City council race: Brandy Brooks running for District 7

Brandy Brooks, educator, mental health advocate and the Director of Operations for the Roxbury Unity Day Parade, is running to represent District 7 in the City Council.

Brooks is running against Tania Fernandes Anderson, Santiago “Leon” Rivera, Angelina “Angie” Camacho, Marisa Luse, Lorraine Payne Wheeler and Joao DePina. The incumbent Councilor Kim Janey, who was also council president, is running for mayor of Boston while currently serving as the Acting Mayor after former Mayor Marty Walsh was selected to be a part of President Biden’s cabinet as the Labor secretary earlier this year.

Originally from the South, over 20 years ago Brooks moved to Boston, settling in Roxbury, where she was drawn in by the rich culture and diverse environment.

The first-time candidate has worked as an education coordinator, supported creating safe spaces for the LGBTQIA+ community and has also worked to address a variety of public health issues, including suicide prevention, youth violence prevention and sexual assault.

Brooks is a graduate of Cornell University, Tufts University, Northeastern University and UMass Lowell where she completed her doctorate in education.

Education is centered on Brooks’ platform, as it has always been a focal point in her life as she has had to navigate difficult losses and tense home situations growing up.

“The education and degrees are important,” she said. “But it was really a means to an end; to be able to help people and not have them experience some of the things that I did.”

The Scope spoke with Brooks about the top issues identified by her campaign team and her plans to address them if elected as a City Councilor. Parts of this interview have been edited for length and clarity.

Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and why you decided to run for City Council?

Photo: Courtesy of the Brandy Brooks campaign.

I always said education is kind of a foundational principle for me.  I’ve mentioned this before, but when my maternal grandmother died of stage four lymphoma [cancer], and our house burned down in the same week, I made honor roll that term. When my paternal grandmother died of lupus, I earned an academic award for distinction. I’ve had to call the police on my stepfather because he had been abusing my mother. He had struck me, as well, while I was trying to protect her. I ended up being nominated for ‘Who’s Who’ in Georgia. And when I lost family members to HIV/AIDS, I was accepted into Presidential Classroom. I went to Washington DC with other young people of color around the United States, and met members of the Clinton administration, including the former president. I witnessed family members struggling with substance abuse, I joined the Students Against Destructive Decisions—I was an ambassador and traveled around the local schools, giving talks about my own experiences in my family.

I worked for the Department of Public Health — I worked there because I truly believe that policy should have a public health approach, that we should look at things holistically, in terms of lifespan, from the time you are born to the time you exit this world. How can we make sure that we have wraparound services, and create equal systems of care for individuals?

My volunteer, educational and professional experiences, I feel kind of make me suited for the position. It truly is not just talking points with me, like I’ve done the work. I’ve had the experiences, and I lead with my heart. But I also made sure it’s based on history. It’s based on the policies that exist precedents. And it’s also based on what the community is voicing, and what they would like to see.

As far as the campaign goes, and I’ve said this before, I not only understand the who, the what, the when, the where and the how, but for me, it’s more than just rhetoric, theory or campaign slogans. My educational background is in communication, policy and planning and education. Those kinds of foundational pieces combined with a dash of law, stirred with some love, some hopefulness, some grit, and determination are me and my campaign, in a nutshell.

I’ve done the work, and I’ve been in some of those meetings. I’ve written requests for proposals. I’ve sat in on procurement and budget meetings. I’ve sat in on policy development. I’ve participated in community meetings and events. During COVID, our English Language Learners (ELL) and high set students, because I am a director of an adult education program at Bunker Hill [Community College], they needed support beyond the 9 to 5 workday.

I not only stepped in to teach ELL classes when needed, but I also was on call 24/7, to not just support the educational needs of our students, but to make sure that they had the social services to participate in classes; so, to make sure they had housing assistance to make sure that they understood how to apply for unemployment assistance, how to access digital broadband networks.

And so, you know, I understand what the job requires. I understand the nuances involved with making sure that the needs, and not just the needs of some, but the needs of all, are addressed within the District.

