Iesha Meredith’s townhome comes to life when Doyle Brown, her younger brother, walks through the door.
The Madison High School senior, who moved to South Dakota from Louisiana in 2015 to escape the negative influences of his early teens, is immediately swarmed by his nieces, who greet him with hugs and declarations that he is their favorite uncle, the Argus Leader reported.
“Doyle just has that personality,” Meredith said.
In the living room, Brown begins scrolling through photos from his youth, with sisters Iesha and TanChicca Meredith playfully ribbing him as they reminisce.
“He was this sturdy kid with a big ol’ head,” Iesha Meredith laughs, recalling a moment from their childhood when she and another sister ran Brown through the dryer for stealing their candy. When he wobbled out, threatening to tell their mother, they tied him up and promised to give him all their candy if he didn’t tattle.
They still got in trouble.
“We’ve had our ups-and-downs as sisters and brothers,” Iesha Meredith said, “but it was never anything we couldn’t work out.”
Fast forward to 2019 in Madison, where Brown has found fresh perspective in a new home. Living with Mike and Shanley Dorris and their daughter Karsyn Dorris, Brown competes in football, basketball and track for the Bulldogs and is a few months away from earning his high school diploma, which would have seemed unthinkable a few years back.
“Doyle’s future is bright,” said Mike Dorris, who runs an insurance business in Madison with his wife. “We’re just trying to keep him on the right path.”
Five years ago, Brown was living in Ferriday, Louisiana, an impoverished town of about 3,200 two hours north of Baton Rouge. Devastated by his brother’s tragic death and finding plenty of trouble himself, he was on a trajectory that likely would have landed him in jail.
At 15 years old, he realized the direction he was headed and made the decision to turn his life around. Following in Iesha’s footsteps, he left Louisiana, joining his older sister and her three daughters in Madison. She had gotten her life together since moving away, so why couldn’t he?
It was difficult for Brown and his mother, Marilyn Cauley, to part ways, but they both knew it was for the best. As part of his fresh start, Brown has found a rock-solid support system, with family and friends doing whatever they can to help him succeed.
“Doyle in Louisiana to Doyle here, you wouldn’t even know him,” said TanChicca Meredith, watching her brother play with his nieces. “The transition was so amazing. I don’t know how to explain it. All the things a teenage boy should be doing, he’s doing. He’s driving, he has goals — that wasn’t the Doyle back home.”
Pondering the path that saw him travel more than 1,000 miles to find a new life, Brown puts it in simpler terms.
“Coming to Madison changed me,” he said. “It changed me a lot.”
Brown still hasn’t opened up about the night his brother, Kenya Cauley, was killed, but it was a moment that had an undeniable impact on his life.
“I was a good kid before that happened,” Brown said. “When (Kenya) passed away, everything changed.”
Cauley was shot and killed on May 13, 2012. According to reports, the 17-year-old was playing a game with a man who intended to fire a bullet over Cauley’s head. He missed and shot him in the chest. Cauley was airlifted to the hospital, where he died that night.
Iesha Meredith said their brother’s death led Brown down a troubled path. He began putting his energy and emotions toward negative things. He was getting into fights and stealing four-wheelers and bikes. Eventually, he stopped going to school, missing what would have been his seventh-grade year.
Brown wasn’t necessarily looking for trouble, but he was hanging around people who were. He was young and foolish and on the verge of ruining his life.
“I was skating the line of really getting in trouble,” he said. “One more thing and I would have gotten sent away.”
It wasn’t until Iesha Meredith decided to start fresh and move in with her boyfriend in Madison — where he had a full-time job — that Brown began evaluating his own future. He realized there was no happy ending to the path he was headed down.
He needed to get out of Ferriday.
Brown wanted to join Iesha Meredith when she first moved to Madison in 2013. Her boyfriend had a place with enough room for her, her children and Brown. But Marilyn Cauley refused to let her youngest son go. She was convinced she could help him turn his life around.
“When I talked to my mom, she would say, ‘Come get him. Just come get him,'” Iesha Meredith recalled. “So we would set a date to go down and get him, but she would change her mind because that was her baby boy.”
Marilyn Cauley was reluctant to let Brown go, but it reached the point where she knew he needed a new environment, even as far away as South Dakota. In September of 2015, while back home with her boyfriend for a funeral, Iesha Meredith brought Brown with her to Madison.
“When I first heard the name South Dakota, I thought about it. Where was I going?” Brown said. “When I got here, I knew it. I was going to be surrounded by white people. It was like, ‘All right, we’ll see how this goes.’ You just never know.”
There were plenty of things Brown had to adjust to when he moved to Madison, which has a population of about 7,000 and is more than 90 percent white. There was also the challenging Upper Midwest weather to consider.
