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Dana Brown: “Always Do What You Love and What Brings You Joy!”

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Never take your eyes off the prize! It doesn’t matter where you are from, who you are and what your circumstances are. That is the mindset Dana Brown has maintained since childhood. And what a full life she has lived so far on her amazing trek.

Born in Boston, Dana is now living in Albany, New York. She has her undergrad and master’s degrees from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and she now works at Empire State College in their mentoring program. 

Single, Double, Triple
This ambitious woman is the amazingly talented writer, creator and crochet designer of BrownLoveArt. She credits her grandmother and mother for her passionate hobby, which has now become a thriving business. “I practice crochet to pay respect to my lineage and family legacy. Every time I sit down to a project, I realize that this art form was passed down from the women in my family,” she expressed. “My mother had the ability to draw and sketch, which I learned from her. I have always been into the arts, whether fine arts or crafting. I kept sketch books and tubs of beads to make jewelry; art has always been a refuge for me. My grandmother was great with crafts; she was a skilled seamstress, making dresses or casual wear. Around the age of seven, I crocheted for the first time after taking an interest in one of her projects. While I did not grasp any skills to make anything concrete, she provided me with the basics and rhythm of crochet and hook movement. I would randomly pick up a hook and yarn and play but did not commit to the craft until adulthood.”

She took courses through Lesley University’s art school and The Art Institute of Boston, and she associated with skilled artists and instructors, developing a love of oil painting, which she did for many years. In 2015, shortly after the birth of her first daughter, she began watching YouTube tutorials, taking on some small crochet projects such as bows and headbands. She gave these to family and friends, or as gifts for their children. After taking pride in learning how to make something legitimately wearable, she posted a few pictures on Facebook and Instagram.  

Chain of Events
In late 2016, Dana decided to start an Instagram page, @Mrs.Brownlove, to showcase her projects. By early 2017, after they had watched her work evolve and improve, people started to make requests to place orders. At the time, she was learning how to balance being a wife, mother and professional; therefore, she didn’t commit to making it a business or taking regular orders. “I did continue to post items I created and established a relationship with my audience of potential customers. After listening to a Sirius XM show hosted by Godfrey, a well-known comedian and actor, I decided to follow him on Instagram. I didn’t realize that I had followed him through my business account rather than my professional account, but this mistake was meant to be. 

“Godfrey reached out to me immediately, praising my crochet work and extending an invitation to his radio show to discuss my craft and business,” she smiled. “That week I decided to launch my official website, The opportunity to be on Godfrey’s show was a watershed moment for BrownLoveArt. Not only did it motivate and invigorate my devotion to my craft, but it made me realize that all of the positive feedback I had received was real.”

Although Dana had studied middle and secondary education, she truly fell in love with the higher-education setting, which led her to work at SUNY Empire State College in 2008, after she had relocated from Boston several months before. “I had recently completed graduate school and the position at Empire allowed me to work with students, as a mentor, to develop their academic programs. Teaching was a part of my responsibility, which was a complement to my experience. I also had a leadership role in a SUNY-wide initiative project encouraging students who have stopped out to return to complete their degree. The thing I love about SUNY Empire is that it serves a population that is often not as recognized in higher education: non-traditional learners. I feel so fortunate to mentor students on their path to finally achieving the goal of degree completion. For many of my students, I am not only their mentor, I am their cheerleader, someone rooting them on, ensuring they can do it, helping every step of the way. I get to see my students’ children watch in amazement as their parents cross the stage and receive their degree; it is an amazing experience.”  

Solid Pattern for Life
She credits her parents for instilling their values, experiences and desires into her, which contributed to who she is today. She is proof that hard work and dedication pay off, as she had challenges in her personal life that distracted and impacted her ability to perform in the classroom. One of the turning points in her academic journey occurred when she was placed into a remedial reading classroom. “At the time, it felt like a setback and was a point of embarrassment; however, I knew that it would not define me,” she smiled. “In hindsight, this experience was actually a blessing because it brought me back to the basics and developed my connection to reading and writing in a special way and truly set up my future.”  

