Sunday, November 07, 2010

Ken Brown, friend and peace educator

My friend Ken Brown just crossed over this week and we lit a candle for him at Whitefeather Peace House to symbolize the light he brought to all of us for his 77 years. That light burns on in the hearts and minds he touched for decades as he taught peace and the values of nonviolence and compassion at Manchester College in Indiana, who have an excellent remembrance of Ken on their site.

The notice came from Abby Fuller, Manchester sociologist:

Our beloved Ken Brown, retired professor and long-time director of our peace studies program here at Manchester, died early yesterday of complications from an auto-immune disorder that had been diagnosed this summer. A link to the press release from Manchester College is at

Viona, Chris, Katy (current director of our peace studies program), and Michael have indicated that they can be reached at or 702 East Ninth St., North Manchester, IN 46962. There is also a web site at which you can sign a guestbook and read the moving tributes from Ken's devoted current and former students and colleagues and friends (

On a personal note, I recall learning about Ken Brown's discussions with his students that extended beyond the classroom and into his home, every week, for decades, even after he retired four years ago. That touched me because I had been doing the same thing at Northland College back in Wisconsin, but I had wondered about the ethics of that. I had Northland College kids involved in the peace communities I lived in beginning many years before I started teaching, when I held peace and justice meetings at my cabin. Ken was the first to really validate that for me as a good thing to do within our field of Peace and Conflict Studies. While Ken's discipline of doing this weekly was too much for me (I tried for a year and his practice was too hard, too unsustainable for me), I felt validated by Ken.

I think that is one of the great gifts that Ken brought to his students and colleagues. We felt validated by Ken, and he was so solid in his scholarship, his philosophy and his activism for a better world, that we felt bolstered by Ken. In turn, I know that Ken passed along that trait. Even an old curmudgeon like me can learn to nurture students. I'll never come close to Ken's lifetime of students-into-leaders that Ken achieved, but his inspiration lights my way.

It becomes even more personal when I recall how nervous I was upon the publication of my second book, Meek Ain't Weak: Nonviolent Power and People of Color. I wrote it out of love and anger, bringing my own experience to my analysis of how strategic nonviolence came to the world. I began the book by asserting that it wasn't from the historic peace churches; it was from people of color--Gandhi, King, Kaunda, Chavez, Aung San Suu Kyi, Sutherland, Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hahn, and so forth. Ken, who was a minister in one of those peace churches, who was a professor at a peace church college, and who directed the peace studies program there more focused on nonviolence than any of the other peace church colleges, gave me a very supportive review. As someone who operates in the peace world but who struggles to learn and practice nonviolent communication (just ask all those with whom I've fought), Ken's gracious words about a book that was also a strong call back to Gandhian nonviolent roots and away from the masked rockthrower element that has so eroded our movements, his words meant a great deal to me. Others, including Arun Gandhi, didn't like the book and it got poor reviews except for Ken, who was gracious enough to overlook its drawbacks and picked out the pieces of value.

While I met Ken through the Consortium of Peace Reserch, Education and Development, and we honored him through our successor association, the Peace and Justice Studies Association, I really got to know him a bit better via the Concerned Philosophers for Peace when he invited me to come be a keynote speaker and workshop leader where he hosted it just a couple of years ago at Manchester. He did that to express support for PeaceVoice, an effort to strengthen our peace and nonviolence outreach to regular folks across the country by encouraging and enabling peace and nonviolence intellectuals to write for the mainstream media. Ken's analysis and mine, once again, were so close that he wanted to help a colleague spread the word. Mostly, I just really enjoyed visiting Ken, his home institution, and his tribe of peace philosophers, which include his family.

Ken Brown's candle has burned down in our Whitefeather Peace House common meal room. But Ken Brown's innumerable candles burn on in the hearts and minds of the entire peace world. We will keep the flame alive, Ken. Thank you for a life well and truly lived. Thank you for a generosity of intellect and compassion that will help us see our next steps.

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