IRIS MAN – SCOTT BROGAN
Photography and Interview by Dustin Mansyur | Styling by Marc Sifuentes | Art Direction by Louis Liu
Scott Brogan is an outlier of altruistic intention with an optimism that radiates from his aura. His ability to lead with a passionate confidence is always tempered with a sensitivity towards those whom he is leading. Perhaps it is because his focus is outward, directed with goal for the betterment of many, not just himself.
After spending a decade of his professional life as a political consultant, in 2005 Scott founded his non-profit, Brilliant Lecture Series, to enhance the lives of Houston’s youth and community. With its mission to educate, inspire and entertain, Brilliant Lectures Series works to provide transformational experiences by generating new ideas through lectures, direct in-school and exchange programs, and cross-cultural opportunities. By presenting national and international leaders, humanitarians, philanthropists, artists, authors, entertainers and entrepreneurs, the non-profit brings the stories and lives of aspirational role models to a wide and diverse audience through its unique programming.
Since its inception, the organization has presented over 94 luminaries, including Queen Noor of Jordan, President Mikhail Gorbachev, Dame Julie Andrews, Maya Angelou, Lauren Bacall, Sidney Portier, Betty White, Joan Rivers, Diane Keaton, George Clooney and Diana Ross to name a few. Reaching more than 105,000 patrons through its Conversations with Brilliance series, and millions more through digital media, the program hosts someone “brilliant” who will take the audience through his or her life, always followed with a question and answer session. The events, which are open to the public, provide an opportunity to have insider access and individual dialogue with extraordinary leaders for those in the community who cannot afford to take part in the world of private receptions and galas. Recordings of the events are made available to local schools, hospitals, and organizations for research and educational purposes.
Committed to bolstering today’s youth, Brill Talks, one of the organization’s programs, focuses on engaging middle and high school students through direct, interactive learning experiences with local, national, and international members of society. Students are able to learn and become inspired from the life experiences shared by such leaders who speak to them about their own journeys in life and what has compelled them to reach their heights of success. With its goal to have open dialogue designed to improve interpersonal relationships and build cross-cultural understanding amongst students, Brill Talks motivates students to stay true to their dreams and set goals for themselves, while making a difference not only for themselves, but also for their communities, locally and globally.
Here Iris Covet Book, had a chance to catch up with the man who is as “brilliant” as his brainchild.
How long have you lived in Houston and what were you doing before you began your non-profit?
I’ve lived in Houston since graduate school – going on 25 years. Houston is an exciting and international city that I am proud to call home. Before founding Brilliant Lecture Series, I had a political consulting firm focusing on targeting and strategy for political campaigns.
What inspired you to create the Brilliant Lectures Series?
I founded Brilliant in 2005 at a time when nothing like it existed in Houston. So many times when iconic, positive role models come to Houston, they appear at very expensive events that are not realistic for most people’s budgets.
I wanted to provide a way for everyone to be able to see and hear these remarkable people. Our tickets begin at $25 to help make them accessible to nearly everyone.
What it is the mission and vision of your organization?
The mission of the Brilliant Lecture Series is to educate, inspire and entertain by presenting national and international leaders, role models, philanthropists, artists, humanitarians, performers, authors, and entrepreneurs to the great city of Houston.
How is your organization giving back to the community? What kinds of community outreach programs has it created?
We provide affordable tickets many times further discounted through various collaborations with other non-profit organizations in the community. We gift hundreds of complimentary tickets throughout the year to various groups and individuals that are uniquely impacted by the philanthropic interests of our speakers and artists.
Because George Clooney is very involved with helping resolve the genocide in Sudan, we invited all Sudanese refugees living in Houston and their families to join our Conversation with George Clooney. For our Conversation with Sidney Poitier, we provided complimentary tickets to students from 100 Black Men and College Connections so they were able to share this once in a lifetime experience with an American legend.
Why do you value this cause or feel personally connected to it?
Over and over I have seen first-hand the impact the programs have on people of all ages and backgrounds. One grandfather brought his grandson to see Sidney Poitier. I was able to provide an opportunity for them to meet. The grandfather was sobbing with gratitude. Sir Sidney was able to put into elegant words the importance of having dreams, persistence and patience that his grandfather was not able to articulate for his grandson. It was a moment I will never forget.
Who have been some of your favorite celebrities to collaborate with?
That’s a tough question. Her majesty Queen Noor was our very first program so this one certainly means a lot to me. She is a smart, thoughtful and elegant lady born in New York who married a king. She has used her position to make a tremendous difference on issues from women’s rights to Middle East peace. I admire her a great deal. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were fascinating. Listening to their stories of Watergate and current political affairs from their very unique perspectives, shed new light on the important issues facing our country and the world.
I was asked to host George Clooney for his first program like this in North America. He is funny, smart and an all-around class act. We had some very enthusiastic fans that were convinced I could help make them Mrs. Clooney.
Why do you think it’s so important to share the stories of these individuals in the format that you do?
