Celebrating Norman Brooks – A Real Champion for Children
By Children Rising | March 10, 2020
by Randy Roth, Founder and former Executive Director of Children Rising
This past weekend, Children Rising, and the entire Oakland community, lost a true champion for children.
Before Faith Network of the East Bay was even founded in July 2001, Norman Brooks had heard about our vision of church congregations and communities of faith “adopting a neighborhood school.” Quick on the draw, he said he would set up a get-acquainted meeting with Burbank Elementary School where he previously served as a science teacher. Principal Roberta Teller was eager to meet with then-Board Chair Jon Blankmeyer, Norman, and me to learn what the school’s needs were and how the nascent organization could help.
“Norman was the quintessential gardener, planting seeds that would bear lasting fruit.”
That day, a small seed was planted that would blossom into a partnership providing reading tutors, playground supervisors, and teacher appreciation luncheons, as well as helping to start a PTA and reopening the school library.
Norman was the quintessential gardener, planting seeds that would bear lasting fruit. Several years later, he would be instrumental in planting another seed.
I had paid a visit to Mission Springs Conference Center in the Santa Cruz Mountains and learned about their 3-day Mission Springs Outdoor Science Education (MSOE) Camp. The next day I called Norman to tell him about MSOE and popped the question: “Would you be interested in helping to build a program for getting Oakland students out of the