Erick “the Dream Giver” Brown says he’s been spreading dreams and trying to make the world a better place for as long as he can remember. As part of his mission to visit various street papers across the country, Brown’s travels have brought him to Seattle, where he’s been working as a Real Change Vendor for the past month.
“I believe that everybody has a greater purpose, and [I want to] help [them] find their happiness,” Brown said. “Everybody’s searching for their own happiness in their own unique and beautiful way. Regardless if you’re rich or poor, we all need to find happiness.”
As part of his mission to tell people’s stories, Brown has been posting about his journey to his YouTube channel, which has racked up more than 6,600 subscribers and 700,000 views. Recently, he made videos about Real Change’s advocacy and the Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day at Washington’s state capitol in Olympia.
Before joining Real Change, Brown worked for Groundcover News in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where in addition to selling the paper, he also wrote three opinion articles. His travel plans will take him to Arizona, where he will continue documenting the work of grassroots street papers.
For Brown, the importance of local news is personal. Growing up in Destin, a small city on the Florida panhandle, he’s always been concerned with making a difference. He experienced discrimination and bullying due to his disabilities, which led him to advocate for the most marginalized people in his community.
At 16 years old, Brown launched a nonprofit organization called the Rock Club Foundation, which was dedicated to creative, arts-based activism. He would frequently butt heads with Destin officials over the city’s lack of support for homeless residents. Despite these challenges, Brown went on to organize an annual protest march and even founded a community garden to support unhoused people’s self-sufficiency.
Brown’s work in food justice inspired him to start a landscaping company and get a pygmy goat named Deer to help clear weeds. After his landlord said he couldn’t keep the goat on his property, he decided to pack up his bags and travel the country.
Brown and his beloved companion soon became a media sensation, and he started being recognized as “the goat guy.” At that point, Brown launched his YouTube channel and tried to leverage his platform to advance his activism work.
He ended up settling in Detroit, which he viewed as full of opportunity. Brown compares the city to an anarchy Minecraft server: a place where people can be fully creative but also where crime and vandalism went unaddressed.
Soon after his arrival to Detroit, tragedy struck. One day in 2019, Deer went missing. Police told him they found the goat dead and, to this day, Brown doesn’t know who the culprit was. He said he doesn’t trust the police, who he feels never supported him and Deer.
Brown said the loss of Deer left him reeling.
“For many years, I’ve been trying to figure out who I am,” he said. “Because I dedicated my name, who I was. Everything I built for the last five years was all centered around that goat.”
Brown said it was heartbreaking to not only experience the loss of Deer but also see that his community didn’t rally around him in his time of need. It made him feel that so much of the support he received was conditional.
“I left Detroit with nothing — without [even] a way to identify myself — and hoping that the community will support me to help get me back on my feet,” Brown said. “It seemed just like the community [had] forgotten about me. Because it wasn’t about me, it was about the goat, and I’m just a ghost.”
Even after experiencing hardship and betrayal, Brown said he was still able to find his core purpose of helping others.
“It took a lot of soul searching for me to realize it was never about the goat. It was always about spreading dreams and making the world a better place,” he said. “And realizing that even though you have a new chapter in your life and you lose something in your life, it’s always a time to look forward to something bigger and better.”
Brown found his voice again in the cause of journalism and storytelling. He uses voice dictation software and ChatGPT to write articles and accommodate his disability and continues to frequently post to YouTube. He said ordinary people like himself can help fill the gap left by the shuttering of many local papers.
“It’s really awesome learning how to tell not only my story, but the stories of others, the stories of the community, what’s happening in the community,” Brown said.
Brown said he has so much more to learn and that his journey with storytelling has just begun. He has future plans to revive the Rock Club Foundation to be a forum for creative people who want to make a difference in the world.
“My personal goal is to just help people realize their passions,” Brown said.
Erick Brown’s badge number for Venmo payments is 14931. Find him on YouTube at youtube.com/@Erickthedreamgiver.
Read more of the Feb. 7–13, 2024 issue.