Cornell William Brooks is the 18th President and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). As a civil rights attorney, social justice advocate, fourth generation ordained minister, and coalition builder, Brooks exemplifies the mission of the NAACP to secure political, educational, social and economic equality for all American citizens.Working with the whole of the NAACP, his vision is an NAACP that is multiracial, multiethnic, multigenerational, and millions of members strong.
A graduate of Head Start and Yale Law School, Brooks considers himself “an heir” of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Born in El Paso, TX, and raised in Georgetown, SC, he went on to earn a B.A. with honors in political science from Jackson State University, a Master of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology, where he was a Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar; and a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he served as senior editor of the Yale Law Journal and member of the Yale Law and Policy Review.
Brooks served a judicial clerkship with then-Chief Judge Sam J. Ervin III on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. He also worked as a staff attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and as Executive Director of the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington. In 1998, honoring his grandfather’s 1946 bid for Congress, Brooks ran as the Democratic Nominee for Congress for Virginia’s 10th District – advocating for public education, affordable healthcare, and fiscal responsibility.
During his four years as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, Brooks worked to secure the then-largest government settlement for victims of housing discrimination and filed the government’s first lawsuit against a nursing home alleging housing discrimination based on race. Brooks also worked for eight years as special and senior counsel to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); and also directed the Office of Communication Business Opportunities – working to increase financing for small and minority- and woman-owned businesses.
Immediately prior to joining the NAACP, Brooks led the Newark-based New Jersey Institute for Social Justice as president and CEO. Within a mere five years, the Institute passed a constitutional amendment, bail reform, “Ban the Box,” foreclosure reform, and prison re-entry legislation, which The New York Times hailed as “a model for the rest of the nation.” Brooks also produced an award-winning documentary on criminal justice.
During his tenure as president and CEO of the NAACP, with renewed visibility and voice, Brooks has passionately led the Association in legislatures, courts, and the community, against racial profiling, police misconduct, and the full range of the NAACP’s civil rights agenda. With leadership from branches to the Board, Brooks has mobilized the fight against voter suppression with victories in the courts, the 1002-mile America’s Journey for Justice, and Democracy Awakening, what The Nation called, “The Most Important Protest of the 2016 Election.” The NAACP has broadened, renewed, and initiated partnerships and coalitions, including building critical support for the passage of major education reform, criminal justice regulatory reform, and expanding support for voting rights. Additionally, membership activity and social media followers have increased annually by more than 25 and 20 percent, respectively. The NAACP is visible, vocal, effective, and growing.
Brooks lives with his wife, Janice, and two sons, Cornell, II and Hamilton. They are members of Turner Memorial A.M.E. Church.