Someone once told me that I went from victim to victor.  At the time I didn’t realize the impact of his statement until recently, when I was asked to share my story with you. A victor is a person who defeats an enemy or an opponent. For me my adversary was grief. The person responsible for my grief was just the catalyst. As I take you through my journey, you will hear things that will astonish and puzzle you. You will hear things that are hard to fathom, things that may make you cry. However, this story is not one without triumph and justice. It is not without hope or without life.

          Mikkah Aramis Theodore Brown was my youngest child, a child that I initially didn’t want to have. I was already a single mother of two, after having given birth to my daughter 16 months earlier and had no clue as to how I would manage emotionally or financially. I remember feeling unprepared and overwhelmed with apprehension. It was so much so that I decided to have an abortion. I remember sobbing uncontrollably as I climbed on the table for my ultrasound. I remember thinking that this was the only option for me.  As the nurse examined me I wasn’t prepared to hear what she had to say next. “Uh-oh…You’re measuring too big, we are unable to complete the procedure here”.  My tears that had flowed so profusely suddenly turned into laughter. I looked up toward the heavens and spoke directly to God. “I know this is your doing, so I’m going to trust in you”. As I got dressed and prepared to walk out of the facility the nurse handed me another flyer for a facility that could complete the procedure. I handed it back to her and told her I wouldn’t need it.  Even in that moment Mikkah had shifted the course of my life.

          5 months after he was born, I felt as if my life was stagnant. I was armed with 3 kids (2 of which were under the age of 3), finding a full time permanent job proved difficult, and I was barely making ends meet financially. I knew then I had to make a serious life adjustment. I decided to go back to college and obtain a degree in Paralegal Studies. By that November I had found a part-time job paying well and was in my second semester of school. I looked profusely for a second job and found one in January working in banking doing extraction overnight.  I had decided to work extremely hard for a few months to get financially stable and then would take a much-needed break to spend more time with my children. Had I known that having this second job would play a part in the events to come, I would have turned it down flat. My schedule became working 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., picking up my two youngest, feeding them lunch, and attempting to get some form of sleep. I would have to be up at 6 p.m. to make it to school at 6:30 p.m. and be in class until 9:15 p.m.. From class I would then stop by home to change my clothes, eat dinner if I was lucky, and head out the door by 10:00 p.m. to work from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. that morning.

          This proved extremely challenging as I had to find time to do school work, be a parent to an infant, toddler, and pre-teen, and find a way to get more than 4 hours of sleep a day.  What made matters worse was my babysitter fell through halfway into my routine and I was forced to find some help. I didn’t want to burden my 12-year-old son with the task of raising his siblings for me. Most people I knew worked, so I went to the only person who 1) I felt I could trust around my infant 2) someone who has been around my children before and 3) someone who I believed wouldn’t hurt them.  I asked Mikkah’s father Ryan if he could help me.  Ryan and I were not together at the time. He didn’t live with me and he provided minimal support, however I could always count on him to help me with the kids. That’s why what happened to Mikkah at the hands of Ryan will always and forever be baffling to me.

          Friday, January 27, 2011 is a day I will never forget. I remember the happiness I felt as I got off work that morning at 7 a.m. I did not have to go to my second job and I was off until that following Monday. I went to the grocery store, picked up diapers and some food, and went to pay my rent at the leasing office. I remember grabbing all the bags and bringing them into the house. I remember wanting to stay awake long enough to drop Ryan off and get back home to sleep. I wasn’t prepared for what my oldest son had seen, I wasn’t prepared for what I was to see. I remember climbing the stairs to my bedroom and seeing Ryan and Mikkah in bed. I remember kissing Mikkah on the cheek. I remember how he laid next to Ryan with his eyes slightly open. For Mikkah this wasn’t alarming as he always slept as such. I remember hearing his brother call to me to come into the next room. I listen as he tells me that the night before as he went to get water from downstairs, he witnessed Ryan swinging Mikkah by his neck by either a towel or shirt. He swung him so high that his tiny feet hit the ceiling. Ryan at the time had access to the phones, so my son was unable to contact me until the morning.