The focus of our campaign—because it’s not just about me—everyone in the District needs to have equitable access to economic opportunities to public safety to housing, with an emphasis on homeownership, and an education system that works for the parents, the students, the administrators and the educators alike. For me to do this, and do it well, will require not just the involvement of residents, which we hope we have, but it will involve collaboration with other city councilors, with city departments, and for some issues, it requires state and federal interventions. Of course, you want to make sure that constituent voice is the foundation, but you also have to make sure that you can collaborate with those other entities to get things done.

Something I’ve said consistently, and I will continue to iterate it, is that problems that took decades to make will not be solved overnight. Anyone claiming that is not being honest with the residents and the constituents, so my platform and my campaign are truly based on honesty and transparency.

As someone born in South Carolina, raised in Georgia, and developed in Roxbury, I have a different perspective on the District and how things can get done. I’m not as jaded nor as oblivious to the economic, political or social disinvestment. But I definitely take a different stance.

I do believe that because some in our District feel they have been ignored for so many years that you first have to rebuild that trust, and you have to make sure that constituent voice is empowered, and you have to be transparent. You have to be transparent, and you have to stand on your principles and the policy platforms that you state that impact our District.

For example, if 60% of the city’s budget is allocated to public safety and education… education is 41%, and public safety is 19%. Right. I’m an educator; that is my background that is my interest. For me, when we have conversations around the budget and what we do with education, I’m truly vested in how we make sure it’s equitable for everyone.

As I mentioned in the Ward 4 forum a couple of weeks ago, it was eye-opening as a candidate to receive 200 emails upwards regarding the Keep it 100 policy; whereby the school board, after months of deliberation, decided that they would include socioeconomic status, in addition to testing and grades, with respect to admissions.

With this projection, hopefully, it’ll be more equitable in terms of who they accept. Still, I was like, ‘Wow, you received 200+ emails about this initiative.’ All this energy, all this money, all this attention. But what about the other schools in the District? What about the other schools in the city? Can we have the same energy, focus, attention and funding behind it that we do with respect to the exam schools?’

It’s important, again, as I said when we’re talking about issues that we talk about them and can speak competently about them, and that the next City Councilor can do that as well.

I’ve said it many, many times before… For me, education is my foundation. That is where I start. With me, teaching, learning and helping others is kind of like the other layers on that, but truly understanding the issues, understand that the history and understanding the different nuances is who I am and what my campaign has been about.

You kind of tapped into my next two questions. My first question for you is, what would you say are the top policies on your platform?

As I’ve mentioned before, education is a foundation for me. There’s a quote that I love by Mark Twain, and it says that ‘The two most important days of your life are the day you’re born, and the day you found out why.’

For me, my ‘why’ has always been education. Anytime anything tragic or any traumas of experience happened, I turned to education and continue to do that to this day, in terms of helping others—whether that be domestic violence, whether that be death, whether that be homeless homicides, losing relatives to HIV/AIDS, intimate partner violence.

I’m always about how I can I educate myself first, but how can I use that education to help others not have to experience those same things? It’s not just talking points, but it’s foundational.

Let’s talk a little bit about some of the policies. The District and the city face enormous challenges, whether you’re talking about climate change, food and housing insecurity, senior services, economic and workforce development, police reform, youth violence and discovery. I use the word discovery very sarcastically, but the discovery of Methadone Mile, which has become more than just an eyesore, but it’s a serious threat to public health.

No matter what the issue is, you have to grasp the processes to be able to change it, and you need to be open to differing ideas and opinions on how you can change.

There are three kinds of top-line things. The first is housing. Housing is incredibly, incredibly important for our District and incredibly important that we address. There’s been a lot of recent conversation on the pause on the eviction moratorium and what the city and the state will do with that. It expired last October, and the State Legislature, in kind of a last-ditch effort with advocates and others, decided to extend that moratorium until April 2022. Landlords can still file for eviction against tenants and nonpayment of rent, but no action can be taken in the process of getting rental assistance.

This conversation is important in the short term because it provides needed protection for tenants and landlords. Still, it does not address the critical issue with respect to the long term…which is how do we provide affordable housing in our District and throughout the city of Boston?