She joined the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps and the Upward Bound program, which provided motivation, structure and discipline and gave her the ability to be a leader. She entertained the thought of joining the military but when she was accepted into college, her path was clear. At Lesley University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, she learned how much hard work goes into being a teacher. Her love became literature, where there are really no wrong answers. Her focus was working in urban schools with students from diverse backgrounds and at-risk youth. “During college I had so many eye-opening experiences. I had always thought of myself as an average student, but with the right foundation of study skills and encouragement from my family and those who cared and contributed to my overall being, I realized mediocrity was not for me,” she stressed. “Furthermore, as one of very few black students or students of color, I felt the need to really push myself. With this realization I excelled at the college level.” 

She went on to earn a master’s degree in education at Lesley, studying English. She had five jobs her senior year, including babysitter, tutor and secretary, with the goal of being on her own while attending graduate school. Her first full-time job was at Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, working on building an astrophysical database. She then found a job in the Admissions Office at Lesley College as administrative assistant to the director. A year later she was promoted to Admissions Counselor. “My employment at Lesley allowed me to be a part-time student and provided my tuition assistance, which paid for my entire degree. I graduated with an almost perfect academic record and ready to make the next step in my journey,” she reiterated. 

Her Favorite Hook
“I met my husband and love of my life, Sean, while working in admissions at Lesley. He was a guidance counselor at a private school in Troy, New York, and I was visiting the school to speak to the students about Lesley and to leave some recruitment materials. He happened to be making copies as I stopped by the Guidance Office to leave information. We had some quick professional conversation and I left my business card with my recruitment info. I received an email from him as soon as I reached my next destination. He offered me dinner and said to call him if I ever needed directions. I’m awful with directions and this was before GPS. I ended up getting so lost I almost missed an appointment and gave him a call, and then decided to take him up on that dinner, which ended up being our first date!”

When he brought her Tums following the dinner to calm her stomach, she knew he was a keeper! They married in 2013, and their love for one another, mutual devotion to education and supporting youth have kept their bond strong. Sean works for the New York State Education Department as an associate in community and family engagement, overseeing a portion of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative; he’s also the head basketball coach for the City School District of Albany. He has been coaching for over 20 years and it is a true passion for him. His students often return to help with coaching or with Make A Play, Inc. For almost ten years, the couple has been running this nonprofit organization, whose mission is to support students and their families by helping them navigate the educational system through high school graduation. Sean started doing this work long before the inception of Make A Play but decided to make it a 501(c)3 in 2010. Initially the organization focused on student athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and academics. However, it has become more focused on filling the gaps between home, school and community for all students.  

“Make A Play works with youth in New York City and the Capital District. Sean and I focus on the Capital District,” she continued. “We make sure that our students are plugged in with enrichment programs that assist with tutoring, homework, workforce readiness and character development. We give students opportunities to work with mentors and leaders within the community, visit college campuses, and educational consulting services.”

The Craft of Family
Dana had their first daughter, Isla, in 2014, who she feels is her miracle child because uterine fibroids led doctors to believe she wouldn’t have children. She had surgery to improve her chances in 2011. Seana was born in 2018. Isla started kindergarten this year and Seana is almost two. 

Dana’s family, husband and children give her daily inspiration, and her husband is her moral compass while her children are her light. “Every day I am so thankful for where I am in life: my husband, my daughters, and my home. Through my husband I know true love. Through my daughters I have experienced love at first sight; through my home I know what it is to feel rooted. Through my God I know faith and forgiveness. I am thankful even for the struggles I have experienced because I would not otherwise be where I am today. I practice gratitude through trying to keep connected to those I love and being grateful for every single day I have the opportunity of living. I love every gray hair that sprouts to remind me!”

Dana has overflowing advice and encouragement for other women. “There is so much to say here! Despite whatever challenges you have gone through or that you are going through, they are not greater than you are. I came from very humble beginnings but so many people have impacted who I have become. I often think that if someone showed me as a teenager a snapshot of my life now, I would have done so much less worrying then. So much time is spent worrying about the future. Live the best you can now. Never stop doing the things you love and that bring you joy. Try to incorporate those things into your daily life.

“A common thread in my life is the importance of getting back to the basics. My experience with reading and writing, crocheting, and professional mentoring has been that a solid foundation is essential for whatever you are committing yourself to. It allows you to go to the next level in a deeper way, creating proficiency and commitment to one’s craft.”