Update: The 2016 Miles for Mike 5K Walk/Run is scheduled for this Saturday, May 14 at noon. You can buy tickets here.
The following story was originally published April 16, 2015:
Walking on a treadmill at the gym, Karre Brown recently had a thought about her late brother, Michael.
Each year since his death in February of 2010, family and friends have gathered for a fish fry to raise money toward a scholarship at Greenport High School that’s named after Mr. Brown, who was killed at the age of 21 when his car was broadsided by a bus in Northampton.
Thinking about her younger brother, who lived with cerebral palsy, Ms. Brown realized there was a better way to celebrate his life.
“Walking was so important to Michael,” she said, recalling how much it meant to him every time he was able to shed his wheelchair and get around on his own two feet.
Paying tribute to Mr. Brown’s ability to overcome his disability, the Michael Brown Memorial Scholarship Fund will host the Miles for Mike 5K Walk/Run at Greenport High School. Those who knew him best say it’s a fitting way to remember a young man who fought to live life to the fullest before it was cut tragically short.
Walking never came easily to Mr. Brown, who was born on Oct. 27, 1988, at St. Mary’s Hospital in Brooklyn. He had six surgeries in his lifetime to address a variety of problems including issues with his hip flexors, hamstrings and heels. He walked with bent knees and a bit of a shuffle, but he always kept moving forward.
“This was a kid who had every reason to be angry with the world, but always found the good in every person,” said Joan Dinizio, a secretary at the school. “And he was an inspiration to everyone.”
Mr. Brown’s disability kept him from playing sports, but he proudly served as a manager on the Greenport High School basketball team and aspired to one day work in sports management. He was in his second year studying at Suffolk County Community College’s Eastern Campus when one day he didn’t make it to class.
Mr. Brown was driving his 2000 Ford Focus south on Route 63 near Wildwood Lake Bowl shortly before 8 a.m. on Feb. 2, 2010, when he entered the Route 51 intersection and was struck by a northbound Suffolk Transit bus. He died at the scene.
For Mr. Brown’s mother, who always joked with her son that he had to stay with her forever — even after he might one day start his own family — the 21-year-old’s death was particularly jarring.
“That first year was very devastating and it really still is,” said his mother, Denise Wilson of Riverhead. “Back then it was like he’s gonna walk through that door at any minute and be here with us. Me and Karre had to just hold on to each other.”
Ms. Brown, who was born a year before her brother, describes him as her soulmate. She always felt she had to look out for him and he did the same for her. They felt, in some ways, like the same person.
“When I think of him, I know he wouldn’t want me to be mourning forever,” she said. “He never wanted anyone to feel sorry for him and he wouldn’t want me to feel sorry for myself.”
Mr. Brown didn’t always look at his cerebral palsy as a setback, mostly thanks to the way his fellow students and the staff at Greenport High School treated him in his time there. He was voted both prom king and homecoming king, earning him the moniker “King Mike” from his peers. And when his health prevented him from making road trips with the basketball team, the coaching staff would send him a tape and everyone would come over to watch the game with him.
Ms. Wilson said when her son was young, she feared people might make fun of him. And Ms. Brown said that, as a big sister, she felt she had to be overprotective of her little brother because of his diagnosis. But Mr. Brown’s personality overshadowed his physical disability, making it a non-issue.
“I once thought, ‘I’m not gonna let people pick on him,’<\!q>” Ms. Wilson said. “Instead, they were always laughing with him.”
At Mr. Brown’s funeral at Greenport’s Clinton Memorial AME Zion Church, the crowd spilled out onto the lawn. Former Greenport principal Michael Comanda and teacher Ron McEvoy both spoke.
Mr. Comanda said Mr. Brown could “brighten your darkest day.”
Two years earlier, at Mr. Brown’s graduation, a visibly moved Mr. Comanda announced him as “Downtown Michael Brown,” and as he walked across the stage, leaving his wheelchair in the dust as he had always told his mother he would, the crowd rose to a standing ovation.
His family is hoping once again the people of Greenport will rise to their feet in honor of Mr. Brown.
The walk/run features five-person relay teams, creating a sense of people working together. Food will be served, music will be played and several sponsors have stepped up to provide financial support.
The proceeds from the event — just as with the past fish fries — will be used to give a scholarship to a pair of college-bound high school seniors. For the first time, one of those scholarships is expected to be given to a North Fork student with a disability, a practice the family hopes will become a tradition, one they know Mr. Brown would be proud of.
“You have to be your brother’s keeper,” Ms. Brown said. “It’s nice to know that a sibling or parent of another kid with a disability could see this story and say, ‘This scholarship can help you some day.’ ”