When her husband left for deployment in Afghanistan in May, Tanesha Brown faced the difficult job of taking care of seven children by herself.
But that doesn’t daunt the hard-working, determined 32-year old. She’s been through a lot, but it hasn’t fazed her. She does everything she can to care for and provide for her children.
“I never have enough time with work and the kids, and it’s very difficult to keep things organized,” she says. “But I manage.”
She was born in Miami and raised in Liberty City, where she lived with her mom, dad and two siblings. She attended Miami Jackson Senior High, where she met her first husband, Ricardo Gibbs. During those years, she got involved in a nursing program and the cheer squad. She also played varsity basketball.
In 2007, less than a year after graduating, she gave birth to her first child, Tayh’lyn, and got married. She planned to attend college but caring for her daughter was more important to her. “I had to put my dreams on hold to raise my baby,” she said.
While in high school, she was certified as a nursing assistant and began working at South Miami Hospital. In 2011, she gave birth to her second child, Ricardo II. She continued working, and later separated from her first husband.
In 2015, Tanesha finalized the divorce from Gibbs and began living with Sedrek Brown, who had three kids of his own. Tanesha had known Sedrek all her life. They played basketball together as kids at Olinda Park, and that continued through high school. “My mom was the park manager, and he lived down the street, so we hung out together a lot,” said Tanesha. “We always kept in touch.”
Sedrek, who is an active reserve with the Army, was stationed in Little Rock, Arkansas in 2015, so she moved there with him. Because of a court order stemming from the divorce, she left her children with her mother and father in Miami. Tanesha recalls regularly driving the 1,200 miles in her old truck to visit them, never missing a holiday, birthday, or special occasion.
Around the time she moved to Little Rock, Sedrek gained custody of his three children, who had been living with his ex-wife.
In 2017, Tanesha and Sedrek married and she gave birth to her third child, Serenity. Just two weeks after giving birth, she and the baby headed for Miami. “I did everything I could to be with my kids,” she said. “Right after having my baby, while my husband was in training for three weeks, I took all the kids and we drove 17 hours to pick up Tayh’lyn and Ricardo and spend time together.”
That same year, the couple gained custody of Sedrek’s 8-year-old nephew, Derwin, after his mother died, which brought the number of kids in their family to seven. Despite the struggles, the family resolved to make a good life.
In early 2018, Tanesha was determined to be closer to her children. Sedrek temporarily relocated to Orlando, then in May, was deployed to Afghanistan. She and the seven children moved into a cramped two-bedroom house in Hollywood.
Brown and her ex-husband are battling for custody of 13-year-old Tayh’lyn and 9-year-old Ricardo. Finding the money to pay an attorney has proven very difficult, but she has kept fighting. “It has been a big issue for me,” Brown said. “The whole situation has me very stressed.”
This year on Thanksgiving Day, Brown and five of her children tested positive for COVID-19. She and all the kids, except Tayh’lyn and Ricardo II, were forced to quarantine in their cramped home while Tayh’lyn and Ricardo II stayed with their father. Brown says this made her Thanksgiving very stressful and difficult. However, she says she is lucky that her two weeks of quarantine were covered by paid sick leave.
After their quarantine, Brown and all the children received negative results on COVID-19 tests and were able to return to work and school. Now, Brown is looking forward to spending Christmas with all her kids after not being with Tayh’lyn and Ricardo II on Thanksgiving.
Brown works as a health support nurse for Broward County Public Schools at Palm Cove Elementary in Pembroke Pines. The kids go to school, then spend the afternoon at the Boys and Girls Club until she can pick them up.
One complication: 11-year-old Sedrek Brown Jr. has an intellectual disability and operates at the level of a 3-year-old. With a diagnosis, he could get special-needs help at school. But Brown said her work schedule doesn’t allow time for doctors’ appointments.
“We have been taking [Sedrek Jr.] to doctors to try to get a diagnosis, but it’s been difficult with all the kids… since I can’t miss work,” Brown said.
Tanesha’s daughter views her mother as a role model. “She’s very good and even though she struggles, she manages to get everything done and sacrifices her time for us,” Tayh’lyn said.
Tanesha appreciates her daughter’s assistance, adding that her 11-year-old stepdaughter Saniya is also a huge help to her.
Tanesha tries to keep the kids entertained and happy. “I like to do movie nights with the kids and make them marshmallows and we sit in front of the TV and enjoy a movie together,” said Tanesha. “It’s great bonding time with the kids.”
A new TV would bring a lot of joy to the family, she added. They are also using an old couch that’s getting run down, so she would like a new one.
Tanesha was nominated for Wish Book by Michelle White of the Boys and Girls Club of Broward County, where the kids participate in activities such as arts and crafts and sports. White said Brown is very humble and was reluctant to ask for help.
“[She] insisted she didn’t want a lot and asked for the essentials, like socks and other clothes,” said White.
White spoke glowingly of the kids’ behavior, crediting both Brown’s efforts as a single mother and her daughter for helping. She said the children are very active and enjoy toys such as Legos, remote control cars, superhero action figures, art supplies and baby dolls.
“They are great, well-behaved, active kids, and Tayh’lyn does a great job keeping them in line and acting as a second mother to them,” said White. “I honor what [Tanesha] is doing. She is such a committed mom, and she and the kids deserve a lot of extra magic this holiday season.”
(This story first appeared in the Miami Herald.)