          In disbelief I remember going into the room to check on Mikkah.  Ryan at this point is holding Mikkah close to him and stating that there was nothing wrong with him. I attempt to look closely, but he has him tightly in his arms. I wait for Ryan to think that I was ready to lie down, as he then proceeds to put Mikkah in his crib.  As he goes downstairs I grab Mikkah and place him on my bed. I proceeded to snap my fingers in front of his eyes and notice that he is not blinking. I immediately wake up my two children and find clothes for them so we can go to the hospital.  So many thoughts were running through my head…why would he do this? How hurt is Mikkah? How fast can I get to the hospital? It was never I need to call 911. I remember calling down to Ryan and asking him if he was going to the hospital with us. When he remarked yes, I knew that I had a chance. As I am driving us to the facility I began to asking him questions of that evening and getting monotone answers. Every time I felt the urge to let him know what my son had told me, I heard a quiet voice in my head telling me to keep quiet and get to the hospital. “Convince him that he did nothing wrong, pretend that you are unsure of what happened” You need to do this in order to get him to feel comfortable. Any sign of panic and he may just lose it.

          We pull up to the facility and I recall asking Ryan to bring Mikkah inside as I grabbed my other two children. As he slowly began walking towards the entrance with our son, I remember thinking he wasn’t moving fast enough and I take Mikkah from him. I approach the front and inform them that my son is unresponsive. They rush him to the back and begin cutting off his clothes. At this point I’m bawling my eyes out, my children are confused, and Ryan is pacing. I look into the room and to my horror I see them performing CPR on his little body. Realization sinks in that he is dying and I immediately fall to the floor. Ryan proceeds to help me up and attempts to try and calm me by asking me to calm down. As I replay this in my mind, I wonder why I didn’t attack him, why didn’t I accuse him, why didn’t I try and kill him? At that time all I knew is my son was fighting for his life.  I scream at him to get off me and let me go and the nurses proceed to separate us. I turn to my oldest and ask him to reconfirm what he saw. With the saddest look in his eyes, he tells me the events again and I inform the nurses.

          Everything happens in a blur. Police are called, I began calling family, in the interim they tell me Mikkah went from respiratory distress to respiratory arrest and has to be flown to Children’s Hospital. My mom shows up and screams at Ryan “What did you do? What did you do?” I hold her back….some days  I wish I hadn’t.  She takes my son and daughter to the police station for questioning, the police take Ryan in for questioning, and I proceed to drive myself to Children’s Hospital alone. I remember crying uncontrollably, getting lost, and asking God to spare his life. I make it to the hospital and meet with the doctor in ICU.  The skull fractures he received caused such severe damage that they couldn’t differentiate between the gray and white matter of his brain. He would forever remain in a vegetative state and would require a breathing machine and feeding tube to live. I was in complete shock. My precious, sweet, loving Mikkah was just vibrant hours before. I had just kissed him goodbye before I went to work.

          As family members arrived at the hospital I contemplated having them pull him off the machines. I didn’t want my family to go through this, I didn’t want to go through this.  At this moment I relied on something I hadn’t relied on in a long I wanted to believe that he would get better, that he would wake up from this nightmare, but the reality of it all was that he wasn’t and I knew he wasn’t.  3 days I sat in that room. I had to be told to eat,. I would sleep only to wake up and realize where I was and begin crying all over again. Watching his tiny body convulse and get excited when he moved, only to be told that it was involuntary and a result of his injuries. I couldn’t hold on anymore, I had to let him go not only for him but for my family, and myself.  On January 30, 2011 at 4 p.m. they placed Mikkah in my arms. As my family is around me and his big brother in front of me, they turn the machines off. I watched as his chest heaved and his breath came out shallow. I watch my son whisper into his ear “It’s ok now Mikkah, you can rest now” “We will be ok, it’s ok”. The doctor didn’t have to tell me, as I knew when he took his last breath. Hearing her confirm his time of death brought out anguish in me that I have never felt before or since.  I began screaming, screaming for the loss I just faced, the loss my children faced, and as I began calling for my Mom I felt as little as he did in my arms. They then proceed with the necessary transition to get Mikkah down to the morgue. I get a clipping of his hair, make memorial hand and footprint keepsakes, and get his hand immortalized in plaster. I can’t believe that this is all to remain of my sweet angel. When it was time for him to go, I was the one that carried him down to the morgue. I could feel his skin growing cold, his little lifeless body in my arms.

