Douglas Spellman, 73, remembers numerous visits to the Brooks Family Practice Clinic while he was growing up in Fort Worth’s Historic Southside in the late 1950s.
As a child, Spellman contracted pneumonia, which resulted in severe asthma.
This is the third in a series of articles examining potential solutions to the redevelopment of the Fort Worth Historic Southside.
To keep Spellman healthy, his mother would take him to regular checkups with Dr. Marion Brooks, the clinic’s owner — and the Spellmans weren’t the only ones frequently scheduled at the facility.
In those days, many members of the Black community in the Historic Southside went to the Brooks Clinic for their primary care needs. It was that way for over 60 years, said Spellman.
“Everybody was coming and getting their medical done here. There was no urgent care,” he said.
Now, the Brooks Clinic, which sits at the corner of Evans and East Arlington avenues, exists only as a skeleton of what it once was. It has sat vacant for over a decade.
Leadership of BRAVE/R Together, a nonprofit focused on improving community options for residents of 76104, is hoping to secure funds to purchase and restore the clinic.
History of Brooks Clinic
Brooks grew up in the then-thriving Southside community during the 1920s, when Fort Worth was actively segregated. With dreams of becoming doctors, Brooks and his brother, Donald Brooks, attended Prairie View A&M University and Howard University College of Medicine.
After receiving their medical licenses, the brothers returned to Fort Worth. Specializing in family medicine, Marion launched his clinic in 1952. Donald, the first Black board-certified surgeon in Texas, joined the practice in 1958.
The Brooks Clinic served not only the Historic Southside community but most of the Black families in Fort Worth. The clinic founder provided services to all, regardless of their ability to pay.
Marion Brooks practiced at his clinic until his retirement in 1996. He died in 2003.
After he stepped away from the practice, his son, Dr. Clarence Brooks, took charge of the clinic. When Clarence died in 2013, the clinic fell out of use. Without another primary care physician to take charge, the Brooks family left the building empty.
“I had people come to me and ask what was going on with the clinic. They were disappointed,” said Dr. Michael Brooks, son of Donald Brooks. “The loss of that clinic was a huge blow to the health and wellness of the community. Those intervening 10 years were a time of just decline.”
In 2020, the Tarrant Appraisal District noted a foreclosure on the clinic property.
In early 2022, investor Jim Austin passed by the clinic and noticed the building was for sale. A resident of Fort Worth for almost 50 years, Austin had become a close friend of the Brooks family.
He went to the Brooks Clinic for medical care, and when he had a family of his own, he took them, too. He’d always been in awe of the Brooks family’s legacy.
In the spring of 2022, he purchased the property.
Community comes together
When Shawn Lassiter moved to Fort Worth over a decade ago, she never thought of diving into advocacy work.
While working as a biology teacher at R.L. Paschal High School, she saw students’ financial and personal struggles impact their productivity in the classroom. She knew she had to help.
“I started to shift into an advocacy role for students, and it evolved into their families,” she said. “I knew that if your families aren’t strong, kids aren’t.”
From there, Lassiter worked as the equity transformation and innovation specialist with Fort Worth ISD, where she focused on racial equity across the city. That’s where she was introduced to the underserved communities in 76104.
In 2019, a study from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas found that residents in the ZIP code had the shortest life expectancy in Texas: 66.7 years.
Learning of the needs in the area, she knew there was work to be done to provide more. In 2021, Lassiter founded BRAVE/R Together and partnered with United Way of Tarrant County to address the issues.
“What 76104 presented was this interesting divide of a community where half of the ZIP code was living in a community that wasn’t healthy, and the other was,” she said.
BRAVE/R Together recruited community “ambassadors” — people who grew up, lived, worked or owned a business in 76104 — to find solutions. It’s important to keep the work rooted in the community, said Michael Brooks.
That year, ambassadors heard from residents about the Brooks Clinic at a community roundtable. Residents recalled the clinic’s legacy and its importance in their lives. Some hadn’t seen a doctor since it closed.
Ambassadors began to brainstorm how to reestablish a primary care center within the community.
In late 2022, Lassiter discovered that Austin owned the Brooks Clinic and was looking for a buyer. From there, BRAVE/R Together began looking for funding to purchase the building.
In May 2023, Austin’s investor group put the property up for auction.
Vision for new clinic
Although interested in the property, by the end of the summer, BRAVE/R Together had not raised sufficient funds to place a bid. The clinic is now for sale.
The original asking price for the building was $650,000. The property is currently appraised at $400,000, according to the Tarrant Appraisal District.
In June, the organization partnered with HKS Architects to come up with renderings of what the transformed Brooks Clinic could look like — with the goal of preserving the building but growing it.
The concept called for the redevelopment to expand to a vacant lot across the street from the clinic on East Arlington Avenue that once housed the Langley Pharmacy, which was run by local pharmacist Alvin Langley. The current property owner, Monique Langley, has committed that lot to the Brooks Clinic redevelopment, said Lassiter.
The new space would feature a restored clinic, amphitheater, on-site garden, elevated walking track, teaching kitchen, splash pads and community plaza.
“We met with the ambassadors to really understand what the main needs are,” said Justin Roark, senior designer with HKS. “We started to piggyback off of all those ideas to come up with the concept.”
BRAVE/R Together’s goal also is to keep the clinic affordable for residents.
“We want to be able to serve the people who are uninsured, under insured and insured in a mixed model to sustain the building in the project,” Lassiter said. “We’re currently looking to partner with a health care provider who can be flexible with our model.”
The entire project is estimated to cost $40 million.
‘Keep it alive’
BRAVE/R Together will begin its capital campaign for the clinic in the spring. If everything goes as planned, the Brooks Clinic could reopen between 2026 and 2028, said Lassiter.
However, the clock is ticking.
The organization worries someone will purchase the building first and turn the space into something that wouldn’t benefit the Historic Southside. While it would be a worst-case scenario, the organization is prepared for any pivot, Lassiter said.
“If the building is sold, we’ll deal with that then,” she said. “But, we’ve got to keep the main thing, which is that the people in this community lack a primary care facility that focuses on preventative care. We’ve got to get that done regardless. The mission itself continues.”
As for Spellman, he hopes plans to bring back the Brooks Clinic come together. It would not only serve as a reminder for its old patients but help reestablish the neighborhood for future generations.
“Brooks Clinic has a legacy,” Spellman said. “It’s hard to talk about this area and remember the businesses that used to be here. Bringing [Brooks Clinic] back would be fitting and proper to keep it alive.”
Disclaimer: Whitnee Boyd, the director of strategic initiatives for BRAVE/R Together, is a member of the Fort Worth Report’s reader advisory council. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.