Aaron Brown, right, and the bench installed in his memory at Kalapuya Elementary School (Courtesy/DeLee Brown)
One year ago, DeLee Brown marched at the Oregon State Capitol to remember her son Aaron, who died by suicide.
Now, she’s planning to sing.
Brown, a music teacher at Kalapuya Elementary School, and her husband David Brown, the choir director at Sprague High School, are holding a memorial benefit concert Friday called “Choose to Stay” to raise money for a memorial scholarship and benches at Sprague and West Salem high schools.
Their son, Aaron Brown, a junior at Sprague, took his own life last fall just weeks into the new school year. His death, along with the suicide of freshman Ben McMann, prompted an outpouring of community support and a discussion across Salem-Keizer schools about suicide prevention and student mental health.
Brown said because of her and David’s prominence in the community and local schools, their experience resonated widely with other parents.
“It’s kind of been a wake-up call ... that’s what people keep telling us,” she said. “If it happened to us, it could happen to them.”
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Since Aaron’s death, the Browns have found ways to commemorate him and said they hope speaking about his life and death can spur others to open up about mental health and suicide.
“The biggest outcome we want is for families to go home and talk about how they feel and be able to know that they can talk about their feelings and can ask for help if they need it,” Brown said.
DeLee Brown, right, gets a hug from a friend during Salem's Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk on Oct. 13, 2018. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
The family also wants to donate money to the Salem-Keizer School District’s crisis team, which provides counseling and support for schools after events like Aaron’s death.
At Kalapuya, parents raised money to install an engraved bench bearing Aaron’s name on the playground. It’s called “Aaron’s Buddy Bench,” and Brown and other teachers have trained student “buddies” who commit to talking to or playing with any student sitting alone on the bench during recess.
Brown wants to add benches at Sprague and West engraved with “Choose to Stay.”
They’ve also established a memorial scholarship at Sprague for a graduating senior in choir who’s staying in Salem to attend college or trade school.
Friday’s concert includes choirs from Sprague, West, Kalapuya and the Straub Middle School Jazz Choir and Willamette Girlchoir. Most will sing songs around themes of hope.
The Sprague Choir will sing “Wana Baraka,” a Kenyan hymn they previously sung five or six years ago. Brown said her son loved the song.
“He made David promise that he would do it his senior year of high school. This would be Aaron’s senior year,” she said.
“I’d also love for the adults who come and listen to walk away with a greater desire to support the mental health efforts in our community and to be advocates for mental health for students in our schools,” she said.
The concert is at Morning Star Church, 4775 27th Ave S.E. in Salem, starting at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25. Concertgoers may donate any amount.
Brown previously started an online fundraiser as a memorial for Aaron and raised $4,170. Any money raised from the concert will be added to that fund.
YouthLine gives Oregon teens an option to talk to other trained teenagers, via call or text, from 4-10 p.m. weekdays, with calls answered by adults during other hours. YouthLine is available at (877) 968-8491, or by text at 839863.
Warning signs for suicide include withdrawal, isolation and talking about being in unbearable pain or being a burden to others. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a list of risk factors, warning signs and suggestions for helping someone who may be thinking about suicide.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and connects callers with a crisis center near them. For help in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.
Correction: This article originally misspelled Ben McMann's name.
Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.