10 Things You Didn’t Know About Michael Brown, According To Family And Friends
Never mind what you’ve heard or think you know about Michael Brown, or about me, for that matter. You don’t know about Mike Mike. You don’t know about me. Now, you might know something, some snippet, some half a moment in time, but you don’t know my son’s life and what it meant, and an 18-second video doesn’t tell you anything about 18 years.
Those were the words of Lesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, whose life was taken on this day two years ago. She shared such sentiments in her book, Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil: The Life, Legacy, and Love of My Son Michael Brown. Sure, you know the story of what happened to him, of his death. But when people’s lives are taken in violent ways, particularly when police are involved, their life story can obtain almost as much scrutiny as the way they left the world. In our world, victims can easily be painted as the bad guys, deserving of their demise. But as McSpadden put it, “You don’t know about Mike Mike.”
And as the anniversary of his passing takes place today, we thought it would be nice to share insight into who the 18-year-old really was, as told by family, friends, teachers and those who knew him best. The info was gathered from their various interviews and profiles over the last two years. And no matter where you stand on how things played out on August 9, 2014, you will know that he was more than what people in the world tried to paint him as based on their skewed views of race, policing and more. He was a son, a brother, and a young man whose life meant something, and continues to mean something to this day.
According to McSpadden, Michael’s interests included writing, kicking butt on the Playstation, and according to CBS News, figuring out “how things were put together.” McSpadden reportedly once found Michael taking a computer apart only to reassemble it when he was in high school. The Monday after his passing was supposed to be Michael’s first day at the technical college Vatterott. He was reportedly hoping to become a heating and cooling engineer, working on air conditioning.
He Was a Quiet Kid
In a piece for Esquire last January, Michael Brown Sr. shared with writer John H. Richardson that his son struggled early on to come out of his shell, so he was “very quiet.” When he finally did, he ended up dealing with some comprehension problems and some bullying in school that could have held him back. Thankfully, with some tutoring and the help of Brown Sr., that wasn’t the case:
From the day Michael was born up until he was three, he was very quiet, playing by himself, not interacting with the other kids,” Richardson wrote. “When he was five, he started to open up. School helped at first; he loved kindergarten. But then he had a comprehension issue. He had to read a passage a couple of times over to get it. But they got tutoring and passed through that.”
His size was a problem. Kids teased him, calling him fat, and one day he said he didn’t want to go back to that school.”I told him, ‘They’re just kids that play jokes and don’t know that they’re hurtful jokes at that age. Why don’t you laugh with them?'”
He Grappled with His Faith
While he once told his stepmom, Calvina, that he didn’t believe in God, during a phone call with his father, Michael shared a dream weeks before his death that would go on to change his way of viewing religion, the Bible, and “life’s mysteries” as The New York Times put it:
It was 1 a.m. and Michael Brown Jr. called his father, his voice trembling. He had seen something overpowering. In the thick gray clouds that lingered from a passing storm this past June, he made out an angel. And he saw Satan chasing the angel and the angel running into the face of God. Mr. Brown was a prankster, so his father and stepmother chuckled at first.
“No, no, Dad! No!” the elder Mr. Brown remembered his son protesting. “I’m serious.”
And the black teenager from this suburb of St. Louis, who had just graduated from high school, sent his father and stepmother a picture of the sky from his cellphone. “Now I believe,” he told them.
He Could Easily “Get Along with Anybody”
As McSpadden told The New York Times in that same piece, her son was street smart and quite the people person, even if the people he got along with could give others the wrong impression about him. Still, Michael didn’t have a criminal record as an adult, and she stated that he didn’t get into legal trouble as a kid either. “You may see him on a picture with some friends that may have been in a gang,” she said. “He wasn’t in a gang. He just knew how to adapt to his surroundings. Michael was so cool that he could just get along with anybody.”
He Was Known as “a Gentle Giant”
Despite being 6-foot-4 (NOT 6-foot-six as his father stated people claimed incorrectly) and nearly 300 pounds, Brown may have looked intimidating, but he was far from menacing, according to his uncle Charles Ewing. “We called him the gentle giant,” Ewing told The Washington Post. “He was a gentle giant.” Ewing would even claim that while Brown did get into football briefly, he was “too timid for the sport.”
There Was a Special Lady in His Life
In the lengthy Esquire piece, Calvina said that while girls flocked to Michael, “he had one particular girl that I feel like stole his heart.” As Calvina and Brown, Sr. would go on to say, the young woman, who still comes to see them and is in college, was special.
“She has her head on straight,” Calvina stated. “She’s going to school for forensic science. And I can actually say that he loved her, because I remember one time they were not talking and I gave him a few little pointers. And he said, ‘Cal, I love her. She gonna be my wife.’ ”
Brown Sr. agreed. “He flirted around. But the person that he’d bring to the house, it’d be her. He didn’t ever bring anybody different to the house.”
He Was a “Granny’s Boy”
When Michael passed, he had been staying with his grandmother at her apartment. Neighbors who knew him remembered him to Mercury News as quiet, respectful, and with a “smile that was going to make you smile,” according to his friend and neighbor, Markese Mull.
After staying with grandmother to finish high school, Michael is also remembered as being “such a granny’s boy” by his mother.
His Passing Would Inspire Black Mizzou Students to Make Their Voices Heard
At my alma mater, the University of Missouri-Columbia, there had been quite a few racist incidents leading up to the protests that took place last year. But what really may have spurred those demonstrations (particularly efforts to get Tim Wolfe, former president of the University of Missouri system, to resign), ones that would go on to inspire students of all backgrounds to stand up at PWIs around the country, was Michael’s death. Mizzou students would travel to Ferguson to protest, do die-in protests on campus, and once they spoke out against Wolfe, we know Black members of the football team, “touched by the upheaval in Ferguson,” made the biggest impact by saying they wouldn’t play until Wolfe was gone.
“The biggest point of anger last year was that, when Ferguson occurred, prior to us even starting classes, our administration was silent,” Brenda Smith-Lezama, Mizzou’s former student body vice president told The Washington Post last year. “There has not been a time since Ferguson that activism hasn’t been at the forefront of our university. It never stopped after Ferguson.”
He Had “the Conversation” About Dealing with Police with His Father
In the previously mentioned Esquire piece, Brown Sr. spoke about having to have “the conversation” with his son about interacting with police early. Michael was so big so soon that he was getting harassed by police as a 10-year-old.
The time the cop asked for Michael’s ID when he was standing on the front porch, when he was ten years old and so big he already looked like a man, Brown told the officer, “Officer, that boy is a minor, so you better talk to me.” When Michael was sixteen, they had the talk about being cooperative with police. “It’s not a bow-down thing,” Brown said. “They just have things they have to do.” And just a few months ago, his son told him the police were always messing with people on Canfield, saying stuff as they walked down the street. Brown said, “Well, what do you say back?” Michael said, “Nothing. I just keep walking.”
His Passing Also Encouraged His Mother to Reach out and Help Others
Aside from creating a foundation to help mothers who have lost their children to violence of all kinds in Rainbow of Mothers, McSpadden has also created the Michael O.D. Brown We Love Our Sons and Daughters Foundation. As she stated in her book, “I wanted to use my voice to bring together a rainbow of mothers from all races and backgrounds who had either lost a child to street violence, gun violence, excessive police force, or just untimely death due to illnesses. I saw services for counseling, programs for our surviving kids, physical activities so that we could keep our bodies and minds occupied.”