On a June morning in 2016, Deloris Brown was preparing for her day, getting dressed and cleaning up when there was a loud knock at the door. Her son, James “Duck” Brown, was, she thought, asleep on the couch. She wondered why he didn’t holler for her to get the door, as he usually would.
“I came in the living room and James was down on his knees, bending over on the couch,” Brown said. “I said, ‘Duck!’ I didn’t hear anything. Again I said, ‘Duck!’ I went to him and touched him on the back and said, ‘He feels cold, a little cold.’ I pushed his head up and it dropped back down and I said, ‘Oh lord!’”
James was only 35 years old when he died in his sleep. Brown says it was due to heart disease; the family had known about his health issue before his death but it still came as a devastating shock.
But Brown prefers to grieve and then move on. “My thing is you can’t let that get you down because it’s just life, you know? I couldn’t do anything about it but miss him, that’s all.”
(This story first appeared in the Miami Herald.)
Her 20-year-old daughter Sha-Ron Brown explains that her mother has endured family trauma, the deaths of many loved ones and health issues — she’s on daily dialysis — but she carries the pain with grace.
“[My mom] lost both of her parents, a couple of her brothers, her sister, her son, her grandparents, the aunt that raised her,” Sha-Ron explains. “She lost so many people, but she just says, ‘You experience people and you just have to remember what they left behind… They’re gone but they’re still here in spirit and they would want me to be happy, not sitting here just crying and missing them.’”
Deloris Brown was born in Kendall in 1960, but grew up in Naranja. She was raised by her paternal aunt and lived with her four cousins. Her mother died when she was just 8 years old. Her father came around to visit her aunt’s house often, and they grew close over time.
From an early age, Brown had a mighty work ethic. Her first job was on a farm. She estimates that she was 12 years old, but can’t be sure because, she said, “Honey, I’ve worked all my life.”
She attended South Dade Senior High in Homestead. In 1977, she gave birth to her first child, Latanya, while still in school. She nevertheless graduated in 1978. That same year, she had her second daughter, Lakenya.
After graduation, Brown left her farm job to work at the school board. “Duck” was born in 1981. In 1999, she accepted a position at Publix as a deli clerk. She also moved into a house in Florida City with her three children. The next year she gave birth to her fourth, Sha-Ron.
In 2009, Brown began to suffer from health complications. After experiencing pain in her legs, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her knees. This forced her to resign from Publix, where she had worked steadily for 10 years. “I felt bad about it, but I had to do what I had to do. Thankfully, I had help from my children and friends and got my disability benefits,” Brown said.
In 2016, after her son passed away, another family emergency was brewing. Near the end of the year, her niece gave birth to a baby boy. On Dec. 5, she showed up on Brown’s doorstep. Keenin was only eight days old.
Her niece “came to our front door and said she didn’t have anywhere to go. Said she was sleeping in the car with her baby. She asked me, ‘Can I come here?’ I said, ‘Yeah you can, for a little while,’” Brown recounted.
Two days later, a counselor from the Florida Department of Children and Families was at her door. Keenin was taken away from his mother. When it became clear that he would have to be put up for adoption, Brown stepped in: “I told Sha-Ron, ‘I can’t let him go anywhere, we’ve had him ever since he was a baby.’ So I went on and kept him.”
The Brown household now consists of Deloris, Sha-Ron and 3-year-old Keenin.
In April 2019, Deloris formally adopted Keenin. He attends ARC Project Thrive of South Florida, a child-care facility in Florida City that provides services to children and adults with disabilities. He has behavioral issues that result in hyperactivity as well as developmental delays in speech. To get help with these issues, he visits Bright Therapy Services in Homestead.
Maria Barros is an ARC social worker who has spent two years working with the Brown family. She said Keenin is well cared for and is a happy child under Brown’s care.
“Ms. Brown has a very big heart,” Barros said. “She tells me that at home, she and Keenin do a lot of things together. If they watch TV, they watch what he wants to watch. She goes, ‘Oh I gotta watch this because that’s what he wants!’ That’s so cute because you can tell that she gives him a lot of love.”