Breaking barriers is something of a lifelong journey for Christina Brooks.
The 52-year-old has long been at the forefront of major change. The youngest of eight children, Brooks grew up in a multicultural, Catholic home in San Antonio. Brooks’ family was the first to integrate Catholic elementary schools in its hometown of Dayton, Ohio, in 1972, she said.
Brooks has always worked toward making sure all voices are heard, amplified and included. Even today, as the proud mother of five children, her passion for her work, rooted in her spiritual faith and in social justice, has not slowed down.
“Every job that I’ve ever held has always had, at its core, to be the voice for people who may not yet have the capacity to speak for themselves or be at decision-making tables,” she said. “And just as important as doing that is making sure that you are empowering them to be able to do it for themselves.”
Brooks began her work in diversity and equity working in education. She started as an assistant librarian at the elementary and middle school levels before transitioning to a position at the University of Notre Dame, her alma mater. There, she worked at the school’s IDEA Center, an entrepreneurial program that connected small business owners with investors to launch their idea.
She also worked with admissions’ recruitment efforts to attract more students of color, including African-American students. During her time leading Notre Dame’s executive diversity recruitment efforts, she caught the attention of Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, then mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
In May 2016, Brooks became South Bend’s inaugural chief diversity and inclusion officer and led the midsized city’s 60-plus strategic goals to tackle racial wealth divides, workforce opportunities and support small business owners of color.
All goals were met in three years, Brooks said.
As Brooks and her team continued to work to meet those set benchmarks, the city of Fort Worth was looking to start its own diversity and inclusion office. Fort Worth officials reached out to her. Brooks attended interviews and community meetings. In November 2019, she took on the position to become Fort Worth’s first chief equity officer and director of diversity and inclusion.
“Emotions were really raw in the community because this was shortly after Atatiana Jefferson,” Brooks said. “There were a lot of people in the community that were really adamant that something has to change.”
Michelle Green-Ford, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce, said Brooks understood the role of collaboration between the chamber and the city in supporting small and minority-owned businesses.
As someone who previously held a similar role at JPS Health Network, Green-Ford said selecting Brooks as chief equity officer for the city was an important decision, especially back in 2019.
“She’s the right person to have,” she said. “I’ve seen her come in and be able to communicate issues and be very direct about what the issues are, but at the same time, focus on resolution and focus on solutions.”
In a way, what Fort Worth was looking for was similar to what Brooks had worked on while in South Bend, she said. But the more she spent talking to people in the community, the more Brooks realized that her job was more than just addressing diversity and inclusion.
“Fort Worth is growing exponentially. And people here in this community really want to see that as the city grows, it grows in a way that includes every resident, every neighborhood, and every part of town into the economic vitality that’s happening. And so this was a really interesting kind of experience to tackle,” she said.
Mark Pinsky, founding partner of Community Development Financial Institutions Friendly America, the parent organization of CDFI Friendly Fort Worth, first met Brooks back in South Bend.
“It was like a bolt of lightning,” Pinsky said. “Christina immediately understood that what we were doing was inseparable from all the work she’s done as an equity officer.”
Brooks quickly became a mentor to Pinsky, as they both worked more closely together in Fort Worth. He said he admires her strong moral and ethical bearing.
“I attribute that to being exceptionally bright and talented but also studies and hard work. Her leadership style really comes from that. It really comes from the clarity with which she understands the sort of little ripples, the ramifications of comments and conversations,” Pinsky said.
Under Brooks’ leadership, the city’s diversity and inclusion office has conducted a Minority and Women Business Enterprise Disparity Study, leading to a change in Fort Worth’s business equity ordinance. During that time, CDFI Friendly Fort Worth was also launched, providing an opportunity for business equity partnerships between banks, lenders and entrepreneurs.
“Christina’s leadership in that area has been really a game changer for the city,” Green-Ford said.
Brooks’ next objective is to tackle access to broadband across the city.
“We can really kind of write our own future by using the data that we have and the money that’s coming in, and be more strategic about how we develop an inclusive, equitable, fiscally responsible, smart city,” she said. “We have the capability to do that. And what distinguishes Fort Worth, in my opinion, from any other city in North Texas, is the fact that we are not landlocked. We still have the ability to grow. And we are growing.”
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ssadek19.
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Christina Brooks bio:
Birthplace: Dayton, Ohio
Moved to Fort Worth: November 2019
Family: Married to Reggie Brooks, mother of five children.
Education: Indiana University South Bend, bachelor of political science and history; University of Notre Dame, master’s in nonprofit administration.
Work experience: Undergraduate admissions, diversity recruiter, African-American recruitment at the University of Notre Dame; director at Promise Educational Consulting; associate director at TRIO Talent Search at the University of Notre Dame; program manager of staff diversity recruiting at the University of Notre Dame; diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the city of South Bend; chief equity officer for the city of Fort Worth.
Volunteer experience: Leadership Fort Worth, 2021 cohort; steering committee member at CDFI Friendly Fort Worth; past president of the Community for Peace and Nonviolence; secretary of the A. Philip Randolph Institute Oklahoma Chapter; member of the president’s subcommittee for staff diversity and inclusion at the University of Notre Dame; member of the board of directors, chair of the workforce development committee at Goodwill Industries of Northeast Indiana, Inc.
First job: Delivering newspapers
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: Learn from every experience.
Best advice ever received: “Don’t wait to do the right thing” – Father Ted Hesburgh