Manual educator throws his hat in the ring

Mr.+Brown+is+running+for+the+District+29+seat+in+the+Kentucky+House+of+Representatives.+Photo+by+Savanna+Vest.

Mr. Brown is running for the District 29 seat in the Kentucky House of Representatives. Photo by Savanna Vest.

Savanna Vest

Mr. Brown is running for the District 29 seat in the Kentucky House of Representatives. Photo by Savanna Vest.

In the VA annex, Mr. Ronel Brown works with small groups of students in Manual’s Exceptional Child Education (ECE) program. Not many students and staff may know of Brown, an instructional assistant who has been working with autistic students at Manual for just over four years, but the changes he’s been guiding in both the minds of students and his local community have been increasingly profound.

Brown, who claims education as one of his key values, said his next calling on behalf of students and teachers involves politics: Brown is running for the 29th District seat in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Sitting on the southeast rim of Jefferson County, District 29 includes zip codes 40223, 40229, 40245, 40272, 40291, 40299 and 40118, which incorporate parts of Fern Creek, J-Town, Middletown, and Fairdale.

Prior to his work at Manual, Brown served the Louisville community for 20 years as a firefighter captain through the Louisville Fire Department and an additional 12 years as a public information coordinator and officer through the same department. He has also worked with many social service and community organizations like the Red Cross, Metro United Way, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys & Girls Clubs.

Brown had always been interested in the political sphere since he was old enough to vote, but he began to consider himself as a potential candidate for office when he noted a shifting climate leading up to the 2008 presidential election.

“The one thing that’s gotten me more engaged [in politics] was that prior to President Obama’s election,” Brown said, “I saw that the climate was definitely changing in America with the Tea Party [movement] and some of the ultra-conservatives trying to push their conservatism on a lot of people and taking away a lot of freedoms we already have.”

This experience encouraged Brown to start taking more strides in political activism. He worked on the election campaign of his wife, Denise Brown, a judge with the Jefferson County Family Court in the 30th Judicial Circuit.

“The truth of the matter is, in Frankfort, you have a lot of older people legislating for the population who is quite a bit younger than them,” Brown said. “I really do feel like there is a disconnect between those in Frankfort and the people who are actually out here in the real world doing things, like you guys in high school, college students, young teachers, young mothers and fathers.”

Brown connected the lack of youth voice with incumbent Rep. Kevin Bratcher, who Brown will be challenging for his seat and had said was “very insensitive to education, living wages and organized labor.”

Bratcher co-sponsored House Bill 151, a proposal designed to increase the number of middle- and high-school students who attend the schools closest to their homes. The bill drew backlash due to the citywide busing effort being one of the major steps in racial integration of schools in Louisvillewhich is today still one of the most segregated cities in the country.

“Me being the age that I am, I know what happens with neighborhood schools. If we don’t have an overseer to make sure that the resources are distributed equally, schools are going to be left behind, and a majority of the time it’s the low-income schools who will not get the recognition that they need,” Brown said.

After acknowledging this theme of misrepresentation in the state legislature and being approached by The Kentucky Initiative to run as a Democrat in the 29th District, Brown is now actively working to uplift the voice of the younger demographic through his campaign and eventual work in Frankfort.

Brown said, “What I really want to do is connect the youth of the 29th as well as Jefferson County and get them engaged in the political process so I can be the voice for [the youth] down there [in Frankfort] instead of us older people sitting around and coming up with ideas. You guys have the ideas, you know what you need, and you know the resources you need to attain the goals you’re setting for yourselves.”

“His values are in order,” said David Wallace, a teacher and coordinator of the social communications program at Manual. “He’s not about himself and the higher powers of rich and famous; he’s about everyone. He’s tired of people not having an outreach or a voice. He’s gonna represent everyone in his district, just not the ones that are wealthy.”

Brown said that his major platforms for his campaign and time in office are educationincluding teacher pensions, teacher retention, and student resources—healthcare, organized labor and school performance and security.

“If we don’t educate the Commonwealth, how can we attract businesses here if we are not trained with a trade or academically?” Brown said.

Brown said he plans to work directly with school administration and students to address internal school issues.

“If we can determine the number and the percentage of students who have the behavior problems, we can try to find a way to engage them,” Brown said. “If this is not the environment for them, then we should try to find an environment for them where they could excel. If it’s not math, maybe we can teach them a trade.”

Students, teachers and administrators said that Brown’s persistent character and considerate personality are evident through his work.

“Mr. Brown is very patient and encouraging,” Assistant Principal Ms. Vicki Lete said. “He’s a positive role model; if the students get frustrated, he redirects so that the students are calm and are able to complete their assignments and be successful in the classroom.”

“If more people had the same morals and values and outlook in life as Mr. Brown does, society would be a better place,” Wallace said. “He’s so well-rounded and brings a positive energy to everything he’s involved in. . . . If people know Mr. Brown like I’ve known him just for a few short months, they would see why he’s a good person to elect to be in office in Frankfort to help his constituents.”

“I think Mr. Brown will perform excellently [in office]. With a mind so bright as his, and the ideas and the creativity that he has, I believe when he runs for this office, he’s gonna be amazing. I think everyone’s going to truly be looking up to him. As a retired firefighter and running for office, that can be a big difference for someone who’s been around the community for so long,” said Elijah Arthur (12, YPAS), a student who has collaborated with Brown.

Kentucky’s primary elections will take place on May 22, and the ballot will include Brown for the 29th District’s House seat. May 22 will also be the first election opportunity for students who recently registered to vote.

Brown’s campaign is active on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.