As founder of Brown Capital Management, Eddie C. Brown made a fortune investing money. But his passion is in giving it away. Mr. Brown and his wife, Sylvia Brown, have immeasurably enriched Baltimore with gifts to the city’s museums, libraries, colleges and universities, along with support for talented young people. Asked once what motivated him to donate millions over the years to causes he and his wife support, his answer was simple: “Those who are blessed should be a blessing to others,” he replied. “We asked: ‘What can we do that’s meaningful?’”
That sense of humility reflects Mr. Brown’s own rise from humble origins as the child of an unwed 13-year-old mother who was raised by his grandparents in hardscrabble rural Florida. The future investment manager had to overcome long odds growing up, but he was determined to overcome his disadvantaged background. He got his chance when a local businesswoman offered to pay his tuition to study at Howard University in Washington. Her generosity and the education it enabled him to receive changed the young man’s life and started him on the path to creating what would eventually become a billion-dollar asset management company.
C. Sylvia Brown, who grew up in rural Virginia, was valedictorian of her high school class and went on to receive undergraduate and graduate degrees from Howard University and Indiana University. She worked as a teacher and administrator in middle schools and at Baltimore City Community College, but also has substantial experience in the business world.
Together, the pair formed a unique partnership to lift up their adopted hometown. In Baltimore, the Browns launched a youth initiative called the Turning the Corner on Achievement Program. The program helps inner-city middle school students not only get a rigorous academic education but provides support for their families before and after school — all aimed at allowing them to realize their full potential. “We want to help broaden their vision of what’s out there beyond what narrow vision they have in their community,” he said.
The Browns have been just as generous toward Baltimore’s cultural and educational institutions, including the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Maryland Institute College of Art, to which the couple donated $6 million toward construction of a futuristic concrete-and-glass media studies building that bears their name. They also donated important works of 19th-century art to the Walters Art Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art that reflect the contributions made by African-American artists to the nation’s cultural heritage.
Fred Lazarus, the president emeritus of MICA, said that “almost everything they’ve done they have done around trying to enhance opportunities for African-American kids.” That has manifested itself directly in endeavors like Sylvia’s time tutoring in Sandtown or the couple’s support for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids program but also in efforts to boost the diversity of art displayed in local museums or the kinds of plays performed at Center Stage. When they donated the funds for the Brown Center, Mr. Lazarus said, they were cognizant of the lack of significant buildings on college campuses named for African-Americans who weren’t politicians. “They really look at diversity in a different way,” he said.
The Browns’ philanthropic lives are so deeply entwined as to be inseparable. Together, they have spent decades seeking out ways to use their good fortune to raise the fortunes of others. “When you look at the results, it’s just amazing,” Mr. Brown once said. “We consider it, as a family, as an investment. And we have been very pleased with the return that we’ve gotten on that investment in terms of changing lives.”