As one whose job is to inspire others, people often ask me who inspires me. Keisha Brown was a remarkable woman of strength and courage whose life has served as a source of inspiration to me for a decade. Here’s why:
I first met Keisha in 2003 on her wedding day in New Orleans when she married my friend Damon Brown. She had a gentle voice and a shy, sweet spirit. But a heart of a warrior beat within her. And soon, that heart would be on display for the world to see.
As the boy’s varsity basketball coach at Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart Academy in Michigan, Keisha lead the team to five straight conference titles, four district titles, and three regional crowns. In 2006, she took her young men all the way to the Class D state championship – the first and only woman to do so.
As a black woman from Morgan City, La., coaching young white men in a community with a four percent African American population, Keisha challenged notions and changed hearts. And did I mention she did it with her daughter, Angel, on her hip? In six seasons as head coach, she compiled a record of 114-30, losing only three games between 2004 and 2006.
Her husband, Damon, took Sacred Heart’s girl’s team on to win the state championship this year as head coach. In 2009, Keisha moved on to head coach of the Alma College women’s basketball program, where she served for five years.
Seven years ago, Keisha received a phone call that would change her life forever when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her daughter was only a year old.
“I look at Angel sometimes through eyes of fear. But then I know that’s just the devil, because God has a plan and a purpose,” said Keisha in a YouTube documentary chronicling her battle.
Fight after fight, after fight, after fight, Keisha’s team rallied to support her. “I was fighting. And my boys and my family, parents and the community – they were all there. My team is big,” said Keisha.
She may not have known it, but I was a part of her team, too. I watched her Facebook posts cheering her on and praying for her when her health took negative turns. Her grace, courage and strength helped me to keep life in perspective. In an age where people take to social media to gripe about the most trivial of matters, Keisha remained upbeat – even when fighting for her very life. And when one of my closest friends was diagnosed with cancer, she was the first person I turned to.
Keisha beat cancer three times before giving up her fight in Round Four on April 10.
She was 42.
“There was a reason for me being diagnosed coaching boy’s basketball. There was a reason that it was not one, two times, but four times,” she said in the documentary.
Perhaps one reason was to help children who have lost a parent to cancer. Named for her daughter, Keisha founded the Angel Wings Fund to lessen the burden on the surviving parent by providing college scholarships to these children, and to bring cancer education into schools. Before her death, Keisha shared her inspirational story with young people as part of her work with Angel Wings.
“Before cancer, you could not get me to sit and talk about personal stuff with anybody. Before cancer, you couldn’t get me to be confident in myself. I’m very confident in who I am. I’m stronger because of cancer.”We could all learn a lesson from Keisha Brown’s strength. I know I have.
Who inspires you and why? Tell us in the comments below.