Fighting for Democracy: Cornell Brooks' Story

August 03, 2016

A photo of Cornell Brooks

Here We Are Many Years Later

“He risked his life,” said Cornell Brooks, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He was talking about his grandfather, the Reverend James Edmund Prioleau, who headed a local chapter of the NAACP in Jim Crow-era South Carolina. He ran for Congress in 1946, in part to increase black voter registration. “Here we are these many years later trying to protect and stand up for the right to vote. Having a grandfather who risked his career, risked his life standing for the precepts and principles of the constitution speaks to me today.”


We Have To Stand Together

We talked to Brooks in April at Democracy Awakening, an event that brought hundreds of organizations and thousands of protestors to Washington, DC, to kick big money out of politics and protect the right to vote. “Who we have here is a glittering constellation of democracy,” he said, marveling at how many different groups—everyone from Greenpeace and the Sierra Club to the Communications Workers of America and the NAACP—were coming together to fix our broken democracy. “Our agendas converge in a Venn diagram of justice.” He went on, saying, “We have to stand together. We can't be segregated in terms of the folks who are green over here and the folks who do civil rights over here.”

Brooks, after a long career fighting for civil rights and social justice, was chosen to lead the NAACP in 2014. As a fourth-generation ordained minister and a student of history, he feels guided by his faith and by those, including his grandfather, who battled so long—facing prejudice and violent resistance along the way—for equality and the right to vote. The fight continues—to restore the Voting Rights Act, to overturn Citizens United. But Brooks is hopeful.

History Is Not Written Yet

“I'm not alone. We've got folks out here [whose] grandparents were in the civil rights movement. Their parents were in the civil rights movement. Guess what? They're not willing to simply say the history was written. They are saying to the country, ‘No, we want to write the history. We want to do it now.’”

He looked around at the crowds, the signs, feeling the enthusiasm in the air, with the Capitol building shining under its scaffolding in the distance. “You have baby boomers. You have millennials. You have the hip hop generation and the Motown generation. You've got high schools. You've got grandparents, all coming together because they understand that our millennial brothers and sisters say, 'We as a nation need to stay woke.'"

It’s up to us to keep the momentum going. Together we can make sure we have a democracy that works for all of the people, all of the time.