Michigan Community Rallies Around Basketball Coach

Michigan Community Rallies Around Basketball CoachKeisha Brown
In these days of recession, millions of families across the countries have found themselves in hard times, but few have taken harder hits than Keisha Brown of Mount Pleasant, Mich.

In these days of recession, millions of families across the countries have found themselves in hard times, but few have taken harder hits than Keisha Brown of Mount Pleasant, Mich.

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Many have stretched the education budget to give the students as much as possible.Play

Brown steadfastly battles financial uncertainty, an impending job cutback and even breast cancer, all while raising a 3-year-old daughter named Angel with her husband Damon. But like so many other Americans, she and her husband are not fighting alone.

Almost every step of the way, the other residents of Mount Pleasant have joined in to do what they can to help, and in the process they have become like the Browns' extended family.

"Mount Pleasant is truly a community where I don't mind raising a family," Brown told "Good Morning America" in an e-mail. "My daughter is my world and where she grows up is important to my husband and I. I want her to be in a community with strong family values and surrounded by people who will look out for her. This is Mount Pleasant. The community promotes family first."

Racial Differences, Same Struggle

Keisha Brown is the athletic director and school counselor at Sacred Heart Academy, a small Catholic elementary school in downtown Mount Pleasant, as well as the varsity boys' basketball coach.

Her husband, the coordinator of student activities at Central Michigan University, also coaches the girls' varsity team at Sacred Heart.

A predominately white school, Brown is the only black member of the staff at Sacred Heart Academy, and all of the boys and girls on her and her husband's teams are white.

Nevertheless, the school is one of the main reasons she considers Mount Pleasant to be a critical part of their family. From weekly fish fry dinners during Lent to cheering on Mount Pleasant basketball, Sacred Heart Academy has seeped into all aspects of the Browns' life.

"With coaching, my husband and I use it as a life-skills tool. Our kids were able to learn about adversity and how to be strong and fight in any situation," Brown said.

The students and larger community have been through it all with the Browns -- including cancer.

Brown was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006.

She had treatment, but it returned again in 2008. This time a double mastectomy was the only answer.

Through it all, she has had her Mount Pleasant community by her side, including her basketball players.

Sacred Heart and her basketball boys have become so much of her world that she often looks to protect their dreams and needs before her own. Brown even made the decision to postpone her surgery until basketball season had ended -- she only had her last mastectomy two weeks ago.

According to Brown, Mount Pleasant is very much a family oriented town, making it the perfect place to raise a child -- especially during difficult times.

The local cancer organization has pitched in for gas money for Brown's out-of-town appointments (her surgeries were completed two hours away from Mount Pleasant), and many families from Sacred Heart Academy came to the rescue when times got tough. They delivered meals to her home, and offered to pick little Angel up from school.

It has been as though the community has been battling Brown's cancer right along with her.

Healthcare Costs, Education Cuts Hit Simultaneously

But coping with cancer is not the only obstacle facing the Brown family these days. As the bills pile up with added healthcare costs, so does the pressure. The difficult economy has been no stranger to Mount Pleasant.

Brown has said that with a 3-year-old, it would be great to move to a larger home, but with the current financial pinch that is simply not an option. Even child care is an added expense for Mount Pleasant families, causing parents to look forward to the year their child can enter elementary school.

The budget at Sacred Heart Academy has also taken a hit, affecting teachers who are already struggling to make ends meet. Many of these teachers, like Brown, have children who are also in school or daycare. The base salary for teachers at Sacred Heart, a non-government sponsored parochial school, is only about $28,000 a year.

Two mastectomies in a year and half combined with ongoing radiation treatments have certainly taken their toll on Brown, but she said she still considers herself quite blessed.

Her friends and students at Sacred Heart have provided a shoulder to lean on, and no matter what, she said she knows there is a loving network surrounding her family.