Dannielle Brown announces end to hunger strike, creation of foundation in son’s name

She wanted answers about her son’s death at Duquesne University in 2018

  • Ariel Worthy/WESA

(Pittsburgh) — On Thursday, Dannielle Brown announced that she has ended her hunger strike after 237 days. Brown made the announcement, in addition to saying she’d created the Marquis Jaylen Brown Foundation in honor of her son, on her 50th birthday at Freedom Corner.

The Hill District site is where she began the protest aimed at getting answers about her son’s death at Duquesne University in 2018.

Brown said she ended her protest on the advice of doctors after she was hospitalized for malnutrition in February. A statement written by Dr. Alex Wagner at UPMC, who monitored her health during her strike, said she was admitted to the hospital with several complaints including severe migraines, vertigo, short-term memory loss and loss of consciousness.

“She was told that if this hunger strike was to continue, she would almost certainly suffer severe, irreversible neurologic damage among other significant comorbidities,” the statement said. “She required aggressive vitamin replacement and stabilized accordingly.”

Brown said the crisis forced her to “make some hard decisions.”

“I had to choose life, I had to choose to represent the Marquis Jaylen Brown Foundation,” Brown said. “So I had to choose to end the hunger strike.”

Brown said the foundation will collaborate with colleges to improve safety, accountability, and transparency on college campuses. Another goal of the organization is to ensure that all campus police will be equipped with body cameras.

Those goals reflect the circumstances of Marquis Brown’s death, which occurred after he fell from his dorm-room window in the presence of campus security. His mother has also been locked in a dispute with Duquesne over access to records pertaining to the death.

Emily Hannon is executive assistant of the Foundation. She said its first program will be called University Social Injustice Observers, which will be made up of students, university staff and community members.

“This is going to actively engage students in taking an active role in making change on campuses,” Hannon said. The movement will focus on various forms of injustice, which weren’t precisely defined Thursday. “When USIO notices an issue on campus, we hope that they try to work out the issue with the school. If they find that they have obstacles, they can come to our website and fill out a report. And it’s for anyone who wants to raise awareness of any issues on our campus.”

The MJB Foundation will then determine next steps to resolve the issue. Hannon said anonymity is a “big part of USIO.”

“Legally students are protected from any type of retaliation for raising concerns or using their freedom of speech on campus,” she said. “But the actuality is that there are lots of ways they can be negatively affected by raising concerns through the current channels that exist.”

The Foundation is being financially sponsored by Ujaama Collective in the Hill District. Lakeisha Wolf, Ujaama’s executive director, said they are helping her get resources as the Foundation “gets off the ground.”

Brown has been in Pittsburgh since July, when she came to Freedom Corner to begin a protest to get information on her son’s death, and had three demands: for full access to information on his death so she could perform an independent investigation, for Duquesne campus police to have body cameras, and for them to receive mental health crisis de-escalation training.

“The investigation part, that particular demand went unmet,” she said. “The statute of limitation has now passed so we’re in a civil matter, and those negotiations are ongoing. It’s my hope that those come to an end because it’s torture on this mother, and that needs to come to an end.”

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