Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Opinion | Rocky Brown kept his promise to make his Baltimore community better

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Richard B. Karel is a contract author in Baltimore.

The prospect of redemption is a hope dashed time after time, so it’s value celebrating when somebody lives a redeemed life after a lifetime of crime — and a decade in a federal penitentiary. That was the lifetime of Rocky Ok. Brown Sr., who died Aug. 8 in Baltimore at 68.

His stature in the community is clearly evidenced by two murals in East Baltimore’s Bocek neighborhood, which he helped remodel after his stint in jail. A dramatic, two-story mural adorns the facet of a rowhouse simply off Monument Avenue, the most important east-west thoroughfare bisecting the neighborhood. Brown’s likeness stares intently into the gap as a lion looms over his shoulder. The mural was created in 2018 by artists Elise Victoria and Justin Nethercut of the Baltimore-based Arts & Parks organization. The pair painted the same picture of Brown’s sister, Maxine Lynch, on a rowhouse on the different finish of the block.

It was in his Bocek neighborhood that Brown triggered, in his personal phrases, “chaos and corruption.” Repeatedly arrested and going through a possible sentence of 30 years-to-life in a federal jail, Brown vowed that if he ever received out, he would do every part he might to offer again to the group the place he had triggered a lot hurt. He was launched after a decade for good conduct, and he made good on that promise.

I got here to know Brown early final yr when he moved right into a rental home I personal within the Ellwood Park neighborhood of East Baltimore. Brown and his longtime companion, Bernice Moreno, and her son wanted secure housing when the dilapidated home they have been renting just a few blocks away within the Bocek neighborhood was put in the marketplace. I didn’t initially understand that Brown had develop into a near-legendary drive for good in his Bocek group.

On the time Brown moved into my rental house, he had suffered a stroke and was in declining well being, however his highly effective and caring persona remained vibrant. At his funeral in August, I mentioned that at any time when I encountered Brown (all the time in my position as a landlord), he projected love and gratitude. That’s not an overstatement — and, as any landlord might let you know, these are sentiments hardly ever encountered within the landlord-tenant relationship.

Earlier than he was arrested, Brown had commanded respect on the road, however he saved his household at arm’s size from his legal actions. When he received again house after a decade in jail, he started doing every part inside his energy to assist his group — incomes for himself a completely completely different sort of road cred.

Brown realized to foyer political, nongovernmental and enterprise leaders to take an curiosity in his neighborhood. The community recreation center had been closed, and the sector behind it was overgrown and enclosed by a locked fence. Brown lower the chains on the fence and introduced varied metropolis officers there to make his level. He personally undertook cleansing up that and different areas round his group, generally utilizing a borrowed garden mower to chop the grass.

Not a day glided by when he was not doing one thing to make life higher for himself and his neighbors, Lynch, his sister, mentioned. On many days, he was out patrolling the streets and alleys for trash by 5 a.m.

Brown’s life led me to replicate lengthy and arduous on the theme of redemption. Like many who’re imprisoned, Brown grew to become well-versed within the Bible, and it’s honest to say that helped him by means of his ordeal and subsequent acts of grace for his group. At his funeral, there have been many expressions of religion surrounding the notion of afterlife redemption within the Christian custom. However Brown selected to redeem himself on this life, each day, in a poor, powerful neighborhood.

After I was requested to talk at his funeral, I mentioned I couldn’t communicate to life after loss of life, however that Brown would stay on by means of the numerous lives he had touched in a optimistic means after his launch from jail.

Brown — who had as soon as feared regulation enforcement — coordinated with native law enforcement officials, who in flip, took an lively half in mentoring children in the neighborhood. In December 2014, the Bocek/Madison East End Community Association was fashioned, and in early 2015, Brown grew to become its first president.

As somebody who as soon as struck worry in his neighborhood, Brown introduced an authority borne of expertise when he determined to concentrate on at-risk youths as a path to a greater future. He obtained many commendations within the years after his launch from jail. And, at his funeral, dignitaries and authorities officers, together with the Baltimore Metropolis district legal professional, praised him for instance of somebody who had really turned his life round.

One anecdote heard on the funeral got here from Invoice Atkinson, a public relations govt. Atkinson recalled assembly Brown at a group cleanup occasion. Then-Thirteenth District Baltimore Metropolis Council member Shannon Sneed had helped safe a $130,000 beautification grant from Coca-Cola, a client of Atkinson’s, to enhance the group. Atkinson took a private curiosity in Brown’s efforts, and sooner or later, coming straight from work and sporting a go well with and gown footwear, he stopped by to see how issues have been going. Brown caught a rake in his hand and advised him to pitch in and assist — gown garments however — which, after all, he did. As Atkinson recalled, no one mentioned no to Brown.

In his later years, Brown advised many associates and acquaintances that he needed to see the Bocek Recreation Center reopened earlier than he died — and on April 22, 2021, that dream got here true when he lower the ribbon on the recreation heart’s official reopening.

Redemption could also be within the eyes of the beholder, however it’s clear that in his group at the very least, Rocky Ok. Brown Sr. was redeemed.

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