Personality: Jamal Brooks

Spotlight on the VA Pride’s Scholarship Committee chairman

9/22/2022, 6 p.m.
Jamal Brooks was 17 years old when his education came to a sudden stop.

Jamal Brooks was 17 years old when his education came to a sudden stop.

In 2003, the Montross native left Washington & Lee High School at the start of his junior year. The choice was the end result of the troubles Mr. Brooks had living in a small town where, except for his family, he felt unaccepted due to his sexuality.

Mr. Brooks would eventually restart his academic pursuits in 2010, earning a GED at J. Sargeant Reynolds and a bachelor’s in social work at Virginia Commonwealth University over several years. The experience left him with a deep appreciation for education — an appreciation that forms the foundation of his work with VA Pride’s Scholarship Committee.

“What education did for me, I wanted to do for people who I knew were probably going through the same things that I was going through as an LGBTQ man and a person of color,” Mr. Brooks says. “That’s really what pushed me to do it.”

Mr. Brooks has led VA Pride’s Scholarship Committee since being elected chair in 2019, after joining the group to ensure diverse representation among its members and to support change. The organization’s mission is to provide financial aid to LGBTQ community members and their families to help offset the costs of a post-high school education.

Over those last few years, Mr. Brooks and the Scholarship Committee were able to continue providing money to LGBTQ youths even when VA Pride had to replace its annual, in-person Pridefest with virtual events during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For this year’s Pridefest, Mr. Brooks and the Scholarship Committee will have a major contribution of their own. Through work with partner organizations, they have raised $10,000 in scholarship money. Mr. Brooks says he is happy to see his work pay dividends for LGBTQ youths.

“Knowing that the work I do with VA Pride helps others, serves as a way of giving back but feels extremely rewarding,” Mr. Brooks says. “Any way I can support my community, I will.”

Mr. Brooks’ work outside VA Pride also reflects his commitment to community support. Along with his own entrepreneurial projects, he serves on the board of REAL (Recovery from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles) Life, which helps individuals who have been impacted by incarceration, homelessness, or substance use disorder overcome barriers to building a successful life.

Ultimately, Mr. Brooks hopes to encourage further representation and diversity within VA Pride. When discussing his relationship to VA Pride, Mr. Brooks shares a story about his first year with VA Pride in 2019 where his showcase and performance of LGBTQ ballroom culture received a positive, welcoming response. It’s an experience that Mr. Brooks hopes others can have through the nonprofit and his work.

“That’s what I hope to see more of — bridging the gap and being inclusive,” Mr. Brooks says. “We’re going to have a good Pride this year, (and I’m) really excited about it.”

Meet a key leader in support and celebration for Virginia’s LGBTQ community and this week’s Personality, Jamal D. Brooks:

Volunteer position: VA Pride scholarship chair.

Date and place of birth: Jan. 8 in Westmoreland Country.

Where I live now: Richmond. Education: Bachelor’s in social work, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Occupation: Entrepreneur.

Family: One brother and one sister.

VA Pride mission: Our mission is to impact the LGBTQ community by creating a safe environment, substantial resources, and connectivity throughout Richmond and Virgina.

When and why VA Pride was founded: Founded as an all-volunteer nonprofit in 2006, Pride events in Richmond have been happening since 1979. After the Stonewall Riots, it was apparent our community needed full support and from there Pride events started popping up all over the U.S., creating a celebration of who we are and should be — PROUD.

VA Pride is important in our community because: It serves as a resource, safe space, merging intersectionality’s, accepting diversity, and promotes understanding among each other.

Who benefits from VA Pride: Everyone benefits, socially, economically and politically, raising awareness, promoting inclusivity, and bridging the gap.

When and why I became involved: I became involved with VA Pride in 2019 to bring a diverse representation to support change.

When elected/appointed scholarship chair: Elected 2019; appointed 2020.

Significance of being scholarship chair: My passion to help others, along with my background in social work, enables me to be an agent of change through providing for the needs of our community.

Number one goal or project as the scholarship chair: Acquire financial means to help as many people as possible in seeking their desired career path.

Strategy for achieving goals: Tentatively working with Bank of America to expand scholarship program.

Ways that VA Pride raises scholarship money: Our scholarship is funded by a grant from Bank of America this year.

Who benefits from the scholarships: All who apply.

How does a student qualify or express interest to be chosen for a scholarship opportunity: Through submission of application which is then discussed and reviewed by committee members.

Scholarship amount to be distributed: $10,000.00

Black Lives Matter and VA Pride: VA Pride unequivocally believes and affirms that Black Lives Matter. As a person of color, joining VA Pride was significant in that it gave me a chance to create representation in a way I felt necessary.

COVID-19 and VA Pride: COVID-19 had a significant impact on how we operate as an organization. Most of our events were canceled, which then led us to creating and hosting events and other projects virtually. It’s been three years since we had Pridefest, but this is by far the best to come.

Ways to be involved with VA Pride: To be a volunteer by emailing info@vapride.org for volunteer opportunities.

How I start the day: Positive vibes and daily affirmation. Be- ing productive is key, checking in with others, remembering to be kind.

Three words that best describe me: Empathetic, giving, creative.

Best late-night snack: Skittles (purple bag).

How I unwind: Traveling alone, shopping, self-care, family time.

What I have learned during the pandemic about myself: During the pandemic, self- realization began to play out in ways that were necessary.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Writing is my passion, (and I am) currently working on a self-help/autobiography sequel that focuses on the lives of marginalized groups.

A quote that I am most inspired by is: “You only live once”— I live by it.

At the top of my “to-do” list is: Be productive, make the most out of the day/time.

The person who influenced me the most: My mentor, “Johnny,” who changed my life though simply just being there for me, no motives. Throughout my whole schooling, he was there helping me in every way imaginable. If it wasn’t for him and his undeniable support, I would not be the man I am today.

Next goal: Continue working on my book sequel while creating a hoodie/hat line.