BALTIMORE — Eddie C. and C. Sylvia Brown have a talent for using philanthropy as a tool to battle inequality. They and their family have contributed more than $22 million to charitable causes over the past 15 years.
Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. The Maryland Historical Society picked the couple as its “Marylanders of the Year” – an award whose recipients have included Ben Bradlee, Tom Clancy and R. Sargent Shriver.
Maryland Day marks the founding of the state of Maryland on March 25th, 1634, when settlers stepped from two small sailing ships, the Ark and the Dove at St. Clements’s Island on what is now St. Mary’s County. The historical society leads the commemoration in Baltimore each year with a patriotic celebration and the naming of the Marylander of the Year.
“Eddie and Sylvia have generated spectacular dividends for impoverished inner-city residents and leveled playing fields across the country in the realms of education, healthcare and art, society president Burt Kummerow said at the awards luncheon. “However, a number of their gifts have been targeted to improving the quality of life in the broader Baltimore community.”
Brown was born impoverished in rural Apopka. A superb student, his academic prowess prompted a local businesswoman to pay for his education at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he earned an electrical engineering degree in 1961. Brown never met his benefactor but he knew he wanted to do the same for other poor black youngsters.
Sylvia Brown was born in King William, Va., the daughter of educators, and, as a former educator, she shares her husband’s vision of the importance of education as an equalizer.
After college, Eddie joined IBM as an engineer, earned an MBA and worked as an investment manager for T. Rowe Price, before founding Brown Capital Management in 1983. His Baltimore-based business amassed more than $6 billion in assets under management. The couple established the C. Sylvia and Eddie C. Brown Family Foundation in 1996.
Their largest overall gift was $6 million that helped fund construction of the $20 million Brown Center on the urban campus of the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. They also underwrote a number of full scholarships for African-American students to attend the center.
Their second largest single gift, $5 million, went to the Turning the Corner Achievement Program that guides inner city Baltimore youth towards success.
The Browns’ $1 million challenge grant gift to the Enoch Pratt Free Library is the largest donation extended to the institution in its 129-year history. Its purpose was to make widely available the libraries collection of African-American literature then stored in a basement area.
“We have tried to create a model of philanthropy that spurs other African Americans of means to become more involved with charitable giving to our community,” Eddie Brown said at the Maryland Day awards luncheon held at the historical society in Mt. Vernon. “Most of our grants require that other African Americans give up to a third of our gift. Both of us have been very pleased with the results achieved.”
The Browns’ mission in the realm of the arts has been two-pronged: to provide more opportunities for African Americans in the arts, while simultaneously helping to expose their talents and skills to a wider audience.
Their first gifts went to The Walters Art Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art to provide more art created by African-American artists to be added to their permanent collection.