Dannielle Brown’s Journey for Justice

Text and Photos by Kate Hagerty
Dannielle Brown and members of the community join in a prayer circle at Freedom Corner in the Hill District.

On July 4, 2020, Dannielle Brown came to Pittsburgh from her home in Washington DC with a white rocking chair, photographs of her son Marquis Jaylen Brown, and a mother’s resolve to find out why her son fell 16 floors to his death at his dorm room at Duquesne University.

She began a hunger strike and vowed to remain on it until an independent investigation into her son’s death was ordered. In this moment of profound pain and loss for Black Americans, who are dying at a higher rate than their white counterparts of both COVID-19 and police violence, it felt necessary to me to bear witness to Dannielle Brown’s struggle and to view not only her pain, but her joy in the pursuit of justice for her son.

The likeness of St. Benedict the Moor stretches his arms toward downtown Pittsburgh from atop the iconic Hill District church.
“For a lot of us mothers when the cameras are not rolling, we can’t breathe. We can’t breathe because we don’t have answers for what happened to our children.”
A hand drawn portrait of JB and a calendar marking the sixth day of Dannielle Brown’s hunger strike take their place among hand sanitizer and electrolyte water in the main camp tent at Freedom Corner.
Community supporters of Ms. Brown take turns washing her laundry. Here she is folding a t-shirt featuring a quote from Gandhi.
Ms. Brown discusses the mission of her hunger strike with Pittsburgh City Councilor Daniel Lavelle of the Hill District. 
Community members help to dry soaked tents after an afternoon downpour.
Protestors gather and prepare for Dannielle Brown’s march on the Duquesne Campus on the eighth day of her hunger strike.
The plate became a powerful symbol of Ms. Brown’s refusal to eat out of a quest for justice for her son. Young protestors decorate their plates prior to the march. 
Ms. Brown and about 100 protestors make their way down Forbes Avenue toward the Duquesne campus in the Uptown neighborhood of Pittsburgh. 
Ms. Brown addresses the crowd in front of Brottier Hall, her son’s former dormitory.
A protestor leaves their plate among the others at the entrance to Brottier Hall.
Ms. Brown makes her nightly phone calls at the end of day 11 of her hunger strike.
“Part of saving our children is doing drastic things like what I’m doing.”

Ms. Brown takes a moment before speaking to a crowd of supporters at the Civil Saturdays march at Freedom Corner. It is the 15th day of her hunger strike.
“When you take out one of our black children, our black boys, we want you to be held accountable,” Ms. Brown states.
Ms. Brown and a community organizer play with a tiny kitten that they found under Ms. Brown’s car. They’ve named her JB in honor of Jaylen Brown.
On the 18th day of the hunger strike, Duquesne University Officials issued an announcement that they would comply with Ms. Brown’s wishes for an independent investigation. 

A friend and supporter of Ms. Brown displays a plate that they painted with the image of Ms. Brown’s rocking chair.
Ms. Brown explains to a news reporter from WPXI why she is continuing her strike in the pursuit of full access to Duquesne University’s evidence in the death of her son.
Community supporters hold a candlelight vigil in support of Ms. Brown as night falls at Freedom Corner.
Ms. Brown and one of her new Pittsburgh friends share a moment.
“My son left here. I don’t get that time back. So I’m very intentional and careful and appreciative and humble with the time I have today to spend with you all. And I don’t want to waste a drop of it,” — Dannielle Brown