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'Love First': How RuQuan Brown Bounces Back and Makes a Difference

First-year RuQuan Brown showcases his Love1 clothing line as part of his high school graduation festivities. Proceeds from the clothing line help cover the funeral costs for victims of gun violence.
First-year RuQuan Brown showcases his Love1 clothing line as part of his high school graduation festivities. Proceeds from the clothing line help cover the funeral costs for victims of gun violence. By Courtesy of Stephanie Sinclair

When RuQuan Brown was seven years old, he stumbled upon football and first developed what would become a passion and a lifelong love affair. His older cousins, who the only child looked up to as his brothers, played the sport. It was Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, whom Brown watched on TV, who captured his attention. And it was his stepfather, who instilled in the young boy that he could make football his career.

12 years later, Brown is a rising sophomore at the College and a multi-positional talent on the football field. Before coming to Harvard, he starred for three years at Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C., where he played quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, running back, safety, kick returner, and punt returner. He was named captain of the team all three years he played and team MVP after his sophomore season, when he led Roosevelt to the D.C. State Championship. Furthermore, he was named All-League and All-State in his junior year, and was on the All-DMV (D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) team his senior year.

Brown’s football talent has afforded him plenty of unique opportunities. He has appeared on New England Patriots cornerbacks Devin and Jason McCourty’s podcast, “Double Coverage” (Devin still plays for the Patriots, but Jason now plays for the Miami Dolphins). Then, a few days prior to the 2021 NFL Draft, he traveled to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to train with Elijah Moore, a University of Mississippi receiver who would go on to become a second-round selection by the New York Jets, and former Auburn University receiver Anthony Schwartz, who would be drafted by the Cleveland Browns.

“That was probably the most influential moment to me, being around those guys who are three years older than me and to be in the same space as them and put in the same amount of work and have those conversations with them about what the process is going to look like — about what it takes to be a draft pick,” Brown said. “Two days later these guys are getting their call from the general manager of a team, saying, ‘We want to select you with this pick in the draft.’ So to be able to have spent time with those guys and ask questions days before that just encourages me to keep going, and I only have three more years until I’m in that position.”

Despite all of his accomplishments on the field and his eventual desire to play in the NFL, Brown would be the first to say he is not just a football player. He is also a student, entrepreneur, and activist, which he credits partly to his high school experience; although he starred at Roosevelt High, he actually attended nearby Banneker Academic High, which did not have a football team.

“It was sort of the perfect pre-Harvard experience, where [I had] an entirely different academic and athletic world,” he explained.

He received offers from 25 different universities, including seven members of the Ivy League. Ultimately, though, he chose Harvard because it offered him the best chance to explore his other interests and gain access to its diverse and accomplished alumni network.

“When I chose, I was choosing with the place in my heart that wants to accomplish things in life,” Brown said with a smile. “I want to be able to have access to some of the most amazing people. I’ve already gotten to do that in football, but wanting to do that in the classroom as well is a desire that I felt I could achieve by coming to this institution.”

Brown takes the field for Roosevelt High School, where he starred for three years prior to coming to Harvard.
Brown takes the field for Roosevelt High School, where he starred for three years prior to coming to Harvard. By Courtesy of RuQuan Brown

On and off the field, Brown can be best defined by his resilience and faith. Growing up between Seattle, Dallas, and Washington, D.C., he was deeply affected by both gun violence and domestic violence. In 2017, he lost a teammate to gun violence; a year later, his stepfather, with whom he had first been inspired to play football for a living, was murdered. Compounding the losses in his personal life, he then was forced to sit on the sidelines during practices his first-year fall at Harvard after tearing his ACL in March 2020.

Brown’s recovery process has required all the inner strength and willpower that he has learned throughout his life. Not being able to run plays with his teammates was challenging for him, but the process taught him to value patience and humility even more. However, even though his recovery has helped him grow as a person, he downplays the importance of football on developing his character. While the sport has constituted a major part of his journey, giving him opportunities he might not otherwise have had, and the platform to speak out on issues that are important to him, he primarily credits his personal experiences for his tenacity.

“I’m grateful for the things that I’ve had to experience as a youth, the things that I had to see, for the abuse and trauma I had to endure. Those are the things that taught me to persevere and be triumphant,” he said.

Brown’s trauma has inspired him to give back to families that, like his, have been personally affected by gun violence. After his stepfather was murdered in 2018, he started a nonprofit clothing line called Love1, where he donates proceeds to help cover the funeral costs for victims of gun violence. Love1 has also allowed him to contribute thousands of dollars to the One Gun Gone project, Providence, R.I., based artist Scott Lapham’s effort to combat the gun violence epidemic. One Gun Gone takes guns off the street, creates sculptures out of them, and uses the proceeds to legally purchase more guns to keep them out of illegal markets and off the streets.

After his stepfather’s death, Brown had to juggle his commitments in the classroom and on the football field while trying to effectively grieve. Finding that his teachers were not as supportive as he would have liked them to be, he committed to give back even more and prevent future students from dealing with the same challenges. Recently, he spoke to nearly 10,000 staff members in D.C. Public Schools and launched the Love100 Project, which aims to send 100 DCPS students to therapy to mitigate some of the issues that he faced. Any revenue that he brings in through sales of Love1 clothing goes directly to support this project, in addition to contributing to One Gun Gone.

Brown’s initiatives have already made a big impact on the communities he has sought to uplift. He has been able to pay for funeral costs for some families who otherwise would not be able to afford them, and, in the future, he hopes to be able to pay college tuition for students who have been affected by gun violence. With Love1, he has sought to focus more on the everyday civilians who are often ignored by larger advocacy organizations.

Part of his success in developing Love1 can be attributed to his framing the company through a team-oriented lens. He stresses that, from customers having the funds to buy his clothing to them subsequently trusting him and his team to effectively distribute proceeds, the whole process of making an impact would not be possible without a large group of supporters. He also exudes this humility and grace through his YouTube channel’s “Truth With Ru” series, where he seeks to harness his influence to teach the lessons he has learned throughout his life.

“I decided to start my YouTube channel because I was looking to articulate that people appreciate that I share to a larger audience,” Brown said. “God gave me a gift, that I know how to encourage people, and I’m excited to be able to use that gift, so I look for opportunities like YouTube to share them.”

From his football career to his philanthropic work with Love1 to his Truth With Ru series, Brown has maintained one overarching principle that has helped him bounce back from trauma to become even stronger and more motivated than he was before. This principle has allowed him to develop the patient, process-oriented approach that has kept him grounded. And when asked what one lesson he would teach from his life experience, Brown did not hesitate.

“It would be Love1,” he answered. “And what that means is, simply put, to put love first. And in order to do that, first you need to study love. And studying love is an everyday experience. When you study love, you’ll realize what you need to put first. If I could share anything, if there’s any lesson, if there’s anything about me, it’s one love.”

— Staff writer Griffin Wong can be reached at griffin.wong@thecrimson.com.

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