Mother willing to ‘take her last breath’ at Freedom Corner over the death of her son at Duquesne University
by Ashley G. Woodson
For New Pittsburgh Courier
Dannielle Brown, the mother of former Duquesne University student Marquis Jaylen Brown, held a Civil Protest Homegoing Service on Aug. 6 to send a strong message to the university that she is willing to take her last breath until she receives full access to the investigation of her son’s death.
“I held this civil protest because it allows me to write my own narrative and not someone else’s. It’s to honor my son, but also to pay homage to my way and to let everyone know that I’m willing take my last breath at Freedom Corner,” Dannielle Brown told the New Pittsburgh Courier, as hundreds were in attendance. “A living funeral is for the person whose life is on the line and that would be me. It gives me the opportunity to participate in my homegoing service while I’m still alive as opposed to others speaking on my behalf.”
DANNIELLE BROWN held her own “Living Funeral” at Freedom Corner in the Hill District, Aug. 6. She said she would put her life on the line to get justice for her son, Marquis Jaylen Brown, who died at Duquesne University in 2018. (Photos by Ashley G. Woodson)
Dannielle Brown added: “The reason I’m doing this is because I do not think I’m going to get the answers I need. I don’t think Duquesne University is interested in working together with me in partnership to make sure this doesn’t happen to other children. Let me be clear and state that Duquesne University is not interested in working with me, but the people of Duquesne are sympathetic towards what I’m going through. Duquesne University is showing me that my life doesn’t have value. My son’s life has value and they need to realize that this child did not go out of a 16-story window.”
Simply put, Dannielle Brown wants justice for her son, a football player on Duquesne’s team who, according to police and the university, smashed a dorm room window with a chair and jumped to his death in October 2018. Investigators do not believe foul play was involved.
But Dannielle Brown never bought the entire story that Duquesne and the police were selling.
So much so that she decided to leave her home in Washington, D.C., more than a month ago, launching a hunger strike at Freedom Corner, demanding answers as to what happened to her son.
Michelle Hicks and Jake Barley have been avid supporters of Dannielle Brown, among those staying with her each day of Dannielle Brown’s hunger strike, which, at the time of the living funeral on Aug. 6, had reached 34 days.
“It’s very important to continue to support Ms. Brown. Obviously her life is on the line and she needs to get the answers she deserves,” Hicks said.
“It’s a very powerful statement that she’s willing to put her life on the line for her son’s justice,” Barley said.
Just the phrase “living funeral” caught the attention of local media, most of them following Dannielle Brown’s every move. Dannielle Brown addressed the crowd at Freedom Corner, then led a procession-style march, which included a closed casket, from Freedom Corner down to Fifth Avenue, and then to the steps of Duquesne University.
“That boy, right there, my son,” Dannielle Brown said as she pointed to photos of her son, “I would lay down my life for my kids, all day long, and it’s not cliché. I’m here doing it.”
The hundreds of supporters stopped at an underpass near Duquesne University’s campus, where they were greeted by a colorful mural of Marquis Jaylen Brown in a football uniform, wearing his No. 40. Dannielle Brown and marchers then approached Brottier Hall, the dormitory on Duquesne’s campus where Marquis Jaylen Brown lived.
DANNIELLE BROWN addresses the crowd at her “Living Funeral” at Freedom Corner, Aug. 6.
“We’re keeping Number 40 alive in the name of everybody else,” said Victor Muhammad, a minister and community activist, to supporters, Dannielle Brown by his side. “We must stand together for justice and make sure justice lives beyond us. We’re planting seeds for trees we might not be able to get shade from, but we’re all standing together, regardless.”
Muhammad, pointing in the direction of Duquesne University, then said: “All of Pittsburgh stands with Ms. Brown and you cannot stand in your sanctuary and turn a blind eye when justice is being called for.”
A point of emphasis for Dannielle Brown was to be supportive of other mothers who have lost their sons, and are also seeking justice. She mentioned how, in the Romir Talley officer-involved shooting death in Wilkinsburg in Dec. 2019, only recently did Wilkinsburg officials make public the name of the officer involved, Robert Gowans.
“The mother should not have waited that long,” Dannielle Brown told the Courier.
Dannielle Brown wants the public to know that it’s unfathomable to think that a mother could send her child off to college, and then that child returned to them in a casket.
“It’s important to us to love Dannielle Brown to life,” Dr. Kimberly Ellis said. “This living funeral is different, yet beautiful. There is the Egyptian Book of the Dead where people see death in a clear and concise matter. This is such a complicated story that outside of any legal issues we must ask God for justice because this doesn’t make any sense.”
(Rob Taylor Jr. contributed to this story.)
A CASKET IS CARRIED towards Fifth Avenue from Freedom Corner, during the “Living Funeral” for Dannielle Brown, Aug. 6. (Photos by Courier photographer Ashley G. Woodson)