When women come into their power you can feel it, their energy is strong and palpable. But it does more than permeate the air around them; it makes people in their presence feel energized as well — as if nothing is impossible. This is exactly what I experienced when I interviewed Brandy Brooks, a candidate for one of the four at-large seats on the Montgomery County Council.
Brandy has been garnering attention for some time and deservedly so. She’s a strong believer in grassroots organizing and public financing of elections, a system that matches small-dollar donations — $250 or less — with public funds. To qualify for public matching money, a candidate must get hundreds of individual donations from Montgomery County residents. Remarkably, Brandy has received contributions from more than 600 donors giving between $5 and $250; more than 420 of these (69%) are Montgomery County residents, and they account for 74% of her total funds raised. That alone tells me and should signal to rivals, that she is a candidate with genuine grassroots support and should be taken very seriously.
If Brandy succeeds, she will be the first African-American woman and first Latina to win an at-large seat on the council. That is certainly significant and will be cause for celebration, but Brandy told me that it was not until she was an adult that she really learned to embrace her Afro-Latina self. That is not because of embarrassment or shame. The racial climate of the 1950s and 1960s made it hard for her father, the son of an African-American mother and Black Honduran father, to embrace the Latino side of his heritage. Brandy’s process of reconnecting to her heritage has actually been a tremendous gift because it has given her the clarity and confidence to be a better candidate, true to herself and her roots, and proud to share her unique perspective, vision, and leadership skills with an increasingly diverse electorate. Brandy is now driven to teach others to be proud of who they are; she has become the model of inclusivity that so many Montgomery County residents celebrate and most Democratic candidates embrace.
Brandy’s family story is intriguing. She was born in Worcester, Mass., which she describes as being similar to Montgomery County with lots of open space and “creeks filled with tadpoles.” That’s another way of saying Brandy and her siblings were out catching frogs, turtles and other critters, enjoying the great outdoors, and being kids. Meanwhile, her dad, who hails from the Bronx, and her mom, who hails from Washington, D.C., were technology professionals pursuing the middle-class dream of upward mobility for their family, including a great education and a path to prosperity for their children.
Brandy’s beliefs, like for most of us, have been shaped by eye-opening experiences. At age 8, she and her family moved to Reston, Va., which was among the first planned communities on the East Coast. Brandy loved Reston’s inter-connected neighborhoods with walking hubs and local shopping centers. It was not until many years later that she understood and appreciated its mixed-income housing. As a kid, she just recalls being amazed by the many different models of apartments, town, and single-family homes.
She also famously remembers a day when she and her sisters (her forever friends and staunch supporters) missed the bus and had to walk home from their summer program. Both parents were working so there would be no ride, but the long haul home involved frequently stopping to slurp honey from the honeysuckle bushes along the route. She says the trip was exhausting but safe because there were sidewalks and footpaths every step of the way. The girls didn’t have to cross major highways or walk in the street and risk being struck by a car.
As Brandy campaigns in Montgomery County neighborhoods where sidewalks are nonexistent or abruptly stop, it is this memory that motivates her, that helps her make a stronger and more compelling and, yes, personal argument born of experience. Montgomery County, Maryland, is one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the country, she notes, and it is past time to invest in a system of safe and connected walkways, where pedestrians can get from home to work, or to shopping, personal appointments, or leisure activities without risking their lives.
As a student, Brandy excelled, attending Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and was accepted to Harvard. Yes, THAT Harvard! Brandy did everything she could to secure financial aid to afford Harvard; her parents did not earn enough to cover the costs, but they made too much for her to qualify for sufficient support. As a result, she attended for two years, but like most young people, she did not want to incur crushing debt, so she left school to earn money to afford college.