Two policies, which I’ve promoted, are inclusionary development policy, IDP, and area median income, AMI. The IDP is a policy requiring that when looking at market-rate developments, about 13% of them have to be income-restricted. I argued long ago that [it] needs to be increased at a minimum of 25%, and the maximum would probably be about 40%. And with that percentage being increased, we have to talk about homeownership.

How do we make sure that the demand equals the supply? That has to be a priority for the District and the city. Additionally, as I said, with AMI, we need to make sure that the calculation for how we look at affordable, in quotes, does not include Wellesley,

does not include Waltham, does not include Dover because those are higher-income cities.

We need to make sure that the area median income encapsulates District 7, the immediate income for this District, which is closer, depending on the year between $30-40,000. Using that calculation would be different when we look at affordability and what is actually affordable in our District. Those are things we absolutely must do.

Another thing that we absolutely must address [is] the issue of access to opportunities and capital for our businesses. That is absolutely necessary. We have got to focus on small businesses. One of the things that I’ve always argued for our District is [that] we have to create, build and sustain wealth.

One of the ways you do that is homeownership opportunities. The second way you do that is through business opportunities. I’m sure all of your readers are familiar with the Boston Globe Spotlight article, which talked about the impact racism had on Black Bostonians. And the fact that a Black Bostonian family of four has a median net worth of $8, compared to white city dwellers who have an average net worth of $247,000; they broke it down, too, when they looked at specific ethnic, racial groups. When they looked at Puerto Ricans, which have about $33,000 [and] Dominicans, $0. With that, it tells you that the access, that money is not staying within our community and that our net worth, which is tied to economic opportunities, is not the same as other communities.

We have to make sure that our communities and individuals within our communities have access to capital. This is alarming. But again, businesses and, particularly, small businesses are the lifeblood, not just locally but nationally. They create two-thirds of all new jobs in the community, and the FDA, at one point it says that they generate 44% of all economic activity in the United States.

One thing that I know working as a program director of English Language Learners and those trying to obtain their high school certification, that small businesses are also the entryway for immigrants and immigrant populations. Some of the work I’ve done in the prisons and prison population is that it’s also an entryway for formerly incarcerated folks. Those are two issues that are important in our District.

We’ve got to address the issue of small businesses’ access to capital and making sure that our businesses have the same access as other businesses and that the same access to city contracts as other businesses do. It is absolutely criminal that less than 2% of city contracts go to minority-owned businesses in our District.

And then finally, the last issue which is important to me, and I’ve mentioned it before, is education — making sure that our schools are equitable for all and making sure that we are not just intentional about our policies, but that we actually move forward with solutions. We can’t just continue talking about it. We must have the policies behind them. We have to make sure that the infrastructure, point blank period, is updated.

Schools should have updated HVAC systems, okay. Students should have access to air conditioners and heat at the same level as our businesses and homes. We need to make sure that happens. We cannot have students passing out because of heat; that’s ridiculous.

As I’ve mentioned previously, we also need to make sure that the same energy, the same focus, the same money dedicated toward our exam schools are dedicated toward the other schools in our districts and that the opportunities and outcomes are the same.

Another thing I think is important because it’s in our District is that we offer vocational opportunities and that we’ve made sure that those opportunities are equal. Madison [High School] should be a #1 school in the nation. Boston always prides itself on being #1 at things, but we need to make sure that our school systems reflect that. And our priorities reflect that if our budget is 41%. The outcomes should show that 41% of the budget.

If elected to office, how do you plan to implement the policies and things you are promoting on your platform?

In terms of implementing any policy, it starts first and foremost with making sure the community is on board and behind the policies. One of the things that I want to work to engage with and empower the community around the issues being debated at City Hall, which is critically important.

First and foremost, you need to make sure that the community is behind you, and I want to make sure that all parts of the community are involved in the decision-making process. Part of that is making sure that if I’m elected to be the City Councilor, that I have a presence in the District, that I have an office in the District, that the community knows when I’m available when my team is available and we make it consistent that we’re reaching out to the community, and we’re letting them know about things that are happening and that it’s a dialogue going back and forth.

