Josiah Brown, 53, stands on the New Haven Green on July 25, 2023. He is the executive director of Connecticut CASA, and has lived in New Haven for most of the past 35 years. Madeline Papcun / CT Mirror

This is the eighth of an occasional series profiling Connecticut people who frequently share their insights, passions and opinions with fellow readers in CT Viewpoints commentaries.

Walking down Chapel Street in New Haven, Josiah Brown points out Claire’s Corner Copia  where he and his now-wife, Sahar Usmani-Brown, had their second date about 20 years ago. It’s a connection that has endured: last week chef Claire Criscuolo hosted a cooking class to benefit Connecticut Court Appointed Special Advocates, the organization where Brown is now executive director.

From the New Haven Green, he recalls fond memories of bringing his children to the library. Looping back around through Yale University’s campus, he points out his favorite pizza place, Yorkside Pizza and Restaurant, which he says is especially good for after Yale football games. 

As he moves throughout the city, Brown, 53, details a long personal history with New Haven, dating back to his college years. 

Having grown up in Windham County, Brown graduated with a B.A. in history from Yale in 1992, and earned a Master’s in public policy from Harvard University. 

Though he spent significant time in his 20s living in New York, Brown finds New Haven to be the perfect balance between the benefits of city life and having a tight-knit community. 

“I’ve been here for about two-thirds of the last 35 years, so you could say on and off for 35 years,” he said. In fact, Brown’s first job out of undergrad was working as an aide to U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-3rd District), in her first term in the United States House of Representatives. 

Nowadays, Brown is the inaugural executive director of Connecticut CASA, a growing statewide organization. Their goal is to build and support a network of volunteer court appointed special advocates “to advance the best interests of children who have experienced abuse or neglect — so every child can find a safe, permanent home to thrive,” according to the organization’s website

In simple terms, the work involves recruiting, supporting and training volunteers “who look out for the best interests of children” Brown explained. 

This includes making periodic recommendations to judges, getting to know the children through monthly visits, and working “in concert with various professionals — social workers, attorneys, educators — to rally resources and services for the children and for the families,” he said. 

Brown also emphasized that Connecticut CASA does not only work in foster care cases with children and families.

They also strive to work at a “prior stage known as protective supervision, where the hope is that the child can remain with their family,” he said. This is a preventative approach that is “associated with better outcomes where children are more likely to have permanent homes where they can thrive.” 

Of course, for Brown, being executive director means his days include “quite a range” of duties. He works with board members, talks with judges regarding specific cases from time to time and personally edits reports that volunteers submit before they are uploaded to the judicial branch’s file system. 

Additionally, he is involved with Connecticut CASA’s volunteer training practices. 

“It’s been really gratifying to see the terrific people who get engaged as volunteers and then not only serve children directly themselves, but also help us train and orient additional volunteer advocates to serve in this capacity,” he said. 

While reflecting back on his work as a contributor for CT Mirror Viewpoints, Brown recalled that “the notion of a public forum statewide for citizens to voice their concerns, share their views and share information,” appealed to him especially. 

Since 2013, he has written Viewpoints pieces on a wide range of topics, including gun safety from a parent’s perspective, access to community public pools, child welfare and opportunity gaps in education.

“I’m very much a generalist, a nerd,” Brown said. “So I have eclectic reading habits and from time to time, I guess I feel motivated to put something out there and do so for the statewide community that I feel most rooted in.” 

As for what inspires this motivation, Brown said he works to find “sometimes unexpected connections, across geography and time,” though he added, “It would be presumptuous to say that anything I’ve written was very original. I don’t believe that’s the case. But sometimes you can find a new connection, point of integration.”

Recently, his Viewpoints have corresponded more closely to his work at Connecticut CASA. 

“I’ve enjoyed the challenge of integrating some aspects of the professional work with broader matters of public interest and concern and to some extent relating my own personal experiences or views,” he said. 

“The prior pieces I had written tended to be much more personal views,” Brown added. One of these more personal views is a piece from 2015 proclaiming, “Basketball is enough. UConn should de-emphasize football, sharpen academic focus.” 

Though not an alumni himself, Brown has strong ties to the University of Connecticut. He attended UConn basketball camps as a kid, began going to UConn men’s basketball games in the 1970s “in the old fieldhouse,” worked for five summers with ConnPIRG as a door-to-door canvasser in the area surrounding UConn’s campus, and in 1991 “had a job with UConn Upward Bound.” 

“When I was a very young kid, as a three- or four-year-old I was in the UConn child labs and preschool, my parents taught at UConn,” he said. And now, his connections to campus only continue to grow, as his daughter is set to start as a freshman at UConn in the fall. 

Brown himself values continuing his own education throughout daily life.

“I’ve been drawn to an aphorism by a writer named Lewis Lapham, that there’s no such thing as an educated citizen, only a self-educating citizen,” he explained. “And that’s something that I aspire to be, kind of a lifelong learner, and as I said, a generalist.”