Volunteer in schools named 'Most Beautiful' WEST COUNTY -- Clarksville * Highland * Glenelg * Lisbon

November 12, 1992|By Erik Nelson TC | Erik Nelson TC,Staff Writer

Children tend to look for trouble, so it should be no secret what they find intriguing about Harts Brown.

When Mr. Brown discovered that one of the youngsters he volunteers to tutor and counsel at Lisbon Elementary School didn't know what his father's income was, Mr. Brown made the boy find out.

It took three months and some personal questions, but the child did enough research to discover not only what his father made, but also how much the principal of the school grossed and what his favorite teacher and his wife earned.

More important, after urging him to do some calculations, Mr. Brown helped the youth discover that the teacher and his wife, who both had master's degrees, made $9,000 a month.

Without a good education, the student learned, he wouldn't be able to make much more than that in a year.

For Mr. Brown's volunteer work, mainly at Lisbon and Bushy Park elementary schools, the 70-year-old disabled veteran has been named one of the state's "Most Beautiful People" by the state Department of Economic and Employment Development.

This year, Mr. Brown, who lives near Lisbon, was chosen to represent Howard County from a group of county volunteers recognized for their work in April.

"The children clearly enjoy working with him. He's just a pleasant individual," says Joanne Winters, assistant principal at Lisbon. "He helps build their self-esteem and he shows concern for what what they're doing."

Perhaps volunteering is what Mr. Brown does so well because he has spent most of his life doing what he thought was right instead of what he was told to do.

When he was a young steel worker in Cleveland, he rejected a foremanship offered in exchange for working against his fellow black workers trying to gain control of their union local.

When he worked as a field representative for the Social Security Administration in Detroit, he blew the whistle on the agency's practice of discriminating against blacks in hiring.

As a training officer at the administration's headquarters in Woodlawn, he ferreted out discriminatory promotional practices, and when his reports were dismissed, he demonstrated outside the building.

After a lifetime of facing up to everything from Nazi warplanes in combat over North Africa to intransigent bureaucrats bent on keeping blacks out of management, Mr. Brown is unmoved.

But when he thinks of the people who applauded his awards for volunteering to help children learn, his voice trembles and tears well up in his eyes.

Mr. Brown is considered legally blind, but with the help of a computer that can magnify computer images up to 16 times on his 26-inch television, he dreams up ways of helping children learn.

Sitting in his basement office, with computer interface cards and stacks of disks nearby, Mr. Brown says the computer increases his developmentally disabled students' learning perhaps by 15 percent to 20 percent. And he is planning a study to test that theory.

Although many students are unprepared for school, he says, "my grandmother and my mother began the education process the minute you issued forth." They read to him, talked to him and nurtured him to get him ready for "something they can't take away from you" -- an education.

Mr. Brown did the same for his own eight children, ranging in age from 11 to 49, and is trying to build up self-confidence and a healthy respect for the power of education in other children.

"Often it doesn't get support and reinforcement at home, but when it does get reinforced, I can tap into that child's dreams," he says.

Doing that is what keeps Mr. Brown going.

"I'm sometimes dragging when I go in there, but when I come out from one of these sessions with my boys and girls, I'm up," he says.

To help get parents more involved in their children's education, Mr. Brown also volunteers for the Parent Involvement Program.

The purpose of the program is "to teach them, to train them, to mind-boggle them as to what parental responsibility really is in an increasingly technical world."

In counseling students, one of Mr. Brown's messages is to to establish and keep relationships.

"I'll say, 'Mrs. so-and-so has a degree and knows lots of things. Your job is to pick her brains and find out everything you can.' "

In addition to counseling and helping students learn, Mr. Brown sometimes takes children on field trips, making generous use of his family's own memberships to the Maryland Science Center, the National Aquarium and the Baltimore Zoo.

Among his many other volunteer activities are astronomy lectures he gives to students at all western county elementary schools and working with students at all levels with the Black Student Achievement Program.

He also would like to establish a "soul school" to make students more aware of African-American culture and conduct Saturday classes in culture similar to a Jewish Yeshiva.

Born June 4, 1922, in Cincinnati, Mr. Brown has been a dishwasher, fighter pilot, iron pourer, vagrant, stage actor, Methodist minister, social worker, bureaucrat, college professor, desegregation consultant and training consultant, among other things.

Mr. Brown lives in his home near Lisbon with his youngest son, Kojo, 11, and daughter, Amatiombi, 15, and his third wife, Carrie.

Although he survived combat as one of the Army Air Corps' first black fighter pilots, trained in Tuskegee, Ala., he lost sight in his left eye to a baseball as he stepped out of a mess tent during the war. His right eye is now nearly useless because of a 1968 injury from a champagne cork.

"I tell the girls I got shot down," he says with a big grin.

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