Cornell William Brooks insists that he is a beneficiary of the very gains in the civil rights movement that he is now called to protect and expand. Brooks was selected over the weekend as the new president and chief executive of the NAACP, succeeding Benjamin Todd Jealous, who resigned last September.
“I am a beneficiary of the Brown v. Board of Education case and a beneficiary of the NAACP’s rich legacy,” Brooks said in an interview with BET.com. “Everything I’ve experienced as a civil rights lawyer is a result of the NAACP. This is humbling.”
Brooks, who is 53 and serves as executive director of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, is also an ordained minister.
Since he will not formally assume the office for several weeks, until July, Brooks said he is not yet prepared to speak in specifics about his plans to lead the nation’s oldest civil rights organizations.
“It will be my honor and responsibility to assume that role in a few weeks," he said. “And I wouldn’t want to preempt that moment. I am the NAACP president and CEO designee and not in the job yet. I don’t want to be presumptive.”
Still, Brooks maintained that he wants to see the organization continue its strong focus on voting rights.
“Voting rights and political representation are a priority of the NAACP and always have been,” he said. “I would think that the NAACP would continue to protect and expand the franchise. That is certainly speaking to our history and our values.”
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.
Jealous, who is now working as a partner with Kapor Capital and as a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, offered his congratulations to Brooks.
"This is the beginning of a new and exciting chapter for the NAACP," Jealous said, in a statement. "Cornell William Brooks has led an impressive career. I look forward to the Association continuing its mission under his leadership."
Brooks says he finds the prospect of leading the NAACP both thrilling and formidable.
“This is a job that I think will be exciting and daunting, it will be fun and challenging,” he said. “It is certainly humbling to stand in the path that was set by leaders like Roy Wilkins, Ben Hooks or W.E.B. DuBois.”
He added: “If you’re not intimated, excited, thrilled and enthusiastic about the future, you don’t have a pulse. It’s an extraordinary opportunity and one that I’m humbled by.”
Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan
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(Photo: AP Photo/NAACP, J. Adams)