Hamilton Brooks '18 - Finding Passion and Purpose
When Hamilton Brooks ‘18 reads about history and the remarkable strides people have made, it brings him a degree of hope; with so much uncertainty in life, Hamilton wants to spread that hope to others. The Potomac alum puts his intentions into action and encourages others to do the same.
Last spring, as a junior at NYU, Hamilton landed the internship of his dreams, working for the ACLU’s national political advocacy and systemic equality departments. In that role, he supported campaigns focused on “issues that are outside of what we conventionally think of in connection with civil rights,” such as equal access to broadband, student debt, and discriminatory government practices toward small and Black-owned farms. But perhaps the most impactful focus of his internship was voting rights. What Hamilton learned at the ACLU under the mentorship of Rakim Brooks, former ACLU senior campaign strategist and now President of the Alliance for Justice, solidified his passion and purpose.
Hamilton became interested in voting rights during his sophomore year at Potomac, when he marched 300 miles as part of the NAACP-organized “Journey for Justice.” His father, Cornell Brooks, was president of the NAACP from 2014 through 2017, so Hamilton was familiar with the organization’s work to advance civil rights in such critical areas as voting, jobs, and education. He recalls, “The march was the event that brought me to voting rights specifically. During that time, I met a bunch of activists who inspired me to get into the field.”
Reflecting on his family’s long connection with the cause, Hamilton shares that his grandfather used to drive African Americans in Mississippi to polling places to ensure that lack of transportation wouldn’t be a barrier to voting. Members of the Ku Klux Klan became aware of what he was doing and took measures to deter him – blocking the road, pulling him out of the car, and using scare tactics to make him stop. But, Hamilton says with pride, “my grandfather persevered.”
Now, a senior at NYU, Hamilton is involved with the voting rights group Generation Vote. Before becoming involved with the organization, he had friends at school, was doing well in his classes, and enjoyed campus life. Yet, he says, “something was missing. I hadn’t found anything to get involved in. There was so much competition for clubs and even introductory leadership classes that I became frustrated and actually considered transferring.”
But a friend told him about Generation Vote, and Hamilton got involved, quickly becoming a leader within the organization. After two years supporting the NYU office, he joined the national staff. Hamilton says, “GenVote transformed my college experience; I was finally fulfilled in every aspect that I needed to be.”
His team has worked at a local level to support voting rights on campus, convincing the university administration to give students election day off in 2024 and to allow early voting on campus. Hamilton notes that many people want to focus on national issues, but the reality is that “most of the work is getting done at the state and local levels.”
This January, Hamilton spent the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend in Washington, DC, with Generation Vote, alongside protestors who were there to support the Freedom to Vote Act. He and other members of his organization participated in a three-day hunger strike that weekend, to draw attention to the importance of voting rights for all Americans. Hamilton notes, “Hunger strikes and marches are dramatic ways to make a point, and they can be very effective. But there are other, equally valuable ways to contribute to this cause. Behind-the-scenes activities like doing research, providing stats, and supporting the communication efforts are all critical. You don’t have to be directly out there to have an impact.”
At the same time, Hamilton calls out “performative activism,” noting that “many people talk about respecting Martin Luther King and then do things in his name that I think he would never have supported.” He adds, “If you care about Dr. King and his legacy, the least you can do is listen to the wishes of his family. They’ve been clear for a long time; this year, their motto literally was ‘no celebration without legislation.’ Words are easy; taking action is harder. If people care what Dr. King and so many other leaders have done for our country, they should listen to what his family is saying and be willing to support meaningful change.”
Observing that “many people feel overwhelmed these days,” Hamilton admits that he is not immune. He says that learning about history helps him keep things in perspective: “Anytime I learn about the remarkable things that people have done in the past, it brings me a degree of hope, helping me to go about my day and get things done.”
Once he completes his undergraduate studies, Hamilton plans to attend law school and pursue a PhD. He would like to be a history professor one day, noting, “The idea of making someone younger than me, who may be struggling with feelings of frustration or despair, aware of the accomplishments of the past excites and inspires me. Learning about people who stood for something, people who made change happen, can inspire us and give us hope.”
Hamilton credits educators at Potomac and NYU, his grandparents, and his parents (“who handled the GenVote hunger strike way better than I did”) with preparing him to do important work and pass the inspiration along. He reflects, “I’ve been blessed with a family who are all doing amazing things. I’ve had a whole other education, beyond school, through them. I can pass their history and teachings on, and that drives me.”
-- Hamilton, currently a member of Potomac’s Alumni Governing Council, continues the mission of connecting alumni to one another.