Michael Brown Sr. is unapologetically quiet and introverted.
“I’m not trying to be mean towards anyone, but sometimes I don’t have anything to say,” he said.
His son, “Mike Mike,” was much the same way, he said, and it also made him a “believable” prankster. One day, Michael got a call from his son, telling his father that he had a baby on the way.
“I said, ‘What?!’ and he hung up the phone,” Michael said. “I’m calling him back and he ain’t answering.”
Cal Brown, Brown’s wife and stepmother of Mike Brown, chimed in, “We had made a whole plan of how we were going to deal with a grandbaby.”
Michael laughed and said, “Then he just happened to call us later on, not knowing that that’s still on our minds. I said, ‘What was going on with that conversation when you said you got someone pregnant?’”
It was April Fool’s Day, 2014. And it was Mike Mike’s last practical joke on them.
Michael was remembering stories about his son on Thursday, July 11, while he lay on the hardwood floor at the Art House in North St. Louis, the hub of the Ferguson activist group Artivists STL. Cal and local artist Dail Chambers were gluing strips of old St. Louis American newspapers onto his chest. They were building a paper mache cast of Michael’s chest to create a life-sized replica of his son for the five-year anniversary of his death on August 9.
The sculpture will be part of an exhibit that Cal envisioned, “As I See You: A Tribute to Mike Brown Jr.,” which will be open August 9-11 at the Urban League’s Ferguson Empowerment Center at 9420 W. Florissant Ave.
“The main goal is to humanize him,” Cal said. “The media spent a lot of time de-humanizing him, forgetting that he was somebody’s son, brother, cousin, grandchild and friend. I just wanted people to see who he really was. In this exhibit, you’ll get to know the things he really liked, the people who were close to his heart, his different hobbies, some of his belongings.”
Michael and Cal are co-founders of the Michael Brown Chosen For Change Foundation, which hosts community events during the Michael Brown Memorial Weekend every year. At 18, their son was shot and killed by then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the North St. Louis County suburb of Ferguson on August 9, 2014. His death sparked a national movement demanding police accountability and an end to institutionalized racism.
Three weeks and three days before he was killed, Mike Mike was his father’s best man in his wedding to Cal. And five years later, people still don’t see him as a human being, Cal said.
“We continuously receive the nasty messages,” she said. “A lot of people don’t believe that there is a family grieving over their loved one being gone.”
Only a handful of people were in the room when the cast of Michael was being constructed on July 11, and The St. Louis American and Real STL News were the only media outlets present, using minimal equipment to capture the moment.
“It was just so intimate,” Elizabeth Vega, leader of the Artivists STL, said of the casting. “Watching Cal and Dail, it really felt like a collaboration with his family and other people who deeply cared about the issue. There was a gentleness but also a vulnerability that Mike had, laying there covered in paper mache and I’m sure thinking about his son.”
The stories Michael told about his son reminded Vega of the practical jokes her own sons would play on her.
“It felt like community; it felt like what art was intended to be,” Vega said. “Not highbrow, but from a place of needing to express that which is often inexpressible.”
The “As I See You” exhibit aims to be a direct counterpoint to white artist Ti-Rock Moore’s exhibit in Chicago in 2015, which portrayed a life-sized replica of Mike Brown lying face down on the floor and surrounded by crime-scene tape — as he remained for 4.5 hours after he was killed.
“It was the inhumanity of that scene that got us engaged,” Vega said. “But we do not have to recreate that scene to have our humanity. So Cal wanted to do Mike as he lived, and that spoke to my heart as a mother and grandmother.”
The question was how the Artivists were going to help Cal complete the project in only a month. The Artivists are currently fundraising for the project, while it’s being completed.
— (The St. Louis American)