“When I grow up, I want to be like you.”
This was one of Tony Brown’s ways of inserting humor into conversations and breaking the ice. The phrase would always make me laugh, because he was in his 70s and I was in my 20s. I will cherish Tony in my heart.
Tony, who died May 22, 2023, at 74, was an international promoter of peace and advocate for human rights. He used his musical talent as a baritone singer to bring people together. Through his foundation, Peacing It Together, musicians were invited to use their gifts in places of conflict around the world. His work took him to South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America.
I first met Tony in 2017 through my brother Daniel in Cali, Colombia, where Tony was exploring possibilities of doing a concert in gang-surrounded neighborhoods and seeing how his foundation could support this work. Many years before, Tony was a professor of my brother Daniel at Hesston College, and they continued their friendship. Through the Colombian nonprofits Justapaz and Edupaz, we went to these territories to listen and share tools for peace in the midst of violence while making a documentary, Liderando la Paz / Leading Peace, available on Youtube.
People were drawn to Tony because of his talent, leadership and character. In Colombia, wherever we went, he had a way of connecting with people, despite not knowing the language. A lot of his communication happened through singing. As soon as he opened his mouth, the trembling sound of his voice captivated the audience, and people would instantly turn their heads in his direction.
One of the songs Tony would usually sing and that I will always remember is “I am a small part of the world”:
I am a small part of the world
I have a small hand which to hold
But if you stand by my side
And you put your hand in mine
Together we can be so strong and bold.
Tony sang this song in the neighborhood of Siloé, in Cali, Colombia. Although this was one of the most dangerous and active gang territories, with mass shootings every day, while he was singing it seemed peace was possible.
This song is also special because Tony sang it on my brother’s wedding day. The people there couldn’t believe the power and beauty of Tony’s voice.
I am also a musician, and because of this, we had a special connection, despite our age difference. I will remember Tony as a friend, mentor, musician, colleague and activist. He planted a seed of love in people’s hearts. He lived a good life of traveling, singing and laughing — living and sharing his faith. Now I can surely say: When I grow up, I want to be like you, my dear friend, Tony.
Juan Moya is AW’s digital strategist.
Have a comment on this story? Write to the editors. Include your full name, city and state. Selected comments will be edited for publication in print or online.