          Going home was the hardest part. His car seat was still in the car, his clothes still in the closet, his crib in the room that he shared with his oldest brother.  I had to go home and watch my son lose it. I watched as this 12-year-old boy cried out for his brother, as he began throwing things around the room, tears streaming down his face as he felt the weight of grief. We were unaware of how to process this feeling. We had never lost someone so close to us. He was the youngest member of our entire family, the one most innocent, the one who had so much life ahead of him. 

Grief, is such an ugly emotion. It caused me to cry every single day for 3 weeks straight. It caused me to miss a month of work, caused us to go into therapy. Caused me to withdraw from school.  Caused severe depression and was instrumental in helping me making poor life decisions.  Grief caused me to hate God, to blame him for what transpired, for not healing Mikkah. But even harder than dealing with grief, I had to learn forgiveness. How could I forgive the man responsible for murdering our son? At the hospital I realized that if I did not forgive him I would be the one to suffer. I would be in a world where I didn’t care anymore, where I didn’t want love.  I realized that I wasn’t afforded the luxury to be selfish in my emotions as I had 2 beautiful children still depending on me.

I did the best I could to strengthen my resolve and work towards healing. A year later trial approaches.  I not only have to relive this horrific event, I actually find out the true extent of his injuries. Mikkah suffered 2 skull fractures, blood spatter on his ribs, his lip was severed, a bruised testicle, and multiple bruising over his whole body. The bleeding behind his eyes were so profound that they took his eyes to be examined.  It was in these moments that the Victim Witness program saved my life. They helped me get through the court proceedings, literally covered my body from viewing the autopsy photos, and held my hand as they read the verdict.  I owe getting through that experience to Dixie Brookins, Monique Ross Smith, and Christopher Toussant as well as the wonderful ladies of the Clayton County DA’s office the DA herself Ms. Tracey Graham-Lawson and Executive Assistant DA Katie Powers. It took the jury 2 hours to find him guilty of 13 counts and sentenced him to life without parole plus 120 years. Though I never received an apology or reason behind what Ryan had done, I felt I received some closure. I could start healing.  I faced tremendous battles…fought suicide, anxiety, and hopelessness and have overcome.

Here we are 4 years later…I have graduated from Clayton State University with my AAS and certificate in Paralegal Studies. I was fortunate to work as an intern with the same DA office who helped me regain justice. I made Dean’s List and became apart of the University’s Hearing Panel. I even have returned to school to obtain my Bachelors in Admin Manage with a focus on Criminal Justice and a minor in Legal Studies. I found a permanent job with great law firm, my children are thriving and growing, and was even blessed enough to find love with an amazing man who uplifts me everyday.  If you told me back then that this is where I would be today I wouldn’t have believed you. In that darkness I found no hope, I had no light. Time heals all wounds. It may sound cliché but it’s true. I am standing here before you today to show you that it is possible. You can come back from this dark place and find solace in life. I found myself in such a good place that I reached out to Ryan through the Victim Witness program. I wanted him to know that I forgave him but he declined to meet with me. I am ok with this. Maybe one day he will be ready, but until then I am ready to live life.

Know that grief can consume you, if you let it. Know that this sadness is temporary and will pass. It won’t be overnight or the next day, it may take years, but it is possible. True I still fight with my grief from time to time as I haven’t been to visit Mikkah in over a year nor have I gotten him a headstone, but I’m sure that I will in time. I’ve come further than I anticipated and I owe it to him as he taught me to persevere. My resilience, I owe to God, for without his mercy I wouldn’t be here today.  Mikkah’s name means Who is like God. It was a fitting name for such an angel and I hope that his name and his memory will touch all of you. I hope our story will give you hope for your futures. Thank you.

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