Around Miami Gardens, Lester Brown is easily recognizable at city functions.
He is the one always dressed in a sharp suit. A nicely folded handkerchief peeks out of his breast pocket, and a matching tie is perfectly knotted around his neck.
On the lapels of his suit, he wears almost a dozen pins. The one with two angels is the most significant.
“It was a gift from some of the youngsters I helped. They told me the angels are alway watching over me,” he said.
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Brown, a city resident for more than 40 years, is modest about his contributions to the Miami Gardens community. A mentor and educator, the 83-year-old stumps for the needs of youths before governmental bodies, helps teenagers fill out college applications and taps into his personal cash to assist students who have hardships while in college.
Miami Gardens will rename Brentwood Park, at 19405 NW 32nd Ave., to Dr. Lester P. Brown Park.
“He is one of the staunchest supporters of this community and this city,” Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert said at a recent council meeting.
“I can think of no finer person to name anything after.”
For Brown, the honor was unexpected — he expects nothing in return for his work in the community.
“I was taught to share. Didn’t have much, but you helped out the less fortunate. That’s what I was brought up to believe in. Love one another, don’t be mean.
He said there were countless times in his life when he was surprised by random acts of kindness by family and, at times, strangers.
“I’m overwhelmed with thankfulness for the people who helped me. They’re in heaven now. Sometimes I imagine they’re saying to Jesus, ‘Thank you for helping that boy. Thank you,’ ” Brown said.
Raised by his paternal grandmother in Delhi, La., as a child, Brown chopped cotton alongside the adults on a plantation. He would hand over the $1.25 he earned daily to his grandmother, Mamma Tiller.
Mamma Tiller, he said, instilled in him the importance of an education and hard work.
“I have been blessed by God. My father passed away when I was six months of age. When I was three years of age, my mother put me on a train and took the top off a shoe box and wrote my name on it, Lester P. Brown,” he said. “On the shoe box it said, ‘This boy goes to Mama Tiller.’ ”
Along his journey there were people, some little known to him, who made it possible for him to pursue a higher education .
There was his high school principal who, after hearing that Brown could not attend college because he had no money, put him on a train to Baton Rouge, La., with a stack of letters to be delivered to complete strangers who would help Brown.
“I’m assuming he wrote, ‘Help this boy, he is smart,’ ” Brown said.
There was the pastor he only knew in passing while working as a shoe-shine boy in Baton Rouge who paid for him to register for college classes.
Brown said those experience humbled him and instilled in him a passion for helping others.
“There are hundreds of kids I helped in Miami Gardens to go to college,” he said. “These are good children. I look for nothing in return.”