Remembering Mr. Clifton Lowery COVID-19, an Honorable Legacy, a Preventable Death and Precautions
By Nana Ama Addo
The insidiousness of COVID is not to be taken lightly. Brown expresses her infuriation over the lack of precautions taken on a national level, as this has accounted for a higher mortality rate in the United States, which is currently over 105,000 people. “COVID is taking good people. My dad was a great man. I’m so angry. I just want to take a picture of my dad to DC, stand in front of the White House and tell that guy that because he didn’t prepare the country the way he should have, he murdered my dad. I’m so angry because he didn’t have to die like that. He died alone and afraid.
“That’s why I tell people this is not a joke. People say ‘I’m not worried about that disease.’ That disease is worried about you. You will die alone, with strangers who don’t even want to be in the room with you because you are so contagious. My dad knew that anytime he has been sick in the hospital, I stay all night long. When he wakes up at 2-3am in the morning, I’m right there. I never leave him. For him to be in the hospital for two weeks and not see his children, I can’t imagine. He didn’t deserve to die like that.”
Vanessa Lowery Brown is distraught on the loss of her dad. As a young girl in Philadelphia, I remember listening to the former Democratic Member of the House of Representatives of the 190th district give an empowering speech at a closing ceremony for GALS, a female empowerment group I attended. Her regality and presence had a strong impact on my blossoming teenage mind and I know there are other young women in Philadelphia and beyond who share this sentiment about Ms. Vanessa Lowery Brown. She is a cherished member of the community. Her contributions to Philadelphia neighborhoods have made her an important figure, and her work continues a legacy of service by her father, Mr. Clifton Lowery. Unfortunately, Brown lost her father to COVID-19, and because of this experience, she provides a grass roots service to community members in efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.
Brown says “My father contracted the virus right around his birthday, March 20th. The governor had just made his declaration to have social distancing and no gathering of more than 10 people at a time. I started thinking he had symptoms of COVID and needed to get tested. Eventually, we had to call an ambulance to get him to the University of Penn hospital. When my father left for the hospital, I said goodbye to him, and that was the last time I talked to my dad. Within an hour or so, his test results came back positive for the virus. He immediately went on a ventilator, and two weeks later my dad had passed.”
A lifetime of service
The work Clifton Lowery accomplished in his lifetime was immense. He left a positive imprint in the spaces he occupied through extensive service as a police officer, helper and selfless man. In today’s society, where civilians like George Floyd, Breyonna Taylor and more are unjustly killed by police officers, the importance of the work Lowery has done is undebatable. “It’s so important for me to honor my dad’s legacy because he joined the police force in the sixties, during a time of intense racial unrest in Philadelphia. For him, being a police officer was a very difficult balancing act, protecting and serving a community of color, and having colleagues who were not treating people of color in an appropriate way. There was a fine balance there; my dad was really good at doing that.”
Clifton Lowery was a source of safety for young Black men who faced these injustices. “There were a lot of guys in the Mantua community of West Philadelphia who found themselves in the back of a police car. Whether they deserved it or not, they were picked up. Sometimes they would get dropped off in neighborhood where it wasn’t safe for them to be. Police had a habit of doing that to African Americans. You had to fight for your life to get back home. So a lot of times my dad would pick up the guys and he would take them home safely.
“He used to be in the juvenile division of gang control. One day my dad was going into the back of the police entrance, at 55th and Pine, and he saw two or three white cops beating a young African American male. They were beating him pretty badly. My dad said ‘What is going on here?’ They said ‘We got him. We’re arresting him’ and he said ‘Well, no, I’m gonna take him and book him in. I’ll check him in.’ My dad grabbed the guy and got him checked in. It might have saved his life. Instead of going to the hospital the guy went in to detention awaiting due process. Those are not good situations to be in between, but I’m sure anybody would prefer to go to the jail cell and not to the hospital. So my dad, for some of these guys, was like an angel or a protector.”
