FERGUSON- In a heartfelt dedication to her deceased stepson, Cal Brown vowed to always pay tribute to the young man she knew and loved.
Friday, Aug. 9, marked the five-year anniversary of Michael Brown Jr.’s death.
Close family, friends and loved ones gathered in the lobby of the Urban League’s Ferguson Empowerment Center, 9420 West Florissant Ave., for the unveiling of the “As I See You: A Tribute to Mike Brown Jr.” exhibit.
The art exhibit was a vision and expression of love from Cal Brown. With the help and support of several area artists, including Artivists STL, Cal’s vision came to life.
Portraits, paintings, photos and murals of “Mike Mike” during his 18 years of life were on display.
“Your name has become a household name,” Cal Brown tearfully read from her dedication to Michael Jr. “It rings as if it is a constant echo, a reminder that change will come.”
Cal said she was relieved to finally be able to unveil the project after years of going back and forth about creating the exhibit. She recalled people’s initial reactions, saying that some had expressed disbelief while others were excited.
“I had a few people say, ‘How do we get this in our city?’” she said.
“It’s doing exactly what I expected it to,” she added.
But the smiles didn’t come without trials. Perhaps one of the most heart-stopping components of the project was the display Brown created that depicted Mike Mike’s bedroom.
Along with a life-size replica of Michael Jr., his room was recreated with his closet, laptop, high school diploma, favorite photos, even handwritten notes.
Michael Brown Jr.’s face mask was purposely left out of the exhibit. Vice President of the Chosen for Change Foundation, Jana Gamble, put out the call for any area artists who could help create Brown’s face and hands in a way that represented the teenager in the best way possible. Chosen for Change was set up by the teen’s father and stepmother.
Cal acknowledged that the night before the unveiling, she was upset that things didn’t go as planned, but then remembered that something bigger was at stake.
“This is bigger than how I feel. This has to happen. It may not be exactly what I envisioned, but I think people will still see what it is that I was trying to accomplish,” she said.
Michael Brown Sr. said he was impressed with the way the exhibit had come out.
“I’m overwhelmed with joy,” he said. “I didn’t know that this was going to look like this because I didn’t even get a chance to see anything.”
Satisfied with the final outcome and proud of his wife for how everything came together, he hoped the exhibit would give people a different perspective about who his son really was.
“First off, they’ve got to remember that he was human,” Brown Sr. said. “He was a human being. He was someone’s son, someone’s grandson, someone’s nephew.
“I want people to understand that he was a person. He was loved, he loved people.”
Tiana Bojorquez was one of the artists who contributed to the exhibit. She was 17 at the time of his death. Her artwork honoring Brown included a painting of Brown in his cap and gown.
“This is bigger than me. It gives my life and my art just such a bigger meaning than I had ever imagined it being,” Bojorquez said.
“I didn’t know how to protest. I didn’t know what fighting for my freedom meant or looked like, but when he was killed it just sparked something in me … and I had to be here today,” Bojorquez went on to say.
Elizabeth Vega, coordinator of Artivists STL, worked closely with Cal Brown to bring the exhibit to life.
Vega said that although the final outcome wasn’t what they had originally envisioned, everyone involved had been flexible.
“The torso was amazing to create because I think there was something like 200 hands that touched that chest and put their remembrances and thoughts on it,” she explained.
Vega hoped visitors took away at least one thing from the exhibit, five years later.
“I hope that they see his humanness, see his humanity, recognize that he was a young man with a whole future ahead of him but that was cut short.”
“As I See You” was open for three days this past weekend, as a part of the fifth annual Michael Brown Memorial Weekend.