This post is part of a series in which LGA interviews a community leader and discusses their journey with racial justice and equity in an effort to learn from and alongside our fellow Charlotteans. These interviews will be edited for clarity and brevity.
Originally from St. Louis, Linda Lockman-Brooks grew up with a dad whose successful career as an Anheuser-Busch regional sales manager exposed her to business from an early age. Her dad set a solid example as a Black man in corporate life, and he regularly discussed his career with his family around the dinner table. Her mom didn’t work until her children, including Linda, were in high school, but she was a very involved volunteer, devoting her time to the YWCA and League of Women Voters. Her example also became a core part of how Linda approached her life and career.
Linda graduated high school early and stayed at home to attend the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She got a job with Trans World Airlines (TWA) as a ticket agent while an undergrad and fell in love with working. After college she moved to New York City, what she calls the true “beginning” of her life and career, marrying the love of her life, Wil Brooks, and starting a career in advertising. She began her career at renowned agency J. Walter Thompson, where she managed accounts like Lever Brothers and Scott Paper, later transitioning to corporate roles and at American Express, Bank of America and Duke Energy before starting her own consultancy in 1999.
Passionate about inclusion and access at every level, Linda has generously given her time to arts and education organizations like the Arts and Science Council, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library Foundation, Central Piedmont Community College, Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, Johnson C. Smith University and Junior League of Charlotte.
We sat down with Linda to talk all things social and racial justice through her lens as an African American woman and mother, marketing and communications professional and civic leader.
When did you decide to advocate for racial justice and equity causes?
I have always believed that, “To whom much is given, much is required.” There were so many people along the way – Black and white, but mostly Black – who helped me, so I always wanted to be that person for other people. There was an unwritten rule that we wanted to support each other and build a network of success. Once you get in the door, you’re going to open it a little wider for the person that comes in behind you.
To that point, I was able to help host trainings early in my career at TWA to help frontline supervisors hire and advance people of color. I was also tapped to help increase diversity of both race and gender among flight attendants. These early experiences made me aware of these initiatives, and I was happy to continue volunteering to help at every organization where I worked. Based on the example my dad set, I was comfortable in rooms where these conversations about diversity were happening, and that comfort helped me speak my truth to help others.
What types of RJE work are you most passionate about?
The continued lack of diversity in the marketing and communications field is frustrating to me. I was in those roles more than 30 years ago and had hopes that there would be more people that looked like me in them at this point. I know that even the big cities – New York City and Los Angeles – fall short, so I remain passionate and committed to helping change that by recommending people for opportunities and counseling people of color in their career journeys.
However, the community leadership is really what I get most excited about. I did some dismantling racism work about five years ago that really pushed me to make sure that I am helping make progress in my own circles and spheres of influence. Whether that’s in my business, civic involvement, social groups or anything else, I’m focused on having the one-to-one conversations to be sure people are doing the heart and head work to inspire and make change.
What is your biggest personal and professional victory related to RJE to date?
I’m most proud of the times I’ve spoken up, been heard and led by example so that the next time someone sees someone like me in a role, it won’t be an oddity but an expectation.
When I was on the board of the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, we created scholarships to alleviate some of the financial burdens and increase access for those who may not traditionally have been able to afford summer camps, program attendance, etc. When ImaginOn was created in Uptown, being right on the light rail and within walking distance of Fourth Ward helped to increase access among all social classes and appeal to racially diverse families. We also challenged the subject matter of the programming, and today it’s naturally diverse to match the audience.
As I look at the current board, I see a diverse group of leaders. It was some of our conversations in the early 2000s that operationalized some of these things that ultimately came to life as an inclusive system. Access, to me, is a form of social justice, so I’m really proud of everything we started at the Theatre and what they continue to accomplish in arts education.
What is your short-term goal and long-term hope for the future?
In the short term, we have to keep having courageous conversations. It’s those one-to-one conversations that take us further, and the more opportunities we have to do that just ingrains it into who we are as Charlotteans. We have to understand our differences and how we’re also similar.
My other hope is that we will soon really be able to make a dent in providing more affordable housing. This will make a real impact in access and in housing security for people at lower income levels, which in turn helps to address many other challenges.
What role do you think marketers and communicators should play in creating tangible change around these issues?
Marketers and communicators can continue to tell the story – the whole story – in the work they produce. They should not just produce a pretty commercial in support of social justice, but they have to look internally at their organizations and their clients to see if they are living their own message. We must strive to make the organizations more diverse and examine how they are communicating. The diversity work isn’t just a one off, it’s continual work, and it must be regularly evaluated to be sure we are moving forward.
How would you challenge our agency to continue to act on our RJE mission?
The work of the task force needs to be broadened to the entire agency. Everyone should see this work as part of their role within the company and community at large, and each individual should have a way to play an authentic role.