People come to each program with a very personal relationship with the speaker and how he or she has touched their life. Though they are the most famous people in the world, I try to provide a safe and comfortable platform for them to share the journey of their life – the ups and downs. Our speakers were not born into their fame or positions of influence. As they peel back the public persona in front of the audience and share stories not often shared publicly, people relate to them in ways they never thought possible.
Has there been any celebrity whose story surprised you?
I had the honor of hosting my friend Dr. Maya Angelou twice to sold out programs. With her majestic and powerful voice, she told her story. She spoke in 7 languages, sang, recited her poetry and spoke to each person’s soul like an old, treasured friend. The audience sat in deafening silence as she shared in brutal honesty her challenging childhood and sang with her in unbridled enthusiasm. Her words echoed through the huge theater and cathedral electrifying everyone with humility, grace, compassion and hope like only she could deliver. She used no notes or teleprompters. She sat alone in a regal purple dress urging everyone to rise – rise to fulfill their greatest potential.
Does the money you raise only benefit Brilliant Lectures or do you partner with synergetic charities?
We always partner with other local non-profits whose mission compliments the speaker’s message. I always want Brilliant to be a vehicle that amplifies the good work of other charities and schools in Houston so the impact of our work continues for many, many years. I believe that if charities work together more and compete less with each other, more can be accomplished and lives can be bettered.
Any upcoming Brilliant Lectures programs that you are excited about?
We are working on several exciting projects including Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cicely Tyson, Amal Clooney and the Vienna Boys Choir.
Do you have any personal experiences with the children who are benefitting from your organization that have been touching or uplifting for you?
I took twelve students to Amman, Jordan at the invitation of Her Majesty Queen Noor. The students lived in a boarding school with students from around the world for a week. The personal and cross-cultural experience for these lucky students was life changing. On the last day of the trip, all the students in the school created a large circle. Each student tossed the ball of yarn to another student as they shared a personal gratitude to the other student. At the end, every student was symbolically connected to each other in a web of yarn – there was not a dry eye in the room.
These are the future leaders of the world who now share a common thread through the global impact of the Brilliant Lecture Series.
How can others get involved or donate to your cause?
Ticket sales only pay for 40% of our annual budget so we rely heavily on support from individuals, foundations and companies to sustain our work. No contribution is too small. We encourage everyone to pay it forward so we can continue to bring the most influential and inspiring people to our great city. For sponsorship and VIP opportunities, visit our website at BrilliantLectures.org.
What advice have you received that has helped you navigate the process of forming a non-profit and developing it into a successful community asset?
This is a very timely question. Very few founding directors of major non-profits are still alive. There are thousands of charitable organizations with executive directors who do an amazing job as custodians of someone else’s dream but there are very few who have started these successful groups from ground zero. Every triumph and error is a teachable moment and I’m always learning.
How do you envision Brilliant lectures growing or evolving in the future?
You have to think big to be big. I want our programs to reach an even larger audience from around the world. As we boldly lean into our second decade, I will expand Brilliant to other platforms to reach millions of people around the world.
I also want to present speakers that never or rarely speak unscriptedly in public so the audience truly has an experience like no other. I am frequently told that an idea I have is impossible – that it is never going to happen. If I can dream it, it is possible and that’s exactly what I intend to keep doing.
What makes you feel confident / powerful?
Faith. I’m convinced that everyone can feel confident regardless of their circumstances with faith. Faith in a higher power, in mankind and most importantly in yourself. It can uplift the most desperate and frustrating of experiences.
We are not created weak or intimidated or fearful. These are temporary states of the mind. They are learned emotions that everyone has the strength to overcome. I feel confident knowing I am the only ‘me’ that will ever be created and my capabilities are as limitless as my mind, my imagination and determination will take me.
Define what success means to you?
I think everyone struggles with defining success for themselves. Success is being able to look back at the totality of my life and know that the world is a better because I was here. Some of the saddest people I’ve met have more money and influence than many people can ever dream of. Money, alone, does not make for a successful life. I have great enthusiasm for my work and I believe success and satisfaction come when your passion and your profit collide.
When I speak to students, I always encourage them to find their passions first – happiness and comforts will come. Being bold and confident to take the leap of faith to follow your passions can be the hardest step of all. But the rewards are beyond measure.
What has been your greatest fear (or challenge) that you have overcome?
I always try to approach challenges as temporary boundaries. There is always a solution though it may be hard to discover and take longer to get to than we would like. You either get through it, over it or under it. Many times, our dreams are bigger than our circumstances but your circumstance is temporary and your dreams are forever. In days of frustration or fear, know there is a way to the other side of the wall.
Have you ever reinvented yourself and if so, how did this prove beneficial in your personal evolution?
What a great question. I’m not so sure I would describe it as a reinvention, but rather a course correction. I am learning, and growing, and adjusting every day to be the best I can be. If we stop evolving, we get stagnant so I’m a firm believer that moss doesn’t grow on a rolling stone. There are so many opportunities that will present themselves to you in the future both personally and professionally that you can’t imagine today. Be open to change and prepared to seize the moment! Carpe Diem!
What would you like your personal legacy to be?
I hope that in some small way my time has inspired others to dream more, learn more, do more, become more and share more.