It’s been 10 years since DeKalb County was shocked by the assassination of Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown. Brown was returning home from his graduation from sheriff’s school when he was met with a hail of gunfire in front of his home. He was to have been sworn in as sheriff five days later.
Then-Sheriff Sidney Dorsey and others have since been convicted of the murder.
On the anniversary of Brown’s death, Dec. 15, his daughter Brandy Brown Rhodes and other members of the family held a candlelight vigil near the graves of Brown and his wife Phyllis. Rhodes said the family chose to remember her father with a community event instead of a private family event because her parents were deeply involved with the community. “Our loss was a loss for the entire community,” she said.
“I hear things on the news about people having troubles and think that my parents would have been right there getting involved, trying to help if they were still here,” Rhodes said. Phyllis Brown, who had been news editor of The Champion Newspaper prior to her husband’s decision to run for sheriff, was stricken with ill health after her husband’s death and died Christmas Eve of 2006.
“When my mother died, she was still planning to send thank-you notes to all the people who extended kindnesses to us after my father’s death,” said Rhodes, who noted that the list of people to be thanked was some 20 pages long.
Because Phyllis Brown was grieving and ill, the task was never completed. “I still wish I could thank them all. Whether it was monetary, cards, flowers, thoughts or prayers, we appreciate it all. People stood by us and believed in us when we were too weak to stand up and believe in ourselves. Although we have been silent over the years we have not forgotten what our parents stood for and what they wanted for their community,” Rhodes said.
She said she especially wants to thank churches that took great strides to help the family: Mt. Patmos Baptist Church, First Afrikan Church, Big Miller Grove Missionary Baptist Church, Greenforest Community Baptist Church, Ray of Hope Christian Church, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Abundant Life Church and Green Pastures Christian Ministries, Inc.
The vigil was small—fewer than 50 people attended—and Rhodes said she thinks the weather was in part to blame for that. “The number of people at the vigil isn’t really that important. I know that people have warm memories of my parents. People recognize me in the grocery store or someplace and come up to tell me about some cherished memory they have of one of my parents. They were both beloved in this community.”
Rhodes said that she and other family members are now ready to honor her parents with service to the community. “That’s what they did, they served. They were especially devoted to the well being of children. They lived that saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Any time they saw a child hurting—or even just needing a little something extra they stepped in. We’re gotten away from that as a community and we’ve got to get back to it. We’re raising the people who will run our country in a few years,” she said.
“We have taken these 10 years to recuperate and attempt to mend our broken hearts. It was so hard at first. My father and I were so close. The time has come to take this to the next level and do some of the things for the community that my parents would like to have done. That’s the best memorial we could build for them,” said Rhodes, adding that she wants the Browns’ grandchildren, especially the ones who never knew their grandparents, to know the type of people they were.
She said that the family is in the process of planning Derwin Brown Day for next June with a community event on Derwin Brown Drive that they hope will include a health fair, a gun buy back and other programs to help the community.