Friends and family of Morrey Brown, the Cal Poly student who was found dead at the bottom of a swimming pool in what police called an accidental drowning last September, have created two programs to honor the memory of the student, athlete, classical pianist, poet and community volunteer.
Brown, who came to Cal Poly last year as a kinesiology freshmen and member of the Cal Poly track team, was a devout follower of the Bahá’í faith, through which he became involved in the Lapwai Project.
After his death, Thom and Judy Rhon, founders of the Lapwai Project, decided to honor Brown and his mentorship in the program by re-naming it the Morrey Brown Project.
Every summer for the past 13 years, the Rhoms take teenagers involved in the Bahá’í faith from Brown’s native Seattle to visit a Nez Perce reservation in Lapwai, Idaho where they mentor Native American children from the reservation and the local Boys and Girls Club.
Brown and his brother Ajan spent one to two weeks for three summers working with the children, many of whom confront issues such as racism and alcoholism in the Native American community.
Thom Rhom said he and his wife would honor Brown’s memory every time they visit the reservation.
“Each year when we go, we tell the kids about Morrey,” he said. “The kids over there loved him. He was just so likeable. they just hung on him. He was just a good soul.”
Ajan remembered his brother as the only volunteer more interested in spending time with the Nez Perce than hanging out with the other volunteers.
“Every morning we would be involved in announcements and plan the day’s schedule,” Ajan said. “They don’t get much experience (or) outside influence every day so it’s just good for them to see another example. (My brother) was definitely one of the most hands-on (volunteers).”
They also engaged in talent shows, dance workshops and taught basic lifeskills classes with kids ages 6 through 16.
“We teach them how to cook because a lot of those kids, their mom and dad both work and they are home and they have to do it for themselves,” Rhom said.
Brown especially enjoyed teaching the kids how to play tennis, basketball and pole-vaulting.
Brown was also honored by his high school in Kent, Wash.
Kentridge High School announced that it would be giving out the Morrey Brown Athlete of Great Character Award in “recognition of a student track athlete whose character and accomplishments, sportsmanship, leadership, citizenship and academic commitment most closely reflects the excellence demonstrated by this exceptional young man.”
Brown’s mother Cynthia said the school was very careful to give the award out only to students truly deserving of it.
“They will only give the award if the student is truly exceptional,” Cynthia said. “There might be a year or so where there is no student that meets the criteria.”
Brown was wise beyond his years, according to his father Jonathan, who said that by age 3, Brown had already decided to devote himself to a life of faith and physical activity.
“He was pretty deep for someone that age and introspective; he was the wise one of his peers,” Jonathan said. “When we had conversations on different topics of an esoteric nature. I was astonished sometimes that he would just really get it. In some cases I would say ‘jeez, you kind of scare me, you’re not supposed to get that kind of thing yet.’”
Brown’s legacy is already living on in a young woman whom he befriended while she was living on the reservation. She is now going to Dartmouth College on a full scholarship.
“I’m not going to say that you can credit him totally with that,” Ajan said. “But I know he did play a major role in her life and definitely inspired her.”