience is ages 13 to 30. According to him, this product is in the early stages and could evolve.
After Christian earned his degree in entrepreneurship in 2019, Mike Russell at ETS Solutions created a marketing position for him. He would work there for just under two years. Paris was calling again.
Like floating messages in bottles across the ocean, searching for anyone to read them, Christian began reaching out toward the end of his college career to people in Paris who were in the entrepreneurship space. He was looking for a way to get to Paris, even by teaching English or a graduate program. Most messages went unanswered.
One of his messages connected with a woman in the American Embassy in France. She provided information about Viva Technology, Europe’s biggest startup and tech event, which Christian could attend online. This would be how he would get to Paris, as an entrepreneur. The rest is history.
Christian’s life has taken more twists and turns than the Tour De France going through the mountain stages. He’s undeterred. “What inspires me to get out of bed is the opportunity every day to do something great,” Christian states. “There’s something about this city that inspires me. I think as a writer, it inspires me first because it’s like a writer’s paradise. I want to live in Paris and just write.”
His advice is concise: “Focus a lot less on how and lot more on who you need to connect with. Ask the question, “Who has done what you’re trying to do?” As his LinkedIn profile indicates, “You’re just one connection away.”
Purpose, intentionality and relationships are three words that are common themes in Christian’s life. The road ahead will be certainly difficult, like trying to avoid potholes after a long Connecticut winter, but Christian is too focused on the present and his future to backtrack.
Anthony Price is an entrepreneur, writer and publisher of Mini Books, concise stories for people who are curious about the world.