Cornell William Brooks is Hauser Professor of the Practice of Nonprofit Organizations and Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership and Social Justice at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is also Director of The William Monroe Trotter Collaborative for Social Justice at the School’s Center for Public Leadership, and Visiting Professor of the Practice of Prophetic Religion and Public Leadership at Harvard Divinity School. Brooks is the former president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a civil rights attorney, and an ordained minister.
Brooks was most recently visiting professor of social ethics, law, and justice movements at Boston University’s School of Law and School of Theology. He was a visiting fellow and director of the Campaign and Advocacy Program at the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics in 2017. Brooks served as the 18th president of the NAACP from 2014 to 2017. Under his leadership, the NAACP secured 12 significant legal victories, including laying the groundwork for the first statewide legal challenge to prison-based gerrymandering. He also reinvigorated the activist social justice heritage of the NAACP, dramatically increasing membership, particularly online and among millennials. Among the many demonstrations from Ferguson to Flint during his tenure, he conceived and led “America’s Journey for Justice” march from Selma, Alabama to Washington, D.C., over 40 days and 1000 miles.
Prior to leading the NAACP, Brooks was president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, where he led the passage of pioneering criminal justice reform and housing legislation, six bills in less than five years. He also served as senior counsel and acting director of the Office of Communications Business Opportunities at the Federal Communications Commission, executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington, and a trial attorney at both the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the U.S. Department of Justice. As a DOJ trial attorney, he secured a record-setting settlement for housing discrimination victims and filed the first government case alleging housing discrimination against a nursing home. Brooks served as judicial clerk for the Chief Judge Sam J. Ervin, III, on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Brooks holds a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was a senior editor of the Yale Law Journal and member of the Yale Law and Policy Review, and a Master of Divinity from Boston University’s School of Theology, where he was a Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholar. Brooks has a B.A. from Jackson State University. He is the recipient of several honorary doctorates including: Boston University, Drexel University, Saint Peter’s University and Payne Theological Seminary as well as the highest alumni awards from Boston University and Boston University School of Theology. Brooks is a fourth-generation ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.