Darren Brown died one month shy of his 17th birthday. The lanky teen with a thirst for the streets ran away too often, said his mother Avis Brown. So when he went missing one day in July 2012, Brown reported her son’s absence to police just like she did countless times before.
“He wanted his father in his life,” she said. “His father hasn’t been around since Darren was 2.”
Brown sits on a worn couch, her memory book of Darren open to show a photo of her middle child. To this day she wondered how her son could have been lured to his death.
She credited a strong faith with helping her get through the 18 months since his body was discovered in fields off Colvin Avenue near Taunton Place. He had been stabbed and burned.
The Brown family is among 7,500 families – including 11,000 children – who will benefit from the 32nd annual News Neediest Fund drive. The News Neediest Fund and the Western New York Holiday Partnership provide gifts and meals for disadvantaged families during the holiday season.
Brown lives modestly with her 11-year-old daughter Tanaiya Black and two grandchildren, Arrie Graham, 4, and Andrew Brown Jr., 4 months. Her oldest son, Andrew Brown, 21, works as an electrician.
Avis Brown rents a single-family home off Kensington Avenue where they moved two years ago. A frayed carpet barely covers the living room floor. The house is in disrepair. Upstairs, it’s worse.
“This is my serenity room,” said Brown, 48, pointing to the dining room, where a fleet of sailboat knickknacks hang on one wall. “Water signifies peace to me, somewhere you can go and relax.”
Tanaiya sat quietly playing with her infant nephew. The 11-year-old seems a lot older, and while many children her age are wishing for a tablet or smartphone, Tanaiya wants her brother back so they can play cops and robbers.
A bright spot is the family church, New Mount Ararat Temple of Prayer on Jefferson Avenue. It sponsors children’s outings to Chuck E. Cheese and overnight stays at Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park in Erie, Pa.
“They helped me a lot, so much,” said Brown. “They had grief counseling there.”
Brown is happiest, it seems, when she is serving others. She now wants to use her tragic experience to help other parents who have lost children to violence.
“If I could talk to other people who don’t know what to do,” she said. “I believe being brought up in the church with my grandfather being a minister and me being at church seven days a week could help me help others – even though I didn’t like it at the time. I actually got a spanking because I made a suggestion that we should move into the church.”
For Christmas, she plans to roast a turkey stuffed with dressing. Mac and cheese will make its way on her holiday table. Potato salad and sweet potato pie, too.
Baking brings back memories of the family house on Peach Street, where Brown recalled sons Darren and Andrew raising the lid on the mail slot of the side door to smell what she was baking.
“They had a contest to see which one could guess what it was,” she said. “The memories keep me going. If I had one wish, I would want to move out of this house.”
Brown was born and raised in Flint, Mich. She moved here after she married a man from Buffalo. Brown said she worked steadily as an aide in several nursing homes locally until October, when her grief became unbearable.
“When he left that morning, he wouldn’t look back at me. I didn’t know what was wrong,” she said. “I feel so bad because we not only lost a son. We’re losing so many kids. It hurts me to see a life wasted.”