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Ensley Native Lost Son to Gun Violence. How He Found Strength to Help Others

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Ernest Brown, compliance officer and dean of academics at Maranathan Academy in Birmingham. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

By Nicole S. Daniel

The Birmingham Times

Ensley neighborhood native Ernest Brown, compliance officer and dean of academics at Maranathan Academy in Birmingham, goes above and beyond to help students in need. Even coming to work after a family tragedy.

In October 2021, Brown’s son, Kealand Amad Pickens, 27, was shot and killed after argument over a football game between the University of Alabama and Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University. The following Monday, Brown showed up to work. Asked why it was important for him to return to work so soon he said, “I had just started full time, and I didn’t want to leave [Donna Dukes, founder of Maranathan] in limbo.”

“At the same time, I had a conversation with God, and he told me that he had already prepared me for days like this, so don’t give up,” Brown added. “[God] gave me the strength to get up and try to save other kids. That’s what I do every day: I make a difference in those kids’ lives. I’m in a position to shape, form, and change a kid’s life—from helping them academically to helping them mentally, helping them find jobs, and helping them not make bad decisions. Their lives are in my hands.”

Brown, who had been working part time the Academy for six years before assuming a full-time role last year, met Dukes at a gala, where she told him she was having issues with students in regard to discipline.

“I grew up in low-income areas, and I know some of our young Black males don’t have multiple people to redirect them and will never learn the things they need to know,” said Brown, adding that he wants to use his position to help young people develop the skills needed to move forward.

Maranathan Academy, located at 200 Beacon Pkwy W., Suite 206, Birmingham, AL 35209, focuses on critically at-risk students, some who have been expelled from school or have trouble learning and some who have little or no support system or may not have the best home life; the school does not receive city, state, or federal funding and is privately funded. To learn more about the school and how you can support it, visit maranathanacademy.com/ways-to-get-involved.