The political landscape in Prince William County, Virginia, has changed dramatically in the past decade as many more people of color now hold elected positions.
This weekend the community will get together to remember a man who gets much of the credit for this political sea change.
Al Brooks was a familiar figure outside the Woodbridge DMV where he would sometimes setup a table and urge people to register to vote. In election season he pushed them to cast their ballots — always dressed up and wearing his signature bow tie.
“He was always polite,” poll worker Margie Oden said. “And he would say, ‘Have you registered? Are you voting?’”
“He would educate you on why you should vote,” poll worker Richard Jessie said.
“He wanted to make sure everyone had a seat at the table,” friend Emmitt Fletcher said.
And for years in Prince William County, few people of color had a seat at the table. Friends say Brooks worked tirelessly for decades to change that.
“Al would say, ‘We have to get our people into positions of power, and in order to do that, we have to do the hard work,’” Prince William County NAACP President the Rev. Cozy Bailey said.
When he wasn’t at the DMV, Brooks was helping first-time candidates like Lillie Jessie run for office. A longtime school principal, she ran for school board in 2012 and won.
“He had never met me, but he took me in and he walked with me and he talked with me and he taught me the art of politics,” she said.
School board member Loree Williams followed in 2013 with Brooks at her side, showing her how to canvas.
“In the first few doors, he went first, showed me how to knock on a door, how to talk to a constituent … and then he said, ‘Alright, now you go, and I’m going to follow you,’” she said.
Brooks’ civil rights work started when he was in high school leading an NAACP chapter.
“We have to make sure we have a united front,” Brooks said just months before he died in March at age 77.
A celebration of Al Brooks’ life will be held Saturday at 3 p.m. at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Woodbridge.