The second important thing is that some of the policies being discussed, such as free MBTA, cannot be done just by the city. The city can advocate, and the city can work toward it, but it will require state intervention with some of these policies with respect to addressing Methadone Me. Are we going to reopen the [Long Island Bridge] and make sure things happen? It will cause state intervention by making sure that we work with other cities and localities on the individuals that are not from the District being brought into the District, and then making sure that we decentralize some of the clinics. That involves other City Councilors, it will involve the State Legislature, and on some things, it will involve Federal.

For me, in terms of how you get policies done: 1.) You have to understand the policy and have some experience; 2.) You need to make sure that you involve the constituents. You need to make sure that the constituents know what’s happening. Know how it’s happening when, where, and who’s involved, so they don’t feel like the fix is in and 3.) It involves working with others, whether city councilors, state agencies, or other legislators at the state level.

What makes your campaign different from all the other candidates running?

My answer is tied into a couple of things… so I’m different from the other candidates, not just because my speech is often colored, you know I have a southern twang, and I use certain colloquialisms that may only be germane to those who grew up in the South; but I do truly believe that all eight of the candidates bring something different to the table.

It’s truly been great running into [other candidates] at these events and getting to know some of them that I didn’t know previously. While we may have similar talking points and those types of things, I truly feel that I’m the candidate most ready for our District to tackle the community’s concerns on day one.

What sets me apart is that while we all love our community, we all want to see the best for our community… I feel I’m the one most able and capable of stepping in on day one and using all of my years of educational and professional background to really impact change for the residents of the District.

What do you like about District 7, and what do you think can be changed?

One of the things I’ve always loved about the District is the people. You know, as a transplant coming to Boston, there were a few things I knew beforehand. As a child of the 80s, I was a huge New Edition fan. Being able to live in Roxbury, I was like, ‘That’s why New Edition came out.’

Also, as a Georgian, the history with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X… I mean it just has such a rich history, and the culture and the people are one of the beautiful things about the District and about living specifically in Roxbury.

I feel so proud to be a part of this community and make change that I’ve been doing over the past couple of years.

Some of the things that I think are problematic with the District and are problematic in the area, in general, are issues around equity. Boston has a storied past with respect to addressing equity and making sure that everyone has equitable access to some of the issues I have already mentioned: housing, education, economic opportunities, transportation. There is still work that needs to be done in our city with respect to those things, but I see such hope, and I see that there is such energy on the ground to get these things done.

Just the fact that this year there’s so many candidates in the race. It says to me that people have not given up hope for their Districts, for their community, for the city. Yes, some things need to be improved, and yes, there are issues that we absolutely must address and need to address; there’s still just so much beauty, so much culture, so much history that we can build upon.

Is there anything you want to say to the readers that I didn’t ask you about today?

One of the things is that I truly love this city. It’s a city I have lived in for close to 20 years. Boston has become my home, and I can’t see myself living somewhere else. I want to see my home thrive. And I want to see the community thrive.

As I mentioned before, there are things we have to address. I mean, we were coming out of COVID, and we have to address some of the issues which have presented themselves through COVID, whether that’s housing insecurity, food insecurity, the fact of increased substance use disorders, increased demand for mental and behavioral health services, and equity and fairness issues.

There are so many things that are going well in our community. And while there are things that we need to address with achievement gaps, a labor market that’s responsive to the community. We are working towards that. We need to make sure that the next City Councilor does not just give rhetoric. We [need to] make sure that this individual is ready with policy solutions.

I will admit that I’m a first-time candidate, but I’m not running for a comma or to pad my resume. I’m not. I’m truly running because I not only feel I can do the job, but with the community’s help, I can do it well.

I’m looking forward to continuing to campaign to win your support and win your vote, and I look forward to hopefully being one of the 13 members of the City Council after November 2.

I believe in public service. I believe that we can collectively make our District better and more equitable, and I ask that if you believe in me, you believe in the platform that I’ve set for you to vote for me on September 14 and November 2.




Sign up to our montly newsletter on the most important social justice issues in boston right now.