Staff Spotlight: Angel Brown, Manager of Neighborhood Impact
Angel Brown is a former Division 1 student athlete and equity educator but when she introduces herself, she’s always “Sylvia’s granddaughter” first. A Jamaican woman with only a 3rd grade education, Sylvia’s expertise was in her lived experience and she used that knowledge to drive her passion for supporting her community. Now as United Way’s Manager, Neighborhood Impact, Angel is bringing her grandmother’s spirit into her work reimagining philanthropy that puts resources and decision-making power in the hands of local residents.
We asked Angel to introduce herself in her own words. Here’s what she wants to share:
What’s inspiring you this month?
This past weekend, I took a solo retreat to a prayer center in the foothills of North Carolina. It’s amazing what 48 hours completely unplugged from the rest of world and immersed in nature can do for someone’s mind, body, and spirit! As a wife and mom of two young children, I don’t get a lot of time by myself… ever. The uninterrupted time to rest, reflect, and restore myself was glorious. Witnessing the spectrum of colors on the trees during the fall and being immersed in quiet, natural beauty is spiritually healing and personally inspiring for me. It reminded me that I need to be intentional to act on my needs, so I can effectively care for the needs of others. And on this journey, I may encounter people who remind me of my foundations that drive me in this life.
What drives you in your work?
I met someone during my time at the prayer center who reminded me of what drives me in my work. His name was Merle. The only time I saw other people during the retreat was during meal times (hence solo retreat). On my final day, I noticed Merle sitting by himself at lunch and asked if I could join him. As Merle and I talked about our weekends and how we were experiencing the solitude of the retreat center, he vulnerably shared aspects of his life story with me. He told me about being raised by his Grandma with his 4 siblings in a one-room house in rural Georgia. He told me about his mother retrieving them and taking them to Florida where she was incarcerated shortly after. Merle and his siblings were split up into foster care, and he hasn’t seen them all together since 1978. He told me about his loss of sight following an accident that left him with one prosthetic eye. He told me about becoming incarcerated himself for 14 years. Being recently released and currently experiencing homelessness, in which a friend brought him to the prayer center to stay for a few days. As Merle recounted his trauma, he never cried. I asked him what gives him hope? Then he started telling me about his only daughter, Leticia. In his last conversation with her, she told him that she was proud of him. And then Merle started to cry. Merle reminded me of what the phrase “I am proud of you” means to people. It encompasses an affirmation of their value, dignity, and worth. What drives me in this work is my foundational belief that everyone has valuable contributions, deserves to be treated with dignity, and has a life worthy of flourishing. Speaking to, creating opportunities for, and empowering those beliefs in the people around me, drives me in this work.
What makes you unique?
My name, and the meaning behind it, makes me unique. My full name is Angelita Sylvia Brown. I go by Angel for short, but “-ita” is actually a shared suffix passed down for generations on my maternal side. My mother’s name is Charlita, my grandmother’s name is Anita, and my great-grandmother’s name was Juanita. My middle name Sylvia is the name of my paternal grandmother. I have a lot of pride in being Sylvia’s granddaughter. Growing up, I would hear my dad and his sisters talk about how wise, intuitive, and influential my grandmother Sylvia was. She only had a 3rd grade education, yet her lived experience was her expertise. In her short life of 56 years, she had lived in and out of poverty in Mandeville, Jamaica, but she knew the community like the back of her hand. She had lived among co-created, trust-filled relationships with her neighbors with whom she was radically generous and hospitable. Believing every person she encountered could carry the spirit of Jesus, she treated everyone with dignity, worth, and value. My second daughter, Vanessa, shares her name like me, and hopefully we can both share her legacy.
What’s your hidden talent?
One of my hidden talents is that I have quick reflexes to catch or deflect things. I’m not sure if this stems from my life experience as a lacrosse goalie, playing from middle school through the Division 1 level for four year at Duke, or that I am a mother to two toddlers who are constantly spilling, dropping, and knocking things over, but I find myself often heroically catching or deflecting things in slow motion. The other day at lunch with some colleagues, I intuitively flipped an empty glass jug on the table 180 degrees, trapping a pesky yellow jacket who had been bothering our table.