Angel Award honors 'Big Brown' for years of charitable projects

Staff Report

James “Big Brown” Joseph stands 6-foot-8, but he received an honor recently that rivals him in stature.

The UPS driver received the Angel Award presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield Louisiana Foundation during a ceremony in Baton Rouge.

James “Big Brown” Joseph receives the Angel Award presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield Louisiana Foundation.

As part of the honor, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Louisiana Foundation presented a $25,000 to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, which helped Joseph start the fund for UPS employees to contribute to the fundraising program.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Louisiana Foundation instituted the award in 1995 to “recognize everyday people doing extraordinary good to meet the physical, emotional, creative or spiritual needs of Louisiana’s kids.”

Much of the charity work comes through help from his friends, he said.

“John Spain (Executive Vice President of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation) told me just to get the money here, and not to worry about the lawyer’s fees. Those guys do everything for me,” Joseph said. “And then there’s Joanna Wurtelle … we’re like two peas in a pod. I give her advice, she gives me advice, and without her we wouldn’t be where we are.”

The job of a UPS delivery driver has been the perfect link to charity work, Joseph said.

“UPS guys give financially to us every week,” he said. “We’re in every UPS building in the state of Louisiana, and every one of them wants to be a part in their community.

“In every building, they go out and participate in their community, and every year we write close to 20 or 30 checks to these schools to make sure they have school supplies,” Joseph said. “As UPS employees, we see things you guys don’t see because we have drivers out there all day long – and that’s the greatest thing about being a UPS employee.”

Charity projects have been part of his life since childhood.

“You have to have a leader in every situation, and in this one, my coach is God -- without him, I wouldn’t be doing this work,” he said. “My mom is not here, and she was my assistant coach. She stayed on me because she was a giver, and she would give you anything.”

He said his mother, Lillian Joseph, passed him the torch when she died in 2006.

“My Uncle Jesse made sure I carried the torch, no matter what it required," he said.

Youth projects across Louisiana have been one of his greatest passions in life.

Big Brown Cares has made 524 grants and through those efforts, he has given away $618,000 for school supplies, fans in the summer and heaters during winter.

He annually provides $25,000 to 25 public schools statewide to purchase school supplies and uniforms for students from needy families.

His organization has helped 71 public school districts statewide, along with the Catholic Diocese and Baton Rouge charter schools.

Joseph’s work also includes guidance for children to stay in school, respect their elders and stay out of trouble.

“I’ve learned a long time ago that our kids are our future, and if we’re not teaching them the values of life and how to be adults, you will always have that kid and never a grownup,” he said. “I believe in teaching them now so that they don’t have to learn when things become much harder.”

Joseph also collected donations for restoration of the old Morganza High School gym to help keep youngsters active and off the streets.

He also worked with New Roads Mayor Pro-Tem Theron Smith on football, baseball, and basketball projects to teach youngsters responsibility and keep them active.

Joseph’s work took on an expanded role during the pandemic when his organization provided food to needy youngsters in throughout the state.

In April 2020, with the help of Rev. Kenneth Honore and volunteers from Prevailing Word Christian Center in Innis, the UPS delivery driver’s Big Brown Cares Foundation nonprofit outreach group provided McDonald’s meals for 800 youngsters throughout Pointe Coupee Parish.

The ongoing quarantine made him realize he needed to step up once again, he said.

“I was at home when I realized it was not like Big Brown to be sitting around, so I decided it was time to make something happen,” the former Harlem Globetrotter said.

During that same weekend, he organized a 13-city delivery run that included New Iberia, Lafayette, Donaldsonville, Harvey, Hammond, Covington and Natchitoches.

Big Brown Cares provided more than 70,000 cases of hand sanitizer and 100,000 cases of wipes and masks, and he’s working to obtain 80,000 masks for schools to provide to younger children.

“We’ve become a major organization throughout the United States,” Joseph said. “People know about it, and we get donations from everywhere.”

Joseph said he hopes lessons about responsibility will reduce youth violence.

“Every time I hear a gunshot, I hear a child crying for help, and the thing about it is that we’re not helping these children when they’re crying for help,” he said.

“They need an adult figure to tell them what’s right and wrong because many of them aren’t listening to these children and they’re not paying attention.

“We need to listen to these kids when they’re crying,” Joseph said. “We need to act now.”

He believes children should be put in a position where they can learn, have access to quality and receive help with traumatic situations, then can get help to become productive citizens.

But the responsibility ultimately rests on the shoulders of the parents, Joseph said.

“I realize that we all have to work for a living, but how does a child get help if their parents are always gone?” he said. “Parents have to make time for their children.”

Natural disasters have also kept Joseph’s schedule busy.

He worked last year to help provide blue tarps for thousands of homeowners in southwest Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Laura.

Since late August, Joseph has made weekly trips to areas along the southeast Louisiana coast to help in the recovery from Hurricane Ida, which remains uninhabitable for thousands of residents.

He set a special goal to help to help the thousands of families Ida’s wrath affected.

“I’m going to do everything I can to help make sure those kids have a place to stay, food on their table and I’m not going to let them down,” Joseph said.  “I want to make sure they have Thanksgiving and Christmas because those people lost a lot, and I’m going to be down there until it happens, and I’m going to make sure it happens.”

Joseph considers the trophy a great honor, but it pales in comparison to the real reward for his work.

It’s all about the smiles on people’s faces, he said.

“This award is nice, but it’s not about me,” Joseph said. “My daughter knows where this award will go – in a close, in a box.

“My reward is when I see that elderly lady smile when she gets that air conditioner or see the kids laugh because they got Christmas present,” he said.  “The biggest smile I want to see is when people can go to a table to eat food and not worry about it. Those are my trophies.”