If you’ve ever been to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Woodbridge office, you probably saw him.
He’d be there, rain, shine or snow, in his six-button suit with a bowtie - The Temptations look.
It may have only been a polite inquiry about registering to vote or casting a ballot and only a blip on your radar.
That man was Al Brooks. Brooks died earlier this year at 77 and community leaders came together in late July to remember his impact on politics in Prince William County.
It may feel hard for someone who never met the man to put his impact on the community into words, but the best way is by talking to those who considered him family.
His friends described Brooks using terms like “a legend,” “an icon,” “man of integrity” and “the ultimate inspirer.”
“He was a guy that would help anybody,” said Margie Oden, who worked with Brooks in the local Democratic party. “He was always helping people, it didn’t matter whether you were rich, poor or what. If you had a need he would help.”
Brooks was born in Tabor City, N.C., but raised mainly in Buffalo, N.Y. His life brought him into contact with the big names of history - Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X and A. Phillip Randolph.
Brooks was a fierce advocate for people of color. As those who knew him would say, Brooks was determined to have every elected or appointed local government body include at least one person of color.
“His absence is felt right now,” said Sandra “Quennie” McLean, a former member of the board of directors of the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District. “I don’t even know what the DMV will look like at election time without Al and his group there.”
Brooks was heavily involved in local Democratic politics, with elected officials and colleagues directly contributing his work to turning Prince William County blue.
In 2008, Barack Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Prince William County since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. Democratic candidates have carried the county in the three elections since.
Ann Wheeler, chair of the Board of Supervisors, took over in 2020 as the first Democrat in the countywide seat since Kathleen Seefeldt in 1999.
Wheeler won the 2019 election along with Supervisors Kenny Boddye (Occoquan) and Andrea Bailey (Potomac), who each ousted Republican incumbents and flipped control of the board to Democrats.
Supervisor Victor Angry, D-Neabsco, won a special election in 2019 to become the first Black supervisor in Prince William County.
Following the 2019 election, 12 of the 22 county-level elected positions were held by people of color.
Brooks’ work extended to more than just the Board of Supervisors. McLean is a great example, as she was the first Black member of the board of directors of the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District.
An often overlooked elected position, the conservation district develops programs focused on conserving resources, preventing flooding and erosion and water quality.
“He would always pull me to the side and say, ‘Queenie you’ve got something. People will follow you. They will listen to you,’” McLean said.
McLean’s nickname is Queenie and she was unsure of using it on the ballot, although most people knew her as Queenie.
“Al pulled me to the side and said, ‘People follow Queenie. So you’ve got to put that name on there,’” she said.
At the DMV, Brooks would walk back-and-forth, catching people and asking if they’d registered to vote. He’d have a car full of educational materials and was a mainstay for years.
Supervisor Margaret Franklin, D-Woodbridge, who won her seat in a 2019 primary, said Brooks “always outdid all of us” in outreach.
“He was like a mentor to a lot of people in the party, particularly those of color running for office,” Franklin said. “His intentions were purely to help get more people of color.”
Oden, Brooks and Mike Bizek worked “down in the trenches” as a trio, with Bizek reaching out to residents, Oden covering businesses and Brooks working the DMV.
“He knew how to get in touch with the right people to get done what he needed done,” Oden said. “Everything he wanted to do, he got it done.”
Brooks had no desire for elected office and was more passionate about getting others at the table.
“He emphasized all of us need to be at the table or supporting those who were running for office so they could carry our voice to the table,” McLean said.
Another colleague, former Dumfries Town Council member Willie J. Toney, said Brooks was “committed to social change, to bringing about equity in the county.
“He often spoke about having a seat at the table,” Toney said. “When we first came around here, this county did not reflect the population.”
Brooks is survived by his wife, Barbara, and several children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Bizek said it’s always important to follow “the Al Brooks way.” Bizek never heard Brooks curse and watched him love his family.
“He was very passionate. He was very loving, very knowledgeable,” Bizek said. “I fight for all people who are good, and that’s what Al taught us.