Last Updated: January 27, 2014
This article appeared in the January 2014 Rural Policy Matters.
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Growing up in rural Weldon, North Carolina, Ernest Brooks was always active in his community. But it wasn’t until he was twelve—yes, twelve—that he became a rural advocate at the national level. He’s been doing community-based work ever since. Last year he was named Assistant Dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College.
“When I was a student at Weldon Middle I attended a Rural Rendezvous,” says Brooks. The Rendezvous gatherings were sponsored by the Rural Trust and brought together people from rural communities across the country to celebrate their places and address concerns unique to rural contexts. Brooks got involved through the Southern Initiative of the Algebra Project, which was working in partnership with the Rural Trust in Weldon.
Brooks went on to become a founding member of the Rural Trust Youth Council and then the first youth member of the Rural Trust Board of Trustees. He finished his term of service in 2012 as Board Chair.
“The opportunities I had as a young person to wrestle with issues of policy and access, education and community development, had a seminal impact on my work and life,” Brooks observes. “The Trust’s emphasis on the transformation of communities and the involvement of families in shaping their schools was particularly important.”
Brooks graduated from Morehouse College and earned a Masters of Divinity from Duke University. While at Duke, he took Leave from his studies to work in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Louisiana had begun a far-reaching experiment to re-organize schools in the city. The Southern Initiative of the Algebra Project along with several foundations, colleges, and non-profits had launched a collaborative effort to build community school partnerships.
“We were working to establish parent councils and create other opportunities for families and communities to have agency in schools and the direction of education in the city,” explains Brooks, who also helped develop mentoring programs for students.
Brooks continued his youth and community-oriented work in Atlanta, where he worked with the Fulton County Children and Youth Leadership Academy to provide entrepreneurial and leadership experiences for boys in elementary school.
While completing his degree at Duke, Brooks also served as pastor of the Mt. Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Williamston, North Carolina. In 2011, he was called to Morehouse as Associate Campus Minister before being named Assistant Dean.
Brooks works to recruit rural and small town students to higher education and continues to advocate for rural places. “So much of the national conversation on community development and education reform is approached through an urban lens,” he says, noting that rural places have less access to public resources and philanthropy.
“We also have to re-think what it means to be well resourced,” he adds. “Rural places have social and community and cultural resources. That’s one reason place-based education is so important. The wider narrative needs to reflect what rural America gives to and develops for the nation.”
Read more from the January 2014 Rural Policy Matters.