Celebration of Life: A day of remembrance for Kenneth Brown
April 12, 2023
Over 25 suited men, dressed in black stood somberly on stage.
The men, all alumni from the historically Black men’s college Morehouse, linked arms with heads down and a slow rhythmic sway they began chanting a somber rendition of “Dear Old Morehouse,” their shared college’s official hymn.
With tears in their eyes, some audience members sang along, while others watched.
This was how the first tribute speech ended during the funeral service for Kenneth Brown, former President of the Board of Trustees at El Camino College, who died unexpectedly on Thursday, March 23.
Organized by his closest family and friends, Tuesday, April 11, served as a day dedicated to celebrating Brown’s life with a funeral service, internment and a concert in his honor all taking place on the same date.
The day began at 11 a.m. in Holman United Methodist Church Sanctuary. With 48 pews overlooking a large stage, the church room would be standing room only by 11:30 a.m. Church workers estimated over 250 mourners.
In attendance from El Camino College were President Brenda Thames, former President Dena Maloney, members of the Board of Trustees, administration and Police Chief Michael Trevis.
At 10:58 a.m. the music began and silence blanketed the packed pews.
Nearly hidden behind the giant, hanging wreaths a gray-haired organist began to play the processional hymn as the shining, ebony casket flanked on both sides by white-gloved pallbearers made its slow march to the front.
Brown’s wife Dr. Karla Brown, his mother Dr. Martha Brown and his two sons, Kenneth Brown II & Kaleb Brown, took their place in the front as the ceremony began.
Senior Pastor of Holman United Methodist Church Kenneth Walden opened with a prayer letting the audience know that Brown’s life would be honored in the same church he grew up in; the same church he exchanged vows in.
“Remember that life is fragile, a valuable gift often unpromised,” he said. “We should be gifts to one another, I believe Ken Brown modeled that behavior.”
An impressive “Reflections of Life” reading revealed that among his responsibilities at El Camino Brown held a long résumé of work, with his two professional passions seemingly being engineering and education.
Emanuel Waddell, professor and chair of nanoengineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, was one-of-eight tribute speakers during the late morning ceremony. He was friends with Brown—both were Morehouse men.
“Morehouse where you at, come on up, I can’t do this without you,” Waddell said, calling forth his fellow alumni.
Other tribute speakers included people who have worked with Brown such as Congresswoman Maxine Waters, former El Camino President Maloney and Chief Diversity Officer at Northrop Grumman Kenneth Robinson.
Waters described Brown as an “extraordinary educator” who could have stayed in the aerospace field but made it his mission to help black men and women get into college.
Robinson applauded Brown’s family, his upbringing and what that helped foster. He reminded the audience that Brown was literally a “rocket scientist.”
Following a eulogy by Brown’s cousin Gary Henderson, the ceremony ended.
By 2 p.m. Brown’s family and friends regathered at Inglewood Park Cemetery. Brown’s final resting place would be The Garden of Chimes mausoleum on the cemetery grounds.
Brown was entombed directly above the remains of his father. Karla Brown asked if fresh flowers could be provided for both Brown and his father, and workers added fresh red roses for both.
The somber day was punctuated with an air of joy as at 5 p.m. the Miracle Theater located in Inglewood hosted a “Celebration of Life Concert” performed by Composer Marcus Norris and his Southside Symphony.
Brown’s eldest son, Kenneth Brown II played the trumpet and was spotlighted throughout the night as photos of his father projected in the purple light cast theater.
Brown’s wife and family had front-row seats and the band played favorite jazz renditions while more speakers gave their memories of Brown in between sets.
As the emotional night came to a close, Karla Brown took the stage to thank Norris, the band and Miracle Theater for their efforts in putting the show together so quickly.
However, it would be Brown’s two sons, Kaleb and Kenneth II who would get the final words.
Kaleb told the packed theater the story of the last time he saw his father following a surprise visit to Washington D.C., where Kaleb attends school. Right before they parted ways Kaleb said his father had a tradition, every visit ended with a picture.
Kaleb’s final photo of his father is a selfie he took with Kaleb already in his ride-share.
Kenneth II, Brown’s eldest son, told the audience that his father sometimes seemed like a perfect man, but he wasn’t, he was human.
He said those were his father’s best qualities, his human moments.
“If we had a moral of the story of my father’s life,” Kenneth II said, “it would be to help out in any way you can.”
- Corrected grammatical errors on April 13, 2023, at 5:23 p.m.
- Fixed drop cap transparency on April 24, 2023, at 3:58 p.m.