Lecia Brooks is no stranger to the “isms” that exist as the ugly potholes on the road to a better society. In 2004, she took a job in Montgomery, Ala., with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which fights racism and intolerance.
If proof that Brooks’ work is still needed, a simple Internet search will quickly call up a white supremacist organization that lists the center’s staff, along with many photos identifying them by race or religion: Jew, Mestizo, White European, Indian.
Brooks moved to Montgomery from Los Angeles, where she worked for the National Conference for Community and Justice and was an elementary school teacher. She admits that her new home was a “cultural plunge.” After all, not long ago Montgomery was a center of segregation. Rosa Parks was arrested there in December 1955 and Martin Luther King Jr. led the Montgomery Bus Boycott there.
So Brooks was pleasantly surprised when she took the job as director of Mix It Up at Lunch Day, an SPLC program that breaks down racial, cultural and social barriers in schools. She discovered that most of the city’s neighborhoods had become racially diverse. Blacks and whites mow their lawns side by side and sit together proudly to watch their children perform in school plays.
Today, Brooks is director of the SPLC’s Civil Rights Memorial Center, which honors those who died in the Civil Rights efforts of the ’50s and ’60s. Among those memorialized are the four schoolgirls who died in a bomb blast while getting ready for church in Birmingham, a seminary student from Boston, a bricklayer, a businessman, and a housewife.
“Their past is my present. I wouldn’t be here to do what I do today if not for their sacrifice,” Brooks says. “It’s important to tell their story, because it’s important to encourage others to continue.”
Brooks also says she owes her commitment to justice to her LMU experience. She majored in political science in the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts.
“In the middle ’70s, the African American student and faculty population was small,” she says. “The African American faculty members were tremendous in their support. Their narrative to us was ‘You can do anything, and you will do everything.’ And they made sure that became a reality. They were very nurturing and loving. I feel fortunate to have gone to LMU when I did.”
Christelyn D. Karazin ’99 is a writer in Temecula, Calif., and a frequent contributor to LMU Magazine.