by Liz P.
Marquis Jaylen “JB” Brown was a star student-athlete at Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit, a Catholic university in Pittsburgh, PA. 24 hours after his 21st birthday in October 2018, he fell sixteen stories to his death out of his dorm room window in the presence of multiple campus police officers. His death was ruled a suicide without a proper investigation, and his mother, Dannielle Brown, is still searching for answers regarding his death nearly two years after the tragedy.
A resident of Washington DC, Ms. Brown came to Pittsburgh in July 2020 demanding those answers. She pitched a tent on Freedom Corner in the Hill District, a historically black neighborhood of Pittsburgh. For 55 days as of this writing, she has been on a hunger strike on this corner and on Duquesne’s doorstep. She began the strike with three demands:
Open an independent investigation into the death of Jaylen Brown.
Equip Duquesne University Police with body cameras.
Train all Duquesne University Police to handle mental health crises.
Now, nearly two months without food, Ms. Brown has chosen to refocus her strike. While all three of the demands remain, they are no longer required for her to end the fast. Instead, she has chosen to pursue the first demand at a later date through litigation and focus on the other two at the present moment. As she explains, those two demands are “for the mothers,” and that is her unparalleled focus. She now states that she will end the hunger strike when she reaches a national platform; in other words, Ms. Dannielle will eat once her son’s name is as well-known as George Floyd’s.
What does that mean for us, as adherents of the Consistent Life Ethic, as believers in every faith and none at all? First of all, we need to SAY THEIR NAMES as much as possible. If you are local, visit Ms. Dannielle at Duquesne or Freedom Corner. Bring her something to drink — she loves grapefruit juice. Share your art with her. Pray with her. Play chess.
As a Catholic, I believe that our community must take a stand for justice, peace, and the dignity of human life by supporting Ms. Brown. If you agree, regardless of faith, please consider signing this petition to the Diocese of Pittsburgh and USCCB. We are asking the Catholic Church to adhere to the social justice tradition in order to allow people of color, no matter their faith background or lack thereof, to feel safe in the spaces in which the Church is affiliated. We are simply calling upon our Church leaders to live Christ’s second commandment.
Jaylen Brown’s life mattered, and so does his mother’s. It is our duty to fight for their freedom so that Dannielle Brown can eat again.
For more information, visit www.JusticeforJB.com.