Reflections on Ken Brown
It is ironic, that the last time (and first time, February 12, 1979) I was on this stage, Ken Brown was with me as he introduced me as convocation speaker.
As a disclaimer, I actually never had Ken for a class, in fact Ken once asked me why that was so. The truth was that as a freshman at Schwalm Hall, I often heard the upper classmen advising people to stay away from Dr. Brown’s class, so I simply followed their advice! Yet he was my teacher…and, boy, could he teach!
He taught me about water boarding. Probably one of the few times that I ever saw Ken speechless was when we were discussing the Bush-Cheney torture tactics and I asked Ken if he ever worked for the CIA. After savoring this rare silent moment, I reminded him of the time during my first year in law school, I stayed at their house. And one morning I was rudely awakened by a glass of cold water in my face – thrown by Chris – and then a bright light in my face – held by Katy – demanding that I tell the truth. At which point I was ready to confess that I saw Elvis the night before! And thus, my friends, my first hand experience in water boarding!
Ken taught me about the complex theory of ‘sinkersville’. One weekend, my friend Doug Lipsey and I were low on funds, so Doug had the bright idea that we would go teach Ken how to play blackjack, and win some of his money. While I didn’t think this was a good idea, I reluctantly went along. And as the evening went on, Doug began winning every hand and started putting the money in his pocket declaring it was going to ‘sinkersville’. Unfortunately for Doug and me the tables later turned and Ken began winning. Suddenly Ken got up from the table and Doug asked “what are you doing Brownie?” Ken’s reply: “this money is going to sinkersville”, and he left the room and went to bed!
He taught me about unconditional love for your family. Even though they terrorized me and though as one African-American friend described them, they were the Caucasian version of “Bébé’s kids”! Ken and Viona’s love and patience with their children proves that unconditional love does work. Chris, Katy and Michael are the greatest (did I say that?)
And of course he taught me about Peace. Imagine, an 18 year old African American male, who was struggling with understanding his aversion to problem solving without resorting to some type of violent act, and as fate would have it, he finds a mentor here at Manchester University whose life and actions personified the very meaning of the word Peace!
I was informed that I had less than 3 minutes to talk, but, Katy, before you hold up your ‘stifle’ sign, I would just like to mention a couple other things. You know, I last talked to Ken over a month ago, the day he was being released from the Ft. Wayne hospital and, I believe, on his way home. I told him that he must get better so that I can come visit and drink some of that pathetic swill which he claimed was home brewed beer. He laughed and said, you know I have some that I was going to throw out, but I will keep that just for you! That was Ken, somehow throughout all of the pain he was enduring, he maintained his sense of humor.
Since getting the word about his death, I have remembered those times and other good times. I thought about all the things that he hadn't seen or heard or done. I thought about
the things that he had done without realizing that they were special. I'm still thinking
about his words and deeds, and how they've affected my life. I know if Ken were here
today he would tell us not to be sad, he would say we need to read more and work less.
He would tell us to go to the Indiana Dunes beach, and admire the view without
worrying about what work has not been done. He would tell us to spend more time with
our family and friends. He would remind us that whenever possible, life should be a
pattern of experience to savor, not endure. Plan to recognize those moments and
cherish them. If it’s worth seeing, or hearing or doing, we must see, and hear, and do it
I'm not sure what Ken would have done had he known he wouldn't be here for the
tomorrow we all take for granted. I think he would have called family members and a few
close friends. He might have called a few former friends to apologize and mend fences for
past differences or misunderstandings. I like to think he would have called me reminding
me that the movement we participated in 2008 must not end in 2012, or maybe he would
just sit at home and read and talk with Viona and the kids. I'm guessing…I'll never know.
You see it’s those little things left undone that would really make us angry if we knew that
ours hours were limited. Angry because we put off seeing good Friends whom we were
going to get in touch with-someday. Angry because we hadn't written certain letters that
we intended to write-one of these days. Angry and sorry that we didn't tell our family and
those we really care about, often enough, how much we truly love them. And finally if
Ken were here today he would tell us to try very hard not to put off, hold back, or save
anything that would add laughter and luster to our lives or those who we touch. And
every morning when we open our eyes, we should tell ourselves that it is special. Every
day, every minute, every breath truly is a gift from God.
Peace to you, my dear brother Ken.