Father, friend and educator: Remembering Ken Brown
April 19, 2023
Funny and caring, that’s what comes to mind when Kenneth Brown II thinks of his father.
“He was really caring about his family, his friends, his classmates, the people he taught and mentored over the years,” he said. “I think that’s what was the essence of my father’s being.”
Board of Trustees President Kenneth Alan Brown died unexpectedly on March 23, he was 54 years old.
President of El Camino College Brenda Thames said Brown’s loss was profound and would be felt throughout the state and nationwide.
Born on Aug. 31, 1968, Brown grew up in the city of Carson.
He attended the historically Black Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, where he obtained a bachelor’s in computer science and physics. Brown would stay close to his Morehouse roots.
Brown later earned his master’s in applied physics from Clark Atlanta University.
He met Karla Harness after college. The couple married in Holman United Methodist Church, the same church Brown grew up in. They were married for almost 25 years.
The couple had two sons, Kenneth II and Kaleb. Kenneth II also attended Morehouse and is an accomplished musician. Kaleb studies architecture at Howard University, a point he continually teased his dad about.
Brown held many titles throughout his career, but notably, his main passions in life were science and education.
In the engineering field, Brown worked with many organizations including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories. He collaborated with a team that successfully landed the rover Curiosity on Mars. In 2015 he was hired at Northrop Grumman Corporation as an Operations Manager.
In 2019 he won the Black Engineer of the Year Modern Day Technology Leader Award.
Brown was a part-time professor of physics at California State University Dominguez Hills for over 20 years. He belonged to the statewide California Community College Trustees Board as well as the nationwide Association of Community College Trustees.
At El Camino, he was both president and the most senior member of the Board of Trustees. He was appointed in 2010.
His fellow trustees remember Brown as kind, funny and dedicated to students.
“We’re taking it very hard because you know, he was our president, but he was also our leader,” Trustee Nilo Michelin said. “He was also our friend.”
As the most senior trustee, Brown made himself the unofficial welcome wagon; he was always the first to greet new trustees.
Vice President of the Board Trisha Murakawa was close with Brown. She first met him in 2020, when she won her seat.
“Right after I got elected, he called me to congratulate me, welcomed me to the board,” she said. “That’s the kind of person he was.”
Student Trustee Sidney Lee had a unique perspective on Brown. She worked with Brown as a student but also as a board member. She said she never felt anything but support and respect.
Lee first met Brown last June. He was the first trustee to say hi to her.
“He did have that ability to make someone feel accepted and welcomed and it just eased my nerves a little bit,” she said.” Just him coming up to me and reaching a hand out. It meant so much to me.”
Trustees agree Brown was genuinely committed to diversity, equity and inclusion at El Camino and nationwide.
Cliff Numark was the second most senior trustee after Brown. He said Brown really “walked the walk” and was a testament to the good local elected officials can do.
“He wanted to make sure that community colleges were a place where many people could find a home,” Numark said.
Trustee Michelin said Brown was an advocate for student success.
“He just wanted to continue his work with equity, he was very excited about the Black Students Success Center and he was looking forward to the grand opening as well,” Michelin said. “We definitely want to continue his legacy.”
Murakawa said she and the board will continue the work. She will miss her friend and his humor.
“The last time that he and I had a conversation, just me and him, we were talking about what we wanted to do. He said, ‘I like that Trisha, we’re gonna shake and bake,’ and I said, ‘That’s right Ken, we’re gonna shake and bake and then he sent me that little video from [Talladega Nights],’” Murakawa said with a laugh.
Kenneth II said his father set a high standard. Despite his busy schedule he always made sure to put the time in for his family.
“I can’t say this enough, I’m going to deeply miss my father,” Kenneth II said. “But I know for a fact he would want me and my brother to keep moving with our endeavors and to help take care of our mother and our grandmother.”
The family established the Ken Brown Memorial Scholarship which is dedicated to granting black students the opportunity to attend historically black colleges.
Kenneth II thinks his father’s message to students would be to always take initiative and to stand your ground when it comes to your dreams.
His father seems to agree, as Ken Brown told The Union in 2011.
“If you can continue to keep yourself busy and stay wise, you can do a lot of things,” Ken Brown said, “You’re in college, so go out there and do things.”
Ken Brown is survived by his wife, Dr. Karla Brown, his mother Dr. Martha Brown and his two sons Kenneth II and Kaleb.