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“I still have in me that shy little girl from Indiana who would never let her mother get too far from her. Who grew up in the unspoken richness and traditions of African American community. Whose instincts were her ancestors, her great grands, ordering her steps. Who has seen success because her family told her to, and expected nothing less.” – Allison Ranelle Brown

Indiana Raised with Mississippi Roots

Allison Ranelle Brown was born Sunday, February 8, 1976 in Indianapolis, Indiana, the first-born of three children to Rufus and Ann Brown. Both sides of her family had roots in Mississippi. As a young child, Allison was curious, ready to explore the world around her. Allison attended North Central High School in Indianapolis, where she played the saxophone and piano, often playing her mother’s favorite song, “Moonlight Sonata.” She was a fierce competitor at basketball and softball and she ran track. She loved joy-riding around the streets of Indianapolis, dancing, and listening to hip-hop.

Shaped by A Love for Justice and Community

Allison was a proud graduate of Howard University where she discovered a passion for advocacy and racial justice in education and formed lifelong friendships. She went on to Harvard Law School, where she was an articles editor for the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. She clerked for the Indiana Supreme Court and the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. 
As a trial lawyer at the US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, Allison worked with determination to increase educational access and remove structural barriers. She won a groundbreaking consent decree in Meridian, Mississippi which led to the complete overhaul of school discipline and punitive practices. In her work, Allison always centered the stories and experiences of Black families and children, and for her work, she was recognized with numerous awards by the Department of Justice and her peers in the legal community. 

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Committed to Her Children

Allison’s life and work were beautifully indivisible, fully intertwined. She was first and foremost a devoted mother to her children, Masai and Zora. She encouraged them to pursue their passions from swimming and soccer. She wanted her children to be successful, happy, and respectful. She fought to ensure that they were in classrooms where they could reach their potential and soar. She seized teachable moments at every opportunity, from road trips around the country to Black pop culture. 

Allison’s children were her reason for doing the work. She called them into learning alongside her and modeled the same fierce determination as her own mother in ensuring that her children’s strengths and needs were seen, understood, and celebrated.  The projects she gave her children (and the beautiful results they produced) are legendary among her friends and family - assignments like “research the word 'mosaic' - its meaning, its etymology - and then find and share some of your favorite mosaics," or “write a story of the history of police, infused with Black sci-fi and afrofuturism.” As with everything Allison did, she parented with patience, love and kindness.

Making Systems Change for Black Children 

Understanding the importance of supporting grassroots movements for structural change, Allison turned her attention to philanthropy. At the Open Society Foundations, she was instrumental in supporting racial justice efforts in the wake of Ferguson and in fashioning the Equality Fellows program. She most recently served as Executive Director of the Communities for Just Schools Fund where she partnered with and supported grassroots organizers fighting for humane school climates, policies, and cultures for all children. She deployed her quiet intensity to seed and grow grassroots movements in order to change educational institutions, dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and represent children who have been victims of educational malpractice. She was overjoyed to see the successful efforts during the uprisings of the summer of 2020 to remove the police from our schools.   

Connected to The AB Hive

Allison’s friends call ourselves the AB Hive. While Allison was our Queen Bee, she held court with kindness and love – and a fair share of belly laughs and sarcasm! Allison kept her friends; they include people who span her entire life, people who are deeply loyal to her and just as committed to her values. 


In life, Allison was our refuge and our north star. And now as our ancestor, she remains a guide whose wisdom, real talk, and pure love offer a portal and an invitation to realize the promise of individual and collective liberation.

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