EP004: Chandra Brooks Wants You to Sit at the Table, and Get off the Menu

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A conversation about how to access and build local power to create positive change in your city. New episodes every other Tuesday! Subscribe in iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play, or your favorite podcatcher. 

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Introducing Chandra Brooks:

If you look up the word “ambitious” in the dictionary, you will find a picture of Chandra Brooks, a community and political organizer born and raised in East San Jose, CA. Here’s just a bit of her resume:

She is the former Vice President of the Silicon Valley NAACP. She was the Northern CA staff director of SEIU, and the Executive Director of a local nonprofit. And she now sits on Santa Clara County’s Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. On top of all that, she’s an author, an entrepreneur, and a mother of 4.

In 2017, Chandra launched a project called The SocialPreneur, which is coaching and training focused on preparing women of color who are new to politics to run for office.

Her book is called, “Black, Brown and Political,” and in the first few pages, she says her goal is take the confusion and fear out of politics and government, and to let as many people as she can know that the power to change things lies within each of us.

We started our interview, by talking about her book.

Interview Highlights

[06:58] I wrote about an incident in my book where these board members in the school are making decisions that are affecting the community, and ...you have these people who are sitting on this school board for 20 plus years. That are not budging.... They haven't been contested and ... nobody's ran against them. Because nobody knows that they can even run for school boards. So you have these same people in these positions for a long time, and that are making decisions that affect us....

So this is a community that maybe is not low income, but, you know, maybe just has some challenges within that community. So in the schools, the air conditioning didn't work in several of the schools in the summertime. And it was so hot, and there was money available to fix them, and they were supposed to be fixed a long time ago.

But because of decisions that were being made by these board members, that weren’t directly connected to the community, it was just kind of like, “I’m in a position of power, this is my role, and I'm going to decide, not based on because I have kids in these schools, but because of my power and how I can allocate this money.”

And what happens -- these kids went without AC and it was just hard for the teachers to teach, hard for kids to learn, in these types of circumstances. So I think something like that, when you are disconnected... from the community, you don’t know what the needs are, and you just kind of make those decisions for yourself.

[14:15] My awakening, and understanding that I had to build my own visibility, my own clout as Chandra, in order to make things happen the way I wanted to see them. So not only as a person within an organization. I figured that out, how to build my visibility and to build my credibility and my influence within my city in order to benefit the organization I was in. But also I had to build it for myself, so I had some major influence on what happened in my city.  

[26:15] The thing with women specifically, is that when we get ready to run for office, or before we even decide to run for office, we're probably asked about 7-10 times to run, before we decide to do it. And with men, you really only have to tell them one time.

...And men are so confident, they just go and do it. But with women, we second guess ourselves to take leadership roles.

[26:59] I don't care, if people think that I’m kind of showboating, but honestly, I take pictures of myself at commission meetings, I talk about doing reentry tours. I post all this stuff because I want people to see that it’s doable.

I am just Chandra Brooks. Yeah I have all these accomplishments now, but I'm just Chandra Brooks from the East side of San Jose that got kicked out of 3 schools, and that graduated pregnant. So understanding that if I can do it, you can do it.

[29:00] Especially in today’s day and age, the focus so much on immigration, and sending people back to Mexico, or back to South America. The focus is on Latinos rather than other places where people come from. And making us feel less than. Making us feel we’re the enemy, and they’ve got to get rid of us, because we are bringing crime, and we’re bringing drugs to America. So all these messages in the media that have made us feel this way.

And we’re still resilient. And I think it’s because of leaders and I think it’s because of people speaking out. People standing up and not being scared.

This is why I encourage it. Because say we didn't have people like me, and other people that are even louder than me, talking about this. What would we feel like? What would our kids, our young girls feel like? There’d be so many repercussions if we didn't do anything. If we didn't do anything, it’d be worse.

A big thanks to our sponsors:

Alexis P. Morgan is a writer and artist. You can see her unfolding work, “The Season of Maya,” at https://www.thechurchofsaintfelicia.com/

Sasha Allenby is a ghostwriter for thought-leaders in the social evolutionary field, specializing in books on socio-economic, racial, sexual, gender and refugee equality. www.sashaallenby.com