CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Dannielle Brown during her living eulogy in honor of her son, Marquis Jaylen Brown
The most peaceful place in Pittsburgh is wherever Dannielle Brown is at the moment. At this moment, she is on Forbes Avenue at the entrance to Duquesne University. It is the 38th day of her Hunger Strike. When you read this, it will be the 40th day. It has significance, which Ms. Brown tells me later in our conversation.
I remind her of our first meeting on day 20. Me, awkwardly handing her a chilled bottle of water, before realizing she was surrounded by cases of water, mumbling on about hoping she was well.
A shimmer of recognition lights up her eyes, she nods, “Oh yes, the glasses.” Referring to my vintage oversized eyeglasses she remembers from my last visit.
“I really didn't know what to say,” I admit. She nods, she could tell.
But what I could tell, no, what I could feel, is how peaceful she is and how that energy permeates the space she occupies and beyond. When I ask her about this, she says: “It is the resolve you see … that’s my love message. To the citizens of Pittsburgh, to the community of Duquesne University, to my family, to my son. Both of my sons.”
Her resolve, she says, is that she is facing her mortality, the fact that she may die. That is the peace, I, anyone feels in her presence. The resolve is the faith in knowing what is right, what is justice. The resolve in seeing so many people in the Pittsburgh community, multicultural — Black, Brown, white — supporting her cause.
She pauses to talk about all who have supported her, including white allies. She is grateful and she considers what has happened over the past month. Ms. Brown explains the understanding of her fight through three generations in one person.
For example, the person playing chess with Ms. Brown under the canopy, who now begins to play trumpet beautifully as Ms. Brown and I talk, he is someone’s child. He is there supporting Ms. Brown, honoring her work as a child, as a son. But he is also a future parent, perhaps. He is supporting the creation of a better university for his future child. And he is there celebrating the work of a woman, as a mother, he is honoring his mother, all mothers, through Dannielle Brown’s quest for justice.
This justice includes a Seat at the Table — a space, place, and voice heard in “partnership” with Duquesne University, instead of just being the “subject” of conversations. Not being another unlistened to Black woman.
CP photo: Tereneh Idia
Dannielle Brown on day 38 of her hunger strike
Because while Ms. Brown’s work is singular in the fight to find the truth about Marquis Jaylen Brown, it is also about the work of creating a system where all universities can be a better place for all children, all parents, all people.
Ms. Brown said she wasn’t sure how spiritual I was, but she said that Jesus fasted for 40 days with only water. Right now, Ms. Brown is drinking different liquids, taking vitamins, and is also under medical care from medics who have reportedly written to Duquesne University stating their concerns for Ms. Brown’s health.
“I may have to do that, just water,” Ms. Brown says. Our eyes meet, and the fear in my eyes are framed in those vintage glasses she noticed at our first meeting.
“When will you decide?” I ask, not wanting to hear her answer. Her words “Until my last breath,” repeating in my head as I wait for her reply.
“Day 40,” she says. “Around then, 40 days.” That is today, when you will be reading these words.
And while I have been a huge advocate for physical distancing — we both wore masks through this interview — as I prepare to leave, when Ms. Brown opens her arm for a hug, I lean, no, collapse right in. Though she is two years younger than me, it is the first motherly hug I have had in years, and it is all I could do not to burst out crying right then and there.