Caring for his community
In addition to helping out family and friends, Lowery had a love for people, and came to the aid of strangers in need. “When I was a state representative, a young woman came in and asked if there was any assistance to help her move. My dad was sitting in the office. He heard the story and said to the woman ‘Where do you live?’ I knew when he asked her that, what would happen next. She told him where she lived. He said ‘Come on. Do you know some guys that can pick up those items? I can’t pick up the heavy stuff but I have a truck. If you’re ready to go, we can go get your stuff and I will help you move’ and he helped that young lady move her items. That’s the kind of guy he was, whatever he was doing, he would stop and be there to help you, whatever it was.
“I remember as a young woman, my girlfriend didn’t have a family to take her to college. She went to the University of Pittsburgh. My dad packed up all her things and took her to college. When all my friends found out my dad passed, they said he was everybody’s dad. He was a man’s man. He was such a gentleman. He filled the gap. My very best childhood friend said ‘Every time there was a graduation or a memorable part of my life, your dad always gave me an envelope with money in it. He always made sure I was okay. Because I didn’t have a dad to make sure I was okay, your dad did.’ And I didn’t even know my dad was doing that.
“He helped to run a scholarship fund through his retired police officers organization, called Sentinel of Law Enforcement or SOLE. They did a scholarship fund every year. They raised money all year and they would give children who were going to college a scholarship award. That was just one of the many things my dad did. He ran a food bank through the Shared Food Program for at least five years. He gave thousands of people baskets of food, and even delivered them to the seniors’ homes, when they couldn’t pick them up themselves. You name it. If my dad could do it for you, he did it, as well as anything he could do for me. He was just a wonderful guy.”
Honoring Lowery’s legacy: Helping the community through tragedy
Clifton Lowery was the inspiration behind Brown’s non-profit organization, which she created to provide free community resources to civilians, like protective masks that aim to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“I named my charity Angel Face in honor of my dad because he was as an angel to me, and so many others in the community. He did so much charitable work.
What better way to honor the legacy of my dad than to go out in the community and make sure people are protected, have appropriate masks, and possibly save their lives, or their loved ones’ lives, so they don’t take that terrible disease home to their family.
“In honor of my dad, I educate communities about the importance of wearing a mask, especially in the African American community, because we are hit hardest with fatalities. It is likely that more African Americans will die from contracting the virus than any other race. I go out and inform people that they should have the mask on, and that the mask should be properly on their face. When I give them the mask I custom tie it to their face so it fits properly.” She notes that while some people have masks, some do not wear them properly, defeating the purpose of this preventive covering.
“I have a passion for children. As I go through the community, I see many children wearing adult sized masks that don’t properly fit their face. I’ll pull over my car and ask their parents or their caregivers if it’s okay for me to give them masks for free. That’s the charity I do in memory of my father.”
Brown mentions that Senator Shariff Street, Representative Dwight Evans, Representative Jim Roebuck, Representative Chris Rabb, and others have sent letters and proclamations honoring her father.
We thank Vanessa Lowery Brown for her continuous contributions, and express our sincerest condolences as she mourns the loss of her father, and honors his legacy through philanthropy. May he rest well; he certainly made his mark. To stop the spread of the virus, let’s continue to practice social distancing, exercise proper hygiene and wear masks properly. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that citizens clean their hands with alcohol based soap and water before putting masks on, ensuring there are no gaps between your face and your mask, and to refrain from touching the front of the mask. WHO also advises against reusing single use masks, and reminds us that the use of masks only works in tandem with the frequent washing of hands.
Do you have a loved one who has perished because of COVID-19? Send us an email at [email protected], we would love to help you tell your story.
Nana Ama Addo is a writer, multimedia strategist, film director and storytelling artist. She graduated with a BA in Africana Studies from the College of Wooster, and has studied at the University of Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Visit her storytelling brand atwww.asieduasimprint.blog, and connect with her creative agency on Instagram: @chitheagency.
This story is made possible by collaboration with Resolve Philly.