¿Y Nosotros Qué? Samuel A. Brooks

By José Francisco Ávila

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Photo credit Samuel A. brooks

Samuel A. Brooks is the President of the Mott Haven Historic Districts Association and co-chair of the Bronx Borough Landmark Committee. He has worked for many years in Wall Street, as an investment researcher for Citigroup Global Markets.

Samuel reflects the racial, cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity of the Latin American population. He was born in La Ceiba Honduras as a descendant of Anglo-Caribbean immigrants from Grenada and Jamaica. The Anglo-Caribbean or English-Speaking Blacks as they are described in the Honduras Census form along with the Garifuna, are the only Afro-Hondurans regarded as distinct ethnic groups within the country, having preserved an ethnic and cultural difference from the mestizo mainstream.[1]

Samuel has confronted the 21 Struggles All Afro-Latinos Know To Be True[2], described by Zakiya Jamal in her Buzzfeed article, as he expressed to I Am Black: Translations, a documentary exhibition and book project about what you mean when you say “I am Black”. [3]

“I consider myself as an Afro Latino that happens to be born in Honduras Central America. As a young child growing up in Honduras we were considered English people simply because we spoke English. I am racially Black born in Central America with roots in the Caribbean. My grandfather was born in Grenada worked in Panama on the canal and ultimately headed a bit north and settled in La Ceiba Honduras where my mother was born. Interestingly with me, when I am with my Latino friends here in the US to them I am considered Hispanic and when I am with my African American friends, I am considered African American and when I travel to Santo Domingo to them I am either Haitian or “Moreno”. So, to me being black is simply identifying myself with my Caribbean heritage and to others it all depends on what assumptions they want to make based on my physical appearance.”

Samuel Brooks successfully overcame the odds to become an outstanding visionary, whose dedication, commitment to excellence and continuous contributions to the South Bronx, led him to confront the gentrification of the South Bronx.

Samuel Brooks arrived to the South Bronx from Honduras in 1974. At that time, the area was being devastated by consecutive cases of arson, by which Samuel and his family were forced out of the building they first lived in The Bronx. They had to move to 140th Street between St. Ann and Cypress in Mott Haven.

As a child, alcohol and drugs were booming outside his home, but he remained loyal to his dream of becoming a successful professional. He graduated from the South Bronx High School, then went to Stony Brook University, and subsequently joined a leading investment banking firm on Wall Street.

In 2006, Samuel bought a brownstone house in the Mott Haven Historic District, the first historic district in The Bronx to be designated as a landmark in 1969.

“Mott Haven represents my process of belonging to an excluded community to becoming a leader in a thriving community. My mind is full of memories of my childhood, having fun with my siblings,” Samuel remembered.

Samuel transformed his home into a place for residents to gather together, and a hub for local artists to showcase their art. He is the founder of the Mott Haven Historic Association Districts (MHHDA), and the Mott Haven Decorator Show House.

MHHDA aims to uphold the historic and cultural character of Mott Haven by offering tour guides, and introducing newcomers to the history of the neighborhood.

The Mott Haven Decorator Show House provides a space for local interior designers a place to exhibit their work.

Mott Haven’s economic revitalization has attracted developers, about which Samuel says “we need to be cautious.” Through his organization MHHDA he promotes a concept that he calls 3D (Dialogue, Don’t Dictate) among developers and investors.

In 2017, Samuel Brooks and the Mott Haven Historic Association Districts participated in the New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC)’s Six to Celebrate program. His district was chosen, and granted assistance by the HDC to advance preservation initiatives.

Samuel is also co-founder and director of El Fogon Center for the Arts with the mission of providing artists with an attractive “home like” venue to display and sell their artwork. His vision includes a Bronx Cultural Destination.

In September 2018, the Bronx Chamber of Commerce presented Samuel a 2018 Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award.