Renault “Toot” Brown is on the rise. The region’s top-selling rap artist at one time is preparing to drop his first album in more than a decade.
“It’s all about us dealing with it and her and who she was,” he says. “She was awesome.”
“She” is Renault’s late wife, Toiya, mother of three, local model and fierce breast cancer fighter. She died in September 2016 after a 10-year battle – a seismic loss for Omaha-born Renault. He and Toiya first met while attending Central High School.
“When I first saw her, I went home and said, ‘Mom, I just met my wife,’” Renault recalls.
The two started dating in 2003, celebrated the birth of their daughter in 2005 and were married in 2008.
“She got diagnosed two weeks after I proposed,” Renault says. “She told me if I left, it would be OK. I said, ‘No, I’m not built like that.’”
As he willingly pivoted to the role of caretaker, Renault slowed his music career. Home life came first, he says. The cancer took its physical and emotional tolls. Treatment hammered the finances.
“We went through some hard shifts,” Renault says.
Now, more than a year after Toiya’s passing, he and the kids – Zhauntel Gamble, 18; Zhané Brown, 12; and Renault Brown, Jr., 10 – are still healing, but they are also moving forward.
Renault recently bought a new home. His music career is budding again. He gives a lion’s share of the credit to Grief’s Journey, formerly Ted E. Bear Hollow, a grief support organization funded, in part, by a grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska.
“A friend of mine said, ‘You need to check out this group because I know you need the help,’” he confides.
Renault and the kids started going to Grief’s Journey in January. He says it’s been one of the best experiences of his life.
“Grief’s Journey has helped us cope and know that it’s OK to feel the way we feel, that it’s OK that we are moving on without her.”
Founded so that “no one has to walk their grief journey alone,” the organization helps adults and youth build healthy coping skills and connect with others in similar circumstances – all at no cost.
“We are our community’s only center for grief support, striving to make our community a more affirming place to grieve,” says Cathy Fox, director of operations.
In gratitude to Grief’s Journey, Renault found a unique way to give back. On a couple of occasions, he has treated fellow support group members to meals catered by an aunt who owns Lonnell’s Southern Delights.
Doing for others is nothing new for Renault. He also works with young people at the Douglas County Youth Center.
“I’m a community person,” he says. And he’s on the rise again.
“Grief’s Journey has opened up our book and started a new chapter. They helped us tremendously.”
“Faces of Fearless” is a storytelling series in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s “Live Fearless” campaign celebrating people living their very best lives and inspiring others to do the same. In partnership with the Omaha World-Herald.