I first met Mr. Brooks last year, at a strategic meeting held at Forward Ever, a not for profit organization, connecting various organizations to work collectively on common ills and causes. Our discussion was on Economic Development, and/or Economic fairness and social justice. Mr. Brooks and his organization had been working on building awareness of the enormous problem with re-entry of previous incarcerated individuals and its social and economic impact on the community. As Executive Director of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, in Newark, Mr. Brooks oversaw all advocacy, policy research and workforce initiatives. In the advocacy realm, Mr. Brooks directed the efforts for the passing of three major reentry bills in 2010. The bills create a more level playing field for ex- offenders returning home and will enable previously incarcerated men and women to rebuild their lives as productive and responsible citizens. Under Mr. Brooks, policy research in the upcoming years will see an increase and expansion in the health care area, digital divide and market labor field. In the workforce area, Mr. Brooks brought about an innovative program, WomenBuild, which trains women in non-traditional employment.
Mr. Brooks argues his position in an opt add piece last year, Too Big for The Box, which was my introduction to the issue: “The 65 million Americans (one in four adults) with a criminal record are reminded whenever they fill out a job application that states: Please check the box, if you have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime. This tiny box is a massive economic challenge to both job applicants and business.The misuse of criminal records by some employers is not only an economic challenge but also a moral challenge. Employers who blindly screen out applicants by the box hurt both business and applicants. The majority of people with criminal records have neither spent time in prison nor committed a felony or violent crime. Many are not guilty of any crime at all. Most have been arrested, but not convicted. Moreover, of those convicted, most have only been convicted of nonviolent and often minor crimes.Business leaders, advocates, and legislators are addressing both with the proposed New Jersey Opportunity to Compete Act, sponsored by Sen. Sandra Bolden Cunningham and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman. The bill known as “The Opportunity to Compete Act”, passed New Jersey’s Assembly Labor Committee, in February and is scheduled to be voted on in this session of the legislature.
Mr. Brooks recently led the effort to create the new five-year strategic plan for NJISJ, which effectively establishes new initiative areas expanding the work of the Institute into health care research and workforce development as well as initiatives related to the digital divide in urban regions. Since becoming the Executive Director, Mr. Brooks has expanded and diversified staff members by employing a variety of young professional fellows. Mr. Brooks had the honor to serve in Governor Christie’s transition team in 2010 in the committee on Homeland Security and Corrections. He currently serves as a member of the Board of the East Orange General Hospital and the NJN/Public Broadcasting Authority Board. In the last few years, Mr. Brooks delivered a number of speeches at Princeton and Rutgers Universities as well as sermons at local churches. In 2008, Mr. Brooks was given an award by Integrity House for NJISJ’s reentry work. Mr. Brooks previously worked as a Senior Counsel with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), where he worked on legal and policy matters promoting small business and media ownership diversity and also directed the FCC’s Office of Communication Business Opportunities. Serving in this capacity, he led efforts to increase financing available to small, minority- and woman-owned businesses through regulatory and industry initiatives.
As a columnist, he has written for several newspapers on contemporary politics, ethics, and faith. His civil rights experience includes serving as Executive Director of the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington and as trial attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. As the Executive Director of the Fair Housing Council, Mr. Brooks oversaw a regional program of fair housing testing and public education in Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and metropolitan Maryland that served as the basis of impact litigation. As a graduate of both Head Start and Yale, he campaigned as an advocate for public education, affordable healthcare, and fiscal responsibility. A fourth-generation ordained minister,
Mr. Brooks earned a Bachelor of Arts, with honors, in political science from Jackson State University and a Master of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology, with a concentration in social ethics and systematic theology. After seminary, Mr. Brooks earned a Juris Doctorate from Yale Law School, where he served as a Senior Editor of the Yale Law Journal and Member of the Yale Law and Policy Review. He served a judicial clerkship with then Chief Judge Sam J. Ervin, III, on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. While studying at Boston University as a Martin Luther King Scholar, Mr. Brooks was awarded both the Oxnam-Leibman Fellowship for outstanding scholarship and promoting racial harmony and the Jefferson Fellowship for outstanding scholarship and excellence in preaching. As an attorney, activist, congressional candidate, and pastor, Mr. Brooks has spoken before congregations of diverse faiths, as well as the United Nations Sub-Committee on Discrimination, business organizations, bar associations, labor unions, civil rights groups, schools, and colleges in the U.S. and Europe.
Brooks was raised in Georgetown, South Carolina, and went to Jackson State University in Mississippi. He then went to Yale Law School, where he was the senior editor of the Yale Law Journal. He also has a master’s degree in divinity from Boston University. Brooks served as senior counsel with the Federal Communications Commission and on the transition team for Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey in 2010. He is also a former trial attorney with the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. He comes to the helm of the NAACP during a period of stability and growth. Under Jealous, who left to spend more time with his family, the organization experienced an increase in revenue, from $25 million in 2008 to $46 million last year. At the same time, the number of individual donors increased eight times in the same period.
We congratulate Mr. Brooks on his new appointment, and his successful tenure at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice