Episode 92

St Pete X features business and civic leaders in St. Petersburg Florida who share their insight, expertise and love of our special city. An initiative of the St. Petersburg Group, St Pete X strives to connect and elevate the city by sharing the voices of its citizens, and to bring awareness to the opportunities offered by the great St. Petersburg renaissance.

05/10/2023 | Episode 92 | 35:41

Marcus Brooks - Center for Health Equity

A fourth-generation St. Petersburg native, Marcus Brooks passionately believes in absolute equity on every level, and as the executive director of the Center for Health Equity, he is fully invested in what he calls the “collaboration and connectivity” needed to achieve both physical wellness, racial balance, empathy and understanding in the city (and county) he loves. His daily affirmation: “Whatever gifts you are believed to have, are not yours. They were gifted to you for a finite amount of time, to be passed on and used in service of others.”



Joe Hamilton  00:00

Joining me on SPx is the Executive Director of the Center for Health Equity, Marcus Brooks. Welcome!

Marcus Brooks  00:54

Glad to be here, thank you for having me. 

Joe Hamilton  00:56

So the COVID happened and the foundation for healthy St. Pete, which is sort of the original/parent org, went dormant a little bit and now you’re back with the thunder, but with a slightly different model and breaking out the facility, the center itself from the organization behind it. So maybe just to get us all on the same page, let’s talk about how that rolled and where we’re at now. 

Marcus Brooks  01:17

Yeah, yeah. So, I think it’s important to kind of go back for a moment. In 2018, the foundation went into this new idea of building a space that would allow people from all parts of the community to connect, to come together and learn from one another learn with one another to identify solutions for some of the issues that we have in the community. Issues around things like infant mortality, access to jobs, access to education, access to healthy foods, and so, in South St. Petersburg, historically, these have always been things that our city has had to deal with, and so we believed at the time and still do that a multi sector approach to engaging many people, many parts of the community, the solutions already there. We would always say that the wisdom is in the community and we believe that. The only thing was, how do you bring community members to a neutral space where people can really kind of be themselves and bring their stories together to create the solutions. And so us being this kind of neutral convener was always the idea, and so we were open for a few months prior to COVID-19, kind of hitting and hitting the world and rocking us here locally, and nationally and internationally. And we then made this hard shift in partnership with the health department. Many people would know us for the next two years as the space that you either got a vaccination, or you receive testing and some for some folks here in Pinellas County, we would have individuals who would come constantly for testing and it was like, Well, I know you can’t have COVID that many times. And there were members of our community saying, Well, this is the only place that’s free, that I could actually keep getting tested because for my job, we have to get these tests. And otherwise I would have to pay every time I go here or there. And or purchase even home tests, it was like this physical place that I know for free, I could go get tested. So that really speaks to this concept and idea of equity, how do we make sure that the barrier is removed that all people can show up as their best selves? Whether it be to work to school, even to play. And so we made that shift for the two years. I rejoined the organization in July of 2022 as the executive director. We knew the organization knew that they wanted to reopen the space in a different way, really kind of getting back to the mission and the intentionality of the space, and so my relationship with the foundation goes many years before that, nd so it kind of was this natural fit. And so I stepped in and what we realized was, if we’re going to do this, we have to be very clear about what we’re trying to do how this will work. How do I access the building? What is the intentionality and purpose of the space? And I think we’ve done a pretty good job, and yet, we know we still have a lot more work to do. So we have rebranded. This is a space for people to learn, connect and create to advance racial equity and ultimately transform our community. And ultimately, what we’re saying there is we just want to remove the barriers so that race is not the factor in how people show up here in St. Petersburg. 

Joe Hamilton  01:17

Makes a lot of sense. Before we get into the meat of that purpose. You know, what was the logic behind you sort of split the entities, right. So you’re funded by the health of St. Pete, but you’re your own thing. So what was the logic behind that?

Marcus Brooks  04:20

Yeah, yeah. So, the the foundation is kind of to your point, the parent organization that fuels, we actually like to use the term “fueled by Foundation.” And so that was kind of a part of the new branding, but it helps people understand a little bit of the relationship. But, 100% of the funding for the center’s operations and just kind of how we move happens via the Foundation for Healthy St. Petersburg. However, we kind of serve as that physical tool, the community aspect of engagement along with our grant making strategic initiatives, but this is the physical convener that the foundation learns from, so people will actually utilize this space to host different events that are going to move the needle that are designed to move the needle, and the foundation gets to essentially listen like, what’s happening at that event?Who’s showing up? What do people want to know? And then it informs our strategic grantmaking on the other side. So I work for the foundation, we like to say we worked for the center, we work for the foundation, we work at the Center for Health Equity, but it is a essentially one of the many ways that we reach communities similar to grant making, and some of the strategic initiatives and partnerships we have in the community.

Joe Hamilton  05:26

So, the foundation’s mission has changed a little bit, it’s gone more towards an advocacy role, still doing some funding. You mentioned that the wisdom is, is in the community. So really, here it’s unlocking it, and then finding a way to activate it. So, given all of that, I know it’s it’s a lot of moving parts and a complex topic, so how do you see, you know, given the first few years of the foundation’s existence moving into this sort of change of mission, now bolting on the center of health equity? How would you sort of summarize that all as what the actual outcomes you’re looking for as far as activating the wisdom of the community? 

Marcus Brooks  06:03

Yeah, so to kind of speak to that arc of how the transformation has happened over the past few years. So 2013, I think, was the initial sale of the hospital and he created this foundation. It took a couple of years to even get off the ground. There was a lot of listening that happened up front around, like, what should we do with this money? Significant amount of money, this happens rarely. There are these healthcare conversion foundations all over the country. But, this one’s unique to St. Pete. And so, you have this corpus, if you will, where we’re like, what do we do? So, there was a pretty intentional and courageous board of people that said, let’s focus on social determinants of health. And those are those things that impact health outcomes that aren’t just going to the doctor, right. Air quality, education, all of these different things that play into how a good job access to healthcare. So as they were going down the social determinants of health path over time, they begin to learn, gosh, race keeps coming up. This concept of race, and I say concept of race for anyone listening that is kind of on the fence or doesn’t fully understand, this is a social construct. Race isn’t essentially a real thing, it was constructed socially. Some folks got together and constructed and created this idea of race. Biologically, the concept of race is a bit more far fetched than people would think. However, it has real implications. And so though this construct created 400 plus years ago, for whatever reason, it was created, in many cases to divide, it ultimately shows up in our day to day lives. Infant mortality rates here in Pinellas County, and actually not just Pinellas County, if you’ve never seen the documentary, Aftershock, I encourage people to see that, but it really does highlight the experience of black women, and the birthing process, and whether it be their loss of life or the loss of a child, in many cases due to how the medical field views women of color. And so, it’s a really interesting documentary, but it speaks to the racial component of many of the social determinants of health, and so there was a hard shift prior to 2020, around let’s focus a little bit more on race. What does the data saying about race? What is the data saying about our neighborhoods that are predominantly communities of color? And how are they impacted negatively, as a result of systems that were put in place many, many, many years ago? And that’s what kind of made this shift. I’ll tell you, when I was working for the foundation, we were trying to engage a lot of our business community around the work we were trying to do, and it was kind of like, don’t fully understand, not really sure this concept of equity, and George Floyd happens. And my phone was ringing off the hook, can you be a part of a panel? Can you come to this discussion? Can you come talk to this committee? And what I found was that catastrophic murder of an American here on US soil, the impact it had on an entire group of people. Tied together with COVID, it was this like, perfect storm that ultimately made people stop and listen, and it accelerated our work, but it also made it very challenging, because to your point, language matters. And so people were like, well, what is this concept of equity? And I’ll say it took a long time for me to kind of put that in a very succinct response, but when we think about equity, we think about the removal of barriers. That’s equity. If we can remove the barrier, everyone has the ability to show up as their best self. But if there’s something that’s stopping me from showing up as my best self naturally, I would want to identify what that is, and so that is essentially our mission to support organizations and groups of people, to remove some of the barriers. First, identify the barriers, acknowledge that they exist, and then move down the path of removing them so that everyone can show up.

Joe Hamilton  09:41

An important aspect of the example you gave with childbirth is a lot of people think it’s just economics. If you’re poor, no matter what your race, these things happen, because here in this example, it has nothing to do with how poor you are. It has to do with literal the actual color of your skin in relationship to the doctor and those examples can be found throughout. Interesting. So when you work on eliminating barriers, you start to really have to get into power and power structures. But, there’s also social elements as well, which you could argue, you know, come down from media and power or come up from communities themselves, but maybe as a result of systems. So how do you shape that message of equity in a way that really highlights all of it, so it can be a complete picture versus specific injustices, I assume that’s an important piece?

Marcus Brooks  10:34

Now, I love that question. So one thing I like to encourage people to do is really look into what is my story and all this? And then what is our shared story and all this, and then what are we going to do about it? If you’re not familiar, this Professor Marshall Ganz, who has a framework called public narrative. Public narrative focuses on self us now. And so one of the things and the challenges we often have is it’s kind of this idea of, wow, these brilliant, horrific things are happening, we have to do something about it. And I don’t think we sit enough in what does this mean for me, and what does this mean to me? Right, especially when you think about topics about like, race. Race is an interesting topic, because oftentimes we think we have to have the interracial experience, which would mean, I need to, as a black man, identify someone who doesn’t share my racial identity and have a conversation with them, and then we can figure out where we believe. I would encourage people to focus a little bit more on the intra-racial. Intra meaning internal first, right, so what do I believe? What has been my experience? And we may get to this, but my personal experience with race is extremely unique, and probably not one that most people would immediately assume. A tale of two cities, I grew up in Clearwater, Palm Harbor countryside. And then I also grew up in South St. Pete. My family is four generations in this community, me being the fourth, my kids being the fifth. And that was a black experience in South St. Petersburg. But on the flip side, my parents put me in schools and neighborhoods in North County. And so in many cases, I was the only. And that felt normal at first, but I would always hear the comments around, like just jokes that were made. And I just thought, you know, these my friends are being funny, you know, laugh it off. And then I would come back to South St. Pete. And it was kind of like, where are you from man? Like, you’re not the same? And I’m like, whoa, I don’t understand. So, living in this middle limbo of gosh, I’m a black man, almost having a white experience. And so what does that mean for me, and it took me a while to really process that because some folks would say, well, your parents put you in great schools, you should be grateful, you should be thankful. Others would say, you know, you avoided what could have potentially been a fate that would not have been positive. I would say that my experience, ultimately, for many years, kind of stripped me of some of the cultural experiences that I needed to really fully show up and understand my overall racial identity. There was a lot of assimilation, there was a lot of just kind of doing enough to not rock the cradle or make anyone uncomfortable, and as I begin to become conscious, I know in this world of being woke, which really, I don’t like to use the term I like to say awake, because the opposite would be to be asleep, and that’s not what we want. And so the more I’ve awaken, I’m kind of like, okay, I’m searching for those elements of my racial identity and culture, that I think make me a whole person. When I would come to South St. Pete, it was the food, it was the neighbors, it was the parties, it was the experiences with family, the stories being shared, that almost equip me to go back into a world that really ultimately wasn’t mine. And so that’s something I’ve maneuvered and wrestled with. But I’ve gotten really good at understanding the value in both of those spaces. I met some phenomenal people in my time living in North County that are still my friends to this day, and I also have some amazing folks that I grew up with in South St. Pete playing basketball, Lake Vista and Charles Park and go into these communities that many people see as not the safest places or not the best places, I would argue that they are shaping some of the most incredible people ever, if you are willing to go be a part of the experience. And so that self us now, I kind of take it back to what does it look like for you? What is your story and race? How are you socialized? What experiences did you have? And then begin to have dialogues with your friends and family. Look at your inner circles, like what does that look like? And then we can start to identify how we change the overall narrative. So as we speak to these different sectors, I encourage people to do the self work, almost before you begin to come into a space. We have education, we have knowledge and information, but start to at least go down the path of what do I really believe about this? And what did I learn as a child, and how has it impacted me now?

Joe Hamilton  14:50

That sort of brings up some interesting perspectives on what you talked about race as a construct because you went away and came back and, maybe talked a little differently, or actively race didn’t change. But yet, you were faced with some of the same behavioral reactions that might be attributed to race. So with that being said, now you see it as a cultural construct, and so then it becomes different on a level that isn’t race. So how does that then flavor the solutions? Because it seems to be more now about cultural melting, assuming race as construct than it is actually saying, I have to solve these problems of racism. 

Marcus Brooks  15:30

Yeah, so when we think of race in the way that we communicate this race as color, right. So, you may have someone who is Latinx, they may be, you know, you notice this a lot in Argentina, and some of the South American countries where they may be blond haired and blue eyes, and so they’re actually white, but they would tell you, I’m Argentinian, I would consider myself Hispanic or of Latin descent. And so that really speaks to their culture when we get into Hispanic or things like that. It’s interesting for me how the census and how we describe overall, these various races, why we are asked to check these boxes. And, in many cases, it feels like it is to divide. We start with the social construct of race, your color, but what you don’t see when you see someone’s color is their culture. If I get pulled over by a police officer, and this is no sleight to police officers, because I have many of them in my family. My cousin is the chief of police for schools, and so I’ve had really good relationships with officers here locally. And one of the things is if I get pulled over, I’m not Jamaican, I’m not Haitian, I’m not any of these things. I would just be a black man. But once I start speaking, you may start to pick up a dialect that says, okay, culturally, you may have a different experience, we find this a lot too with folks who are not African American. So if you’re not from America, you may have a different experience than someone who is from the islands, it’s kind of like to say African American, for some of them is actually a slight, it’s like, well, that’s not what I am. And so that really digs into culture, but really race is that face value. It’s the first thing we see, it’s right in front of you. And the goal is how do we remove that as our process of elimination for a person? How do I not look at you, and take whatever my experiences are, that shaped my beliefs that lead to my actions and outcomes, how do I strip that away and truly get to know the human being, and not so much the human doing?

Joe Hamilton  17:24

Yeah, so it seems like then a big an effort of change will be around sort of the order of ops for profiling. I say profiling in the sense that all humans have to take information and make assumptions or else our brains will be overloaded, right. And so we’re essentially being trained to profile first by color. And there are better ways to figure out who a person is right. And so maybe that’s a piece of the work. But you know, does kind of feed back into, I think, something that’s been part of humanity forever, which is tribalism. And there are historic just by straight logistics, right? Tribes have typically been of the same region or area and, and maybe mixed race within the tribes, but they had some combining factor that made them the us and the others the other, right. But now we’re running this in this melting pot experiment, which has not really been done before in humanity, where so many different people are coming together, and then a lot of the traditional elements of tribes are being redefined, and maybe that’s a big piece of the work. 

Marcus Brooks  18:22

Yeah, no, I love that. And you think about St. Pete as a tribe. What would it look like if all people from all walks of life, trying to have this human experience and lift up a community in a city came together to solve a lot of the issues, to achieve a similar goal. That would technically be the win, and that’s essentially how the center is designed. It’s not the space for the call out, we’re actually not interested in that. What we are interested in is calling people in and bringing their intrinsic value that no one else has. We were all put here, and you have something that I don’t have. If I can’t tap into that, how are we going to solve the overall problem? We don’t want the echo chamber of people who all believe and share the same to your point order of operations where the way I process the same way you process and we’re all just going to come together and solve these problems. That’s not going to get us to where we need to go. Right, that would be the definition of insanity. We’re just doing the same thing. What does it look like for law enforcement to come together with community members, to come together with business owners, both small and large, with nonprofits to remove your titles in this space, right? If you’re the mayor, great. If you’re a grandmother who’s retired, sit down with the mayor, and let’s have a conversation so that we can move towards action. And with that action, it’s not a one off. The center is not really designed for these one off spaces. We want people to come in and start to build out the plan. So we may have had the event and everyone was excited. What are we going to do next? When will I see you again, so that we can begin, and we can continue the work. And ultimately this is a 10 year process in many cases. 400 years of an experience can’t be undone in one event, two events, one year. We know that we’re in it for the long haul, and that’s really why the Foundation for Healthy St. Petersburg is focusing on the big picture, the systems change, and not just pointing the finger at the individuals, because we’re not really going to get there if we go down that path. 

Joe Hamilton  20:17

Yeah, I’d love to hear some specific strategies around that. It’s a problem, I call it restating the problem, where we run a lot of panels and I host panels, and I look at catalyst comments all the time, and 95% of them are just you either call it complaining, and many times justified, but restating the problem over and over is not working on a solution. And so me knowing that there’s a lot of pain out there and knowing that there’s just a lot of people who feel that less than that need to get to a place of just healthy comfort with our city, even. What are some strategies you use to move people away from just restating the problem or calling it out and getting towards forward movement? 

Marcus Brooks  20:54

Yeah, so there’s a few and I think about the way in which we navigate as an organization overall. So when you think of the umbrella organization, we focus, obviously, the center is the tool to engage people. But then also, we have responsive grantmaking, and this year, we have focused our efforts in two specific areas; black, indigenous, people of color mental health, and economic equity and justice. And so both very broad, but what we’re trying to do there is engage community members, nonprofits, organizations, to collaborate to come up with some really interesting and unique, bold strategies to address both of these issues. The mental health of people of color in St. Petersburg has really shifted over the past few years, and actually with COVID-19, and I feel like all people, regardless of their racial identity have had this experience, but what does it look like to make sure that the supports are necessary? The call program was one of the initiatives that the Foundation for Healthy St. Petersburg partnered with the city and the sheriff’s department around sending out mental health counselors to nonviolent requests with 911. And so, we just had an event that kind of highlighted some of the takeaways from the call program, but it’s working.  There are real shifts being made, because of some of the intentionality that other entities, not just the nonprofit, we see ourselves as the convener, but other entities that have the power and positioning to shift culture and shift narratives actually stepped up. So big shout out to them, because now community members can have that feeling of okay, this is not what it may be, this is not going to turn into something negative, we just might need a mental health counselor in the space. Also, the anchor initiatives is one that we are excited to be a part of excited to kind of facilitate. We partnered with the four large hospitals along with the city of St. Pete, and it’s been really cool to see groups of individuals, leaders. So right, they’re not just sending someone from their staff, the CEOs, the presidents are meeting to figure out what would it look like to develop an equitable strategy to procurement, hiring? What are some of the barriers that we have that are impacting the community right around each of us? And how can we be a beacon of hope and a partner with community to change some of the way that we show up and operate. And then obviously, one of the things we do around conversations around race is we partner with a group called Pacific Education Group courageous conversation. Courageous conversation is a two day experience designed for people to engage, sustain, and then deepen their racial consciousness and understanding. I can tell you, we’ve had over 700 folks have started the courageous conversation here in St. Petersburg. On June 7th and 8th, we will be hosting another set, it’s about 100 people go into a room for two days, and you truly go deep in what is your personal racial understanding. Again, this is not a space for the call out this is really a call in for people to go a little bit deeper, like what does it look like for me to unpack what race means to me. And then from there, it’s kind of what you do with it. But I think that’s again, the part that we usually don’t stop at, we just have a set of beliefs. And we ride with them never really unpacking the experiences that shaped them. And so there’s a lot of different ways in which we go about engaging with community, but the one I think, I hadn’t talked about is the history. There’s a lot of history, racial history, in St. Petersburg. And I think when we think of racial history, folks get a little jaded, and they’re kind of like, great, we’re about to have another conversation about how one group of people was mean, or terrible to another. I think the thing that gets left out there is the hope that individuals who are courageous in their time have given individuals like myself. As a black man, it’s important for me to know the story of the courageous 12, the gentlemen who sued the city to be able to have the same rights as the white police officers on the force. So these were 12 black police officers. The green benches, right, like what is the story of the green bench? It doesn’t mean I’m going to boycott any institution. It just means it’s important for me to know my history, so I can have a better understanding of where I’m going. 

Joe Hamilton  24:54

I think those are important because they act as like a funnel of understanding because if you don’t understand systemic racism that seems nuanced to you, and you just don’t understand it or completely get it. But yet, when you can start back when it’s just, that’s pretty bad, right? It’s clear that this is bad, and when you trace that forward, you start to see how that we didn’t get from there to here without some of that still being here. And if you can funnel down, it helps you understand the now better, because you understand where it came from. You make another important point with mental health in the balancing act of advocacy. Because as a culture, you can bring awareness to problems. But a lot of times the awareness, the solutions, and the change doesn’t keep up with the awareness. And so you end up with an imbalance on both sides, right? Where you have this awareness of how you might have participated in systemic racism. And that is a mental health weight. And, obviously, if you’ve been on the other side of that, and that can be as well. So do you find that you have to and I think maybe this is where courageous conversations act as a great outlet and a great way to, you know, build some agency over the problem versus being overwhelmed by it. 

Marcus Brooks  26:02

Yeah, that’s so good. I appreciate you going back to the conversation. I think some folks believe we’ve been talking about this forever. This idea of a post racial society, I think it reared its ugly head in 2020, where we’re like, we’re past that, right? Like, we’re not still having that conversation. And then an entire country kind of converged on it like, whoa, wait, all right. We’re having this conversation again. The conversation never really left. My curiosity was were we really having it? And was it a two way conversation, three way conversation, or was it almost just the diatribe of like, I have my beliefs, this is what I think it to be. When people from various walks of life can come into a space and share what’s real for them, and then be heard, listened to, it’s processed, and then we move forward, it’s like one of the most magical things I’ve ever seen. I had the privilege to work for this organization for a year, and between working for the foundation and coming back to the foundation. And some of the facilitation I was able to do and hearing people’s stories that would say things like, “gosh, how do I manage this?” My grandparents were clearly a part of the racist structures. But I’m here now like, what do I do? And being able to talk that first of all saying that out loud, that’s important. I think some people will feel ashamed sometimes, where it’s like, I’m not gonna say that. But now having someone to say; say more about that. How’s that making you feel? How can I support us navigating this together? Because, my grandparents were on the receiving end of that. So let’s have coffee, let’s keep talking this thing out. That’s the human experience, right? I don’t know that we’ll ever get far in this specific topic of equity if we’re unable to show up, share what’s real for us, and then identify solutions. To your point, it can’t just be talking, so I think that’s also the fatigue that happens for a lot of people. I will say for myself as a black man, and I know I keep saying that and my intentionality around that is it’s a part of my identity. To not see color is to be colorblind, and so being a black man, whether we like it or not, society has made that a part of my identity. It’s something I’m actually very proud of. And it’s beautiful in my eyes. And so when I see people, whatever their racial identity, I will argue that that’s beautiful as well. We shouldn’t really shy away from that. But when I think about how big of a toll this takes on me, at 37 years old, having the conversation with my parents, my uncles, and kind of like, what was it like for you all? They’re like, well, that was then, we already did this. Well, I’m circling back at 37, and having similar experiences nowhere near as difficult as sit-ins and marches and hosing. But you know, what, I feel like I’m up against some pretty difficult challenges as well, and so being able to talk to them, and then being able to go talk with my Latinx, White, Asian American, Pacific Islander colleagues around how we move the needle, it’s actually a beautiful thing. That feels like it’s almost cathartic. For me, it’s like therapy, in a sense, to engage with people who may not share the same beliefs, but we can get somewhere.

Joe Hamilton  29:00

So, thinking of race as construct and thinking about some of the things we’ve talked about, if we look at what is success, and what is sort of the North Star, you know, right now, there’s traditional way to sort of logistically work towards equity is to say, okay, we’ve got a board and it’s got eight white people on it, we’re going to add two black people to it, pushing that thought out, it is essentially you’re saying that the difference is the color. It’s almost like the white representatives have a homogenic thinking and adding two African Americans that sort of again, divided by color. Now that makes sense, maybe in the current world, because the black experience is different. So what you are actually adding their different experiences. So that makes sense now, but in the future, is that still the north star in the future or is the future I want a poet, an engineer, I want a musician, I want a logistician or whatever, so that it isn’t about that.

Marcus Brooks  29:55

I love that. Joe, you’re speaking to the ideal world. I think the response to the realization that many boards were not representing the communities they served, and so it was almost like how do we identify a way and in many cases that way was diversity. But to your point, I believe equity is if the barriers aren’t there, naturally, you’ll have diversity. And so one of the questions I would often ask groups that we worked with when I was with courageous conversation was, why is your board, so homogenous? So let’s start there. Before you decide to add people of color, like, let’s do the work internally. Why do we look the way we do? Once people start going down that path, it’s like, okay, well, the communities that we engage with outside of this, that’s what they look like, it’s people I know, it’s the people I’m constantly connecting with, and so naturally, that would be the natural order of board, like, you know who would be be good for the board? This person I know. Well, if your sphere of influence isn’t very diverse, naturally, neither will everyone around you be that way, and so what does it look like for us to remove the barrier to create diversity? I always focus EDI over DEI, it just intentionally placing the equity first, will naturally get you diversity. And once that starts to look different to your point, now we’re no longer categorizing people by their racial identity. Now we’re focusing on their skill sets entirely because race is not the thing. North star, there’s no barrier and we don’t have to. People are not, their life expectancy, their life outcomes are not determined by their racial identity. And we see that a lot in media and how it’s it’s talked about how me as a six foot three 200 pound black man, I say that there’s this set in feeling of fear. But if I’m a six foot three white man, that may not be the same thought that comes to your mind. It’s like, okay, the tall white guy. There’s this natural built in fear that we’re socialized to have, and so that’s what we’re trying to address, ultimately. And yes, the North star is, I would love the day, 30 years from now, when my eight year old and five year old are adults with families of their own, and they’re navigating the world, racism the thing, that won’t be their story. And I think a lot of that has to do with the work that we do now. That’s really why I do it. If someone were to ask, it’s for them.

Joe Hamilton  30:08

And so, that being said, how does that hope overlay on to a lot of the actions and a lot of the struggles that people are going for, numbers, you know, and saying how would you infuse this philosophy into that?

Marcus Brooks  32:27

Yeah, so my hope is that we can stop living in the world of okay, in three years, we will have done this thing. Again, it’s a 400 year issue, right? So, what does it look like to obviously measure, because you have to have figuring out like, along the process, what are the success metrics? But we should ask ourselves, where they’re coming from, even. Like, in five years, we will have done this. It sounds good in theory, but that also requires a community of people to come together and actually do the work. Even at the foundation where I’m trying to figure out, you know, how we measure and identify success. What does it look like? How will we know we have done the thing? And going back to this idea that the wisdom is in the community, I believe the community is going to tell us, the Center for Health Equity. Since reopening in January, we’ve had community members come and say I actually would have never come here before. I’m here because I see the change that you all want to see in this community, whether it be the staff, I gotta give a shout out to my team members. The Center team is phenomenal. The Foundation team is phenomenal. But, even more phenomenal than them, is the people who show up and lend their story and lend their expertise and lend their beliefs, their experiences. It’s such a cool way of shifting narratives and solving problems. But people have to keep showing up. If we’re relying on any one entity to fix this problem, it’s not going to happen. I don’t believe that the billions of dollars that were committed post-George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Teyana Taylor, or Breonna Taylor, I don’t believe that any of those dollars would have been the solution entirely. It would also require the community members that receive those dollars to show up, it would also require the nonprofit organizations to continue to support, and the retirees that are trying to figure out where they fit into this game, to share their story and connect and learn and collaborate. So, it’s a heavy lift. I just know that I don’t have the luxury of tapping out. So, yeah, I’m here. My grandfather was one of the first black bus drivers during integration, and he drove kids from Dixie Hollins High School back to the South side and made sure they got home safely. He would get off the bus and people would throw things and he would shield these young black children. What’s my excuse? I can’t take a job like this. I can’t be a part of an organization like this and phone it in. So, I’m going to constantly consider, and call people into the fight in the collaboration and connectivity, because, when the boys get older, and I say the boys, my two, they’re gonna go dad, what were you doing when all this was going on? And I have to be able to say I was in it, I was a part of it, trying to make sure that their lives were better. 

Joe Hamilton  35:15

Fantastic. Marcus Brooks, man, good work.

Marcus Brooks  35:19

 Thank you. 

Joe Hamilton  35:19

Appreciate you. Thanks for sharing. 

Marcus Brooks  35:21

Thank you for your time. 

Joe Hamilton  35:22

Thanks for thinking.

Marcus Brooks  35:23

 Yeah, thanks

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