News, On Campus

“An Advocate, Trailblazer, and an Inspiration”: Remembering Donald Brown

Donald Brown, former director of Boston College’s Office of AHANA Student Programs for 27 years, died on April 2, according to a University release. He was 75 years old.

“[Brown] embodied what it truly means to be a person for others,” AHANA Alumni Advisory Council Chair Robert Marshall, BC ’88, said in the release. “Undoubtedly, his work was a calling, a mission, and a pursuit led by his abiding faith. All of us stand on his shoulders given the decades he spent advocating for members of the AHANA community.”

Brown started working in the Office of Minority Student Programs in 1978. He later changed the name to the Office of AHANA Student Programs, which eventually became part of the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center, according to the release.

“It was Don who pushed the agenda to have the [AHANA] acronym become a registered trademark at Boston College,” said Valerie Lewis-Mosley, who helped Brown bring the acronym to campus. “And he put all of his energy into making sure that each year, each decade, and now several decades of making sure that that legacy continued to breathe.”

Mosley, BC ’79, was an undergraduate student when she first approached Brown about finding an inclusive alternative to the word ‘minority,’ and she said he immediately wanted to address her concerns. 

“I met Don when he first was employed as a director,” Mosley said. “And he was full steam ahead in understanding my concerns in reference to the language that Boston College had adopted, such as ‘minority student education,’ in place of what had been an empowering nomenclature.”

When Donald Lyons, the son of Brown’s childhood friend and BC ’94, first arrived on campus as a freshman, he said he immediately felt like Brown was his ally. 

“He certainly was an advocate for all the students under his care, but, him discovering that I was … the son of his childhood buddy, he certainly looked out for me while I was at school,” Lyons said. 

Lyons emphasized that Brown took care of and looked out for all of his students.

“I would say that he helped a lot of students on campus, just by being a great man of God, a very genuine and caring administrator, and certainly diligent in making sure that all the students under his care were well looked after and taken care of and just giving much needed support.” 

According to Mosley, Brown stayed dedicated to these BC students until the day he died. 

“He knew that he was critically and seriously ill, and yet he made that journey from LA to Boston last February of 2022 because he prophetically understood that he needed to say [his mission] yet again so that the life and the legacy and the legitimacy of the AHANA students on Boston College’s campus will continue to be in the forefront,” Mosley said. 

Devianna Smith, the winner of the 2023 Dr. Donald Brown Award and MCAS ’23, said in an email to The Heights that Brown’s work set the precedent for providing resources and support for AHANA students at BC.

“He took the burden off of AHANA+ students to figure out how to succeed and instead empowered them through intentional resources that affirmed their sense of belonging,” Smith said. “He was an advocate, trailblazer, and an inspiration.”

Smith said the Dr. Donald Brown Award is not just for her but for all BC students, serving as a reminder of Brown’s impact. 

“In many ways, I believe that the award goes beyond highlighting one specific individual but instead seeks to empower students to act in his image,” Smith said. “It is a reminder that the work Dr. Brown spearheaded is the work that must continue to be built upon and prioritized, with love.”

According to Mosley, Brown’s tireless commitment to the lives of AHANA students is the reason BC still has a strong AHANA community on campus.

“If not, but for Don’s continued investment in the commitment to the AHANA community I’m not sure if we would have still in our presence, the AHANA legacy,” Mosley said. “Don put an extraordinary amount of work into keeping that legacy alive.”

Brown tried to address and call attention to whatever issues AHANA students faced while navigating a new environment like BC, Lyons said.

“For some of us, it is a culture shock coming to a predominantly white institution and trying to figure out how to achieve, do well, survive there, and make connections,” Lyons said. 

According to Mosley, Brown always advocated for BC to use its Jesuit identity to create positive change.

“He never stopped challenging, he never stopped pushing, and he never stopped calling out that which needed to be addressed,” Mosley said.

Brown’s spirit will continue to live on through the work he did in the AHANA community, Mosley said. 

“Don was really the face of AHANA in so many ways,” Mosley said. “I pray that the legacy that he left … in 2005 continued to grow from then to now and that it will continue even now that he’s no longer physically here with us. But I know that his spirit will live on.”

April 28, 2023