Cornell William Brooks is the President and CEO of the NAACP. He announced on January 3 how the organization plans to protest Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions‘ nomination as Attorney General in the Donald Trump Administration. The NAACP and the local Alabama chapter of the NAACP will stay in Sessions’ Mobile, Alabama office until he withdraws the nomination.
The 55-year-old Brooks has been the NAACP’s president since 2014 and is just the 18th person to hold the job. He was born in El Paso, Texas and is married to Janice Brooks. They have two children, Cornell Brooks II and Hamilton Brooks.
Here’s a look at Brooks’ life and career.
1. Brooks Plans on Occupying Jeff Sessions’ Mobile Office Until Sessions Withdraws His Nomination
Brooks posted the above tweet from Jeff Sessions’ Mobile office and shows him with members of the NAACP and NAACP Alabama chapter. They plan on occupying the office until “he withdraws as a AG nominee or we’re arrested.”
Sessions has faced racism accusations throughout his career. According to CNN, the Senate Judiciary Committee refused to make him a federal judge in 1986 after hearing testimony that he called the NAACP and ACLU “un-American.” He also thought the two groups were “Communist-inspired,” according to testimony from then-Justice Department lawyer J. Gerald Hebert.
“Things that I had heard firsthand from him were things that demonstrated gross racial insensitivity to black citizens of Alabama and the United States,” Herbert told CNN in 2016.
Brooks called Sessions’ nomination “deeply troubling,” adding, “Based on the disdain for our nation’s civil rights laws that Senator Sessions has consistently demonstrated throughout his career, his fitness to be the chief protector and enforcer of them falls into dire question.”
“Senator Sessions’ record suggests that he will carry on an old, ugly legacy in this country’s history when civil rights for African-Americans, women and minorities were not regarded as core American values,” Brooks added in a November 2016 statement. “While Lady Justice may be said to be blind, we need an Attorney General with 20-20 vision in seeing racial injustice. Whether Senator Sessions, with decades of failing grades on the NAACP’s report card, possesses a racial vision and commitment to justice is in serious question.”
In a 2009 interview with CNN, Sessions said that the allegations made against him were “not accurate” and “false charges.”
2. Brooks Once Called Donald Trump’s Campaign ‘Jim Crow With Hairspray and a Blue Suit’
During the Presidential campaign, Brooks was critical of Trump’s policies. In a September 2016 CNN interview, Brooks said Trump’s comments on African-Americans showed “an insulting degree of ignorance and/or insensitivity.”
Brooks was responding to Trump’s comments at a North Carolina rally. “We’re going to rebuild our inner cities because our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever,” Trump said at the time.
“Mr. Trump, for anyone to assert that the African-American community is in the worst shape ever, ever, ever, to say that, to assert that with a semi-straight face is to demonstrate an insulting degree of ignorance and/or insensitivity,” Brooks said. “We expect more from our presidential candidates.”
In a March CNN interview, Brooks was even more blunt. “The fact of the matter is this is hateful. It is racist. It is bigoted. It is xenophobic. It represents a kind of Jim Crow with hairspray and a blue suit,” he said of Trump’s campaign. “Let’s not underestimate what we’re dealing with. This is a very, very ugly moment in America.”
When Trump won the election, Brooks said in a statement that the NAACP hopes to work with Trump’s administration to “realize the racial justice concerns that not only compelled millions of people to go to the polls on Election Day but also inspired millions to protest in the streets in the preceding days and months.”
Brooks also wrote:
During this critical period of transition, we are now calling upon the next president to speak and act with the moral clarity necessary to silence the dog-whistle racial politics that have characterized recent months and have left many of our fellow citizens snarling at one another in anger and even whimpering in fear. The more than 120 million Americans who cast ballots in this election – as well as the more than 100 million more eligible voters who declined to vote – deserve no less.
3. Brooks Is a Yale Graduate & Was Senior Editor of the Yale Law Journal
According to his NAACP bio, Brooks considers himself an “heir” to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, which overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision that allowed “separate but equal” public facilities. Brooks was born in El Paso, but raised in Georgetown, South Carolina.
Brooks first attended Jackson State University, earning a B.A. in political science. He also earned a Master of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology as a Martin Luther King Jr. scholar. He also has his J.D. from Yale Law School and was the senior editor of the Yale Law Journal.
Brooks worked for the late Chief Judge Sam J. Ervin III of the U.S. Court of Appeals and was a staff attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and served as Executive Director of the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington.
Brooks was also a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice.
4. Brooks Unsuccessfully Ran for Congress to Represent Virginia in the House
As a Washington Post profile on Brooks notes, Brooks’ family settled in Prince William County, Virginia while he worked for the Justice Department. He focused on housing discrimination and was behind the government’s first housing discrimination lawsuit of a nursing home.
In 1998, Brooks ran for a U.S. House seat to represent Virginia’s 10th Congressional district and was the Democratic Party nominee. His grandfather ran for the same seat in 1946. Brooks lost to Rep. Frank R. Wolf, who held the seat from 1981 to 2015.
“I spent two years talking about equitable school funding and jobs,” Brooks told the Post of his failed Congressional big. He spent his time on the campaign trail “talking to people about core values,” he told the Post.
In 2007, Brooks headed to New Jersey, where he was the leader of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, a non-profit group. While there, Brooks advocated for “Ban The Box” legislation to remove a box on job applications that asks if a person has any prior convictions. The idea is to help ex-convicts have better job opportunities.
Since becoming the head of the NAACP, Brooks has continued to advocate for “Ban the Box” legislation. In a 2015 column for the Brennan Center for Justice, Brooks wrote:
The NAACP stands at the forefront of addressing racial profiling and its immediate and long-term impacts, both with political action and advocating for policy reforms — like “ban the box” legislation, which urges employers to remove from their hiring applications the box applicants with a criminal record are required to check. Our efforts aim to move our country toward establishing a fairer criminal justice system and eliminating barriers for formerly incarcerated people to work, which can transform our neighborhoods and make our communities safer and economically stronger.
While in New Jersey, Brooks served on Governor Chris Christie’s transition team in 2010, notes the New York Times.
5. Brooks Led the ‘Journey for Justice’ in Missouri After Michael Brown’s Killing
In August 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by Ferguson, Missouri police. In November 2014, Brooks and the NAACP led a “Journey for Justice” march from Ferguson to the Missouri state capital in Jefferson City that lasted seven days.
“This is a non-violent march. This is a peaceful march and we’re seeking systemic, fundamental reform of policing in this country,” Brooks told USA Today at the time.
“We will march until hell freezes over, and when it does, we will march on the ice,” Brooks said at the rally.