After clearing some bumps in the road, the Rev. Louis Negrón Sr. is living his best life. Now, he uses the experiences from his career, education and personal life to help others reach that goal.
Negrón became the executive director and chief operating officer of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta in February, and he’ll graduate this May from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology with a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry. His dedication to community, however, goes back more than two decades.
Rising through the ranks
Negrón, born and raised in Oakland, California, got his first taste of nonprofit work at age 18 as an intern with children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman at the Children’s Defense Fund. He rose through the ranks of leadership, while simultaneously taking classes at Laney College in Oakland and then Morehouse College in Atlanta, and worked there for a total of eight years.
He gained experience in all aspects of nonprofit work, from grant writing to community development and beyond. After earning a master’s degree in administration from Central Michigan University, he wanted a change of pace and spent the next decade in higher education, working first for Gainesville College and then Georgia Gwinnett College.
As he “reached the glass ceiling” for advancement there, Negrón said, he returned to the nonprofit world and has been there ever since. He has worked with agencies such as Year Up, United Way of Atlanta, United Way of Transylvania County, Operation HOPE and Supportive Housing Communities.
“I say my superpowers are fundraising and networking,” Negrón said with a laugh. “That’s what led me to that type of work. I was always recruited because of the skillwork that I had.”
While his work was going well, his personal life reached a breaking point in 2016. Negrón said he was in a toxic marriage, his weight crept up to 425 pounds, and he was not taking care of himself. His wake-up call came when he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on one side of his body for a week.
“You have an internal voice that speaks to you. I had been running from mine for years, not paying attention. This was the first time that I was able to be still … mind, body and soul. For me, it took that stroke to be still and to finally listen,” Negrón said. “This was the first time I was awake consciously, and I could see all the mistakes that had happened in the past and all the decisions that led me to here.”
It became clear to him that he needed to get a divorce and lose weight and that he wanted to become an ordained minister. It was a time when “everything broke” for him and he encountered many hurdles, but he didn’t give up.
A friend suggested Negrón look into Mercer’s School of Theology, and after connecting with the school, he was eventually offered a Presidential Scholarship. Negrón recalled pulling his car to the side of the road to “cry ugly tears” when Director of Outreach and Alumni Relations Nikki Hardeman called to tell him the news.
“It was my ‘Eat Pray Love’ moment,” he said, referring to the book by Elizabeth Gilbert. “Mercer came into my life when I was really searching for a spiritual connection and redefining who I was as a man. It offered me an opportunity to redefine my spiritual goals, my spirituality, and gave me a chance to question and look at the foundation where religion comes from.”
Negrón said his decision to attend Mercer was life-changing and helped shape him into the man he is today. He has had wonderful professors and was able to participate in a Mercer On Mission trip to India in summer 2018. Before long, he had lost more than 100 pounds and had become an ordained minister and a certified wellness and life coach.
Taking a holistic approach
Negrón said he discovered losing weight is not just physical but involves emotional and spiritual weight as well. He also learned the importance of remembering the spiritual and humanistic aspects of community work, which he brings into his leadership today.
Organizations are always working to solve problems, but leaders have to look beyond the problem to all the underlying factors to find the solution. His studies at Mercer have primed him to help others understand the bigger picture.
“Five years ago, if you would have asked me how to heal a community, I would have said you just have to pour more funding into it. Now as the executive director of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta, I take a more holistic approach.”
The mission of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta is “to improve the quality of life by supporting and enhancing educational and economic opportunities particularly for African-American youth in the Atlanta community,” according to its website. Negrón said the organization offers college scholarships, supports students in higher education and opens doors for young professionals entering careers. In his new role, he hopes to establish the nonprofit as the protector for children of Atlanta and the city’s premier volunteer mentorship group.
Negrón lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife, Dr. Adrianne Pinkney, and their newborn twin daughters, but they will be moving to Atlanta soon. He also has three children — ages 18, 14 and 8 — from his first marriage. He feels blessed to be at a point in his life where he is intentional and at peace.
“Our creator has us experience different things in life. I would not have seen the life that I live today if I was not a true believer. I listened, and I took attention to just heal,” he said. “You have to work on your inner self so the rest of your life can be lived well. I’m at a point where I am healthy, I’m thriving, I have an amazing life. When someone experiences a bump in the road, you can ignore it or take the time to really listen and focus.”