As with many aspects of Brandy’s life, this was only a temporary setback. She eventually resumed her education at age 26 at the Boston Architectural College as an “older student.” (Yes, students over age 21 are considered “older.” Kind of made me cringe.) After getting her undergraduate degree, she went on to earn a master’s in Public Administration. Having to drop out of Harvard made Brandy acutely aware of the wealth gap and the growing gulf between household income and college affordability for most Americans. It also made her realize students and parents aren’t given the proper tools to explore their full range of options and that there are in fact different paths to success.
Knowing all this has made her passionate about access to a quality education and the importance of freeing young people from the debt so many take on to pay for college. Brandy knows she was fortunate to have the skills and access to resources to chart a course back to college. She also knows that other young people are not as lucky. She wants to expand access to postsecondary education (including technical schools) by making sure students and families understand their options and are connected to the resources they need to make critical decisions about their futures. Again, Brandy is not espousing pie-in-the-sky ideals; she has lived this and knows what holds both young and older students back. She also understands what could propel them forward.
While she came away from her college experience stronger and smarter, she had another realization that has stayed with her and informed her position around a living wage. For readers who are unsure, a living wage is significantly higher than minimum wage — typically in the $20-$22 per hour range — and is meant to be sufficient to support a family. Brandy realized we don’t teach our kids that non-college career paths are valuable. This became even more apparent during COVID. She believes the lack of value we place both monetarily and culturally on caregivers, restaurant workers, nursing assistants, grocery store clerks, and a variety of other essential workers prior to COVID became even more catastrophic during the pandemic. Not only are wages in these occupations low, but these are also the “frontline” workers who were put at the greatest risk of contracting the virus through their jobs with the fewest financial and health care resources to recover.
At one point in her career, Brandy went into the technology field like her parents. Wages are higher on average than in many other fields but Brandy saw a disparity in pay for women in tech, especially women of color. She saw many areas where training, change, and fair pay are long overdue but decided there is no point in waiting around for someone else to step forward and do the work. She left the tech world and embarked on a new career helping people design their communities and organize for community change. One principle of that is advocating for a living wage that could help reduce the dire need for safety net programs that are never adequately funded.
Brandy described to me how wages affect and inform so many life decisions, from where someone can live to how they can feed and clothe their children, what education and extracurricular activities they can afford, and how they will access health care, among other things. With my business background, I found myself nodding my head often as she described these interconnected economic and quality of life issues.
In addition to her many goals and objectives, what struck me about Brandy is her leadership qualities. She has big, bold ideas and she articulates them clearly and without hesitation. She is a woman of integrity, grit, and determination. She also is impressively transparent, a welcome character trait in politics and one that is deeply appreciated by her growing group of supporters.
Her unique perspective means she will consider policy decisions through a diversity lens that has been lacking in certain areas such as housing. Montgomery County is affluent, but it also has pockets of poverty. She insists the county must provide more quality, affordable housing with better delivery methods. She feels so strongly about it, she joined the board of the Montgomery County Renters Alliance to help tackle the problem.
Brandy said there is an unacceptably long waiting list for Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC) units and the scarcity disproportionately affects women and children, who occupy 75 percent of HOC homes. Like walkable communities, quality education, and a living wage, she says affordable housing cannot wait any longer.
Granted, not one of the issues Brandy and I discussed is new, but that is exactly her point. What is new is her sense of urgency and resolve, combined with the personal perspective Brandy brings to the table. She does not and will not accept the status quo. She is firm in her conviction that equality and fairness cannot wait. Montgomery County is not just rich in financial terms, she pointed out. Its population is rich in diversity in terms of ethnicity, race, culture, and language, and to be its best, the county needs policies that move all of its residents forward.
I am hoping by now readers have picked up on a common theme in Brandy’s messaging and leadership style: She’s demanding to know why we are still talking about the same issues — in some cases for decades — but we have not taken meaningful action. Brandy Brooks is ready to take action. If you, too, are tired of waiting for change, she’s your candidate. You can learn more about Brandy, volunteer for her campaign, and donate at https://brandy4montgomery.com.
Remember: early money helps strong women get elected!