By Talibah Chikwendu
Former AFRO Executive Editor
The first time Edgar Brookins and I met, it was across a conference table during my first weekly management meeting in August 1997. The editorial departments of both Washington and Baltimore were taking it on the chin for mistakes that made it into print and missing the printer deadline, which negatively impacted newspaper distribution and subscriber delivery.
We hadn’t been introduced yet, but I noticed him. He was a handsome man with a GREAT complexion and wearing a retired-military bearing like skin. His expression was serious, but not a frown; it was just waiting for the right moment to light the room with his smile.
And smile he could, and did easily. He wasn’t stingy with smiles or kindness. That was the first thing I learned about him — long before we had to work together.
When we met, I was new to the company as editor of the Baltimore edition and Mr. Brookins (which is how I always refer to him) was serving in his long term roles of Washington director of operations, circulation and distribution. While this was not his official title, it also doesn’t fully cover all he did for the company. His role was both broad and deep and what he didn’t know at any point of his long tenure, he was ready and willing to learn and take on. I didn’t know it then, but Mr. Brookins was the center of the Washington office.
During my long tenure with the company, my roles led me to working from the Washington office. That is when I got to know Mr. Brookins, how integral he was for the operation of the newspaper and how wonderful a person he was. He was thoughtful, accommodating and no nonsense. Everything he did and supported was guided by what was good for the paper and what a good human being would do.
The interaction that endeared me to him came early after I started working in the District. I don’t remember the issue, just that there was a decision I needed to make. Being new to interacting in the D.C. region as a journalist, I wanted to make the right choice. I went to Mr. Brookins.
His initial response to my inquiry was that as editor it was my decision and not under his direction. I said, “Well, I know you are the expert in this area and office, and your knowledge will make it possible for me to do the best job.”
He then shared his thoughts on the issue and added that his role was to take marching orders. “I’m a good soldier,” he said.
He made me laugh with that, but I came to know that as an accurate and fitting description of the man. In all things, he was a good soldier — on mission, fighting for what was right, being proactive for the good of the unit, and celebrating victories with as much vigor and life and he employed in overcoming hurdles.
Working with Mr. Brookins was a pleasure. His standing and reach in the Washington community opened doors that made it possible for me to excel at my job. He was kind and honest always, more willing to solve a problem than to place blame, and generous with his praise and bounty. I learned so much from him, and while he never had any desire to be in the editorial department, his news sense was stellar and his ability to ferret out freelancers that enhanced the reach of the newspaper was amazing. When I left journalism, his council was greatly missed.
I moved on to the classroom, but Mr. Brookins kept popping up. I was teaching my middle schoolers about a historical figure during Black History Month. While showing a YouTube video, which included a ceremony honoring the military officer, who should appear, participating, but Edgar Brookins. I picked up the phone that day and called him, and we shared, once again, a good laugh.
There are people who are with you for a season but enhance your life forever. Edgar Brookins was that for me. He validated many of my opinions about news, mission and life, and modeled for me how to manage a mission, build a team and be a good soldier. Rest well, Mr. Brookins. Your spirit soldiers on within me.
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