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Student Experience

National Urban Fellow Cecil Brooks Jr. looks to break cycles of poverty

Pursuing a graduate degree came as an unexpected — but welcome — waypost in this student’s journey.

Cecil Brooks Jr.

Hailing from the South Bronx in New York, by way of Central America, National Urban Fellow Cecil Brooks Jr. has always obsessed over the intricacies underneath stable societies.

“Growing up in what is known as one of the poorest congressional districts in the country, with parents who immigrated from one of the poorest countries in the Americas,” said Brooks, “I always grew up asking how wealth can be created and why poverty seems to follow the same groups of people across different areas.”

This puzzle has driven Brooks to pursue roles in corporate law, philanthropy, city government and, most recently, federal government.

“I was drinking from a fire hydrant! It was somewhat of a dream to work in my neighborhood, living on the same street as my parents where I grew up,” said Brooks. “But it also opened my eyes to what’s happening across the country.”

His first day as a senior constituent services liaison for Representative Ritchie Torres (D-NY 5th District) was actually January 6, 2021, the day of the Capitol riot. “Thankfully, I wasn’t in the Capitol Building,” he said, “but it really set the scene of my year in federal service.”

Brooks graduated in 2017 from Colby College with a degree in Latin American Studies and Philosophy. His bipartisan organizing in Maine, a swing state whose governor aligned closely with President Trump, reinforced the “hyperlocal attitude” toward government he’s fostered as a New Yorker.

Cecil Brooks Jr.

“I love New York and knowing what happens on every street corner,” said Brooks. “But there’s so much more I want to be a part of. I’m ready to really expand New York, which brought me to Georgetown, in the heart of the country.”

Graduate studies weren’t originally part of his plan — he’d previously felt that graduating from undergrad was “journey enough.” That changed in the summer of 2021, when Brooks accepted an invitation to attend a transnational delegation to Honduras, where he has family ties, to investigate the economic drivers behind a sharp increase in immigration to surrounding countries.

I already feel like this opportunity is bringing me full circle.

Cecil Brooks Jr.

“I learned so much and got to meet amazing people,” he said. Brooks even got to meet a long-lost cousin who is now a leading indigenous activist for women’s rights in a country with one of the highest rates of homicide against women.

He arrived at the McCourt School through the National Urban Fellows Program which, Brooks explained, scouts emerging leaders from underrepresented communities across the country to bring “fresh minds to the public world.” He’s looking forward to learning from his classmates, delving into theories of economic development and, in his spare time, exploring DC’s creative arts scene.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” said Brooks. “I’m still trying to figure out what the future entails, whether I’ll stay in government and how hyperlocal I want to remain, but I’m open to exploration. I already feel like this opportunity is bringing me full circle.”

Learn more about the National Urban Fellows Program and how to apply here.

National Urban Fellows