Just over a decade ago, Darrell Brown, then a sixth grader, missed a field trip for choir and ended up instead in the band room at Park Forest Middle School.
There he met the woman who would change his life: band Director Doretha Williams. Williams, who’s still the band director at the Baton Rouge public middle school, asked him that day what instrument he wanted to play.
“First I wanted to play the drums, but she wanted me to play something else, and I started on the bass clarinet,” Brown recalled. “It’s been band ever since then.”
Brown’s unusually strong ongoing commitment to the band and the school at 3760 Aletha Drive was recognized Tuesday by Volunteers in Public Schools as it awarded the 23-year-old its 2017 Crystal Apple. The nonprofit group gives the award annually to a standout person or organization volunteering in East Baton Rouge Parish’s public schools for at least 10 years. Brown was chosen over three other veteran volunteers for the coveted honor.
Scott Kelly first started volunteering at Shenandoah Elementary School more than 15 years ag…
Tuesday’s ceremony was held at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church. The Park Forest Middle band just happened to be on hand, performing. When Brown’s name was announced, a big shout went up in the hall.
Adam Smith, associate superintendent and a former principal of Park Forest Middle, remembers Brown from those days in sixth grade.
“He was magnetized to the band room,” Smith said. “He was an awesome kid.”
Even as he attended two different high schools, as he’s held different jobs and as he’s taken courses at Baton Rouge Community College, Brown kept coming back. Even this past year while Park Forest Middle relocated for several months to Capitol Middle School in the wake of the August floods and even as his family too relocated for a few months because their home sustained flood damage, Brown continued to volunteer.
The marching band at flooded Park Forest Middle School has raised about $25,000 in the past …
He’s now the middle school’s unpaid assistant band director. He’s a fixture at fundraisers and joins the band on its trips, such as one last November to Washington, D.C., for Veterans Day, or an upcoming excursion next week to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
“Any type of paperwork that needs to be done I do it. Any type of schedule that needs to be done, I make it,” Brown said. “I make sure Mrs. Williams has less on her plate and I have more on mine.”
Not long out of school himself, Brown said, he can relate to what students are going through. He said he pushes them to excel in school and plan for their future. He’s proud that a majority of the band has a 3.0 GPA or higher.
“I love these kids with everything in my being,” Brown said.
It’s not easy. He works late most nights as a Domino’s Pizza manager, and then wakes up at 6 a.m to take his mom to work. When he’s not working or volunteering with the band, he’s taking classes at the community college or studying. His goal is to be a school band director himself one day.
As Tuesday’s ceremony ended, Brown faced a long night. He had to hit the library to print handouts for parents for the trip to Orlando and then prepare guides for 16 chapters he’s studying in advance of finals next week.
“I can’t stop,” he said. “I got to keep running and running and running.”
Volunteers in Public Schools also awarded Golden Apple honors Tuesday to the following individuals: Erin Rice, who volunteers at Westminster Elementary; Jo Lynn Caffery, who volunteers at Baton Rouge Magnet High School; Carolyn Cavanaugh, organizes volunteers at Highland Elementary; and Sexual Trauma Awareness Response Center, whose members volunteer at EBR Readiness Superintendent’s Academy.
To sign up as a volunteer through VIPS, visit vipsbr.org or call (225) 226-4702.