Socially, however, Brown’s personality helped him flourish almost immediately.
Within hours of moving to town, he’d already begun making friends, meeting classmate Nic Comes, who invited him to play basketball at the community center. A day later, he returned and was introduced to another future teammate, Aaron Fiegen.
“It didn’t take him long to make friends,” says Michael Ricke, Madison’s high school athletic director and former boys basketball coach. “Doyle just has that type of beaming personality that draws people to him.”
Another classmate Brown quickly befriended was Karsyn Dorris. Her mother, Shanley Dorris, recalls the October afternoon when her daughter first told her about Brown, the new kid in her class from Louisiana.
The classmates had clicked to the point where Karsyn Dorris wanted to invite Brown over for Thanksgiving dinner. Shanley Dorris was reluctant at first, but after learning that her daughter’s new friend had nowhere to go (his sister was working that day), she agreed.
It didn’t take long for Brown to become part of the Dorris family.
“He’s such a likable, lovely kid,” Shanley Dorris said. “You can’t meet Doyle and not love him.”
Brown and the Dorris family have grown closer over the years. He’s become like their son, joining the family for the holidays when his sister is working. He even traveled with them to the Dominican Republic over Christmas.
“They’re willing to do anything for me,” Brown said. “I love them just like my own family. They’re good people.”
When Iesha Meredith ran into financial troubles last fall and was considering moving back to Louisiana, Mike and Shanley Dorris offered to have Doyle live with them. Iesha Meredith sorted out her problems and was able to stay in Madison, but Brown still moved in with the Dorris family, on the condition he would continue helping his sister.
“He’s still very involved with his family. They do truly care about him,” Shanley Dorris said. “We’re just helping him get from point A to point B so he can use the potential he’s got for his future.”
Sports offered Brown a positive outlet that was part of his new awakening.
On the football field, Madison coach Max Hodgen recognized the freshman linebacker as a raw but aggressive and talented player. “He’s an animal out there,” the longtime head coach said of the 2018 Argus Leader Elite 45 selection, who has a chance to play football in college.
Brown has also developed into a key contributor on the basketball court and on the track, but his growth has not come without challenges. He had to learn how to handle expectations and adjust to being held accountable for his actions. He could no longer get away with just giving up when faced with adversity.
“It was so frustrating for him because I don’t know if he’s been challenged and been forced to overcome some of these situations that he’s been in,” Hodgen said. “I think that’s what you see with a lot of kids from broken homes.”
There has been adversity along the way for Brown, who acknowledges those stumbles as part of his personal growth.
In the fall of his junior year, a situation upset him so much that he discussed quitting and moving back to Louisiana. Concerned with getting him back on track, Hodgen and Ricke went to Iesha Meredith’s apartment and met with her and Brown. The four discussed what happened and convinced him that his problem wasn’t worth running away from.
Academically, there were gaps in Brown’s learning that led to classroom issues initially. But he was an eager student, according to Hodgen, who said it may have been the first time Brown wasn’t being pulled toward something that could get him in trouble.
Hodgen, Ricke and principal Adam Shaw have all become close with Brown during his time at Madison High. Ricke’s son is good friends with Brown and Hodgen checks in on him regularly during the school day.
“As teachers, I think we all get in this business because you want to help and give part of yourself to your students,” Hodgen said. “That’s been most rewarding, working with someone who had so little and watching him come so far.”
Brown has found quite the support system in Madison.
If he needs help in any of his classes, there’s usually a football or basketball coach that can assist him. Elsewhere in the community, other families and friends have embraced him as one of their own, bolstering him on his journey.
“It truly takes an entire village to raise a child,” Mike Dorris said. “Doyle does get in trouble and Doyle does make mistakes and Doyle does talk back when he shouldn’t, but at the same time, he has a big heart and he owns up to his mistakes. His infectious personality helps people want to help him.”
His sister and nieces have remained an integral part of his life, offering guidance when appropriate and providing a positive influence. Back home, Marilyn Cauley keeps tabs on her son, proudly looking on at his accomplishments.
Brown moved to Madison with the hope of turning his life around and making his mother proud. When he visited her last summer, he gave her his 2017 Class A state football championship ring, a mile marker of sorts, signifying just how far he’s come.
“I gave it to her so every time she looks at it, she can think of me and remember what I’m doing and how I changed myself,” he said.
In May, Marilyn Cauley plans to be in Madison to watch her son graduate high school — a moment that she and everyone else who’s met Brown envisioned for him. Walking across the stage could be the most important steps of a life-changing journey.
“Doyle makes me proud every day,” Iesha Meredith said of her brother. “All the emotions will come out when he graduates, because he did it. He’s grown up. He put his head on straight and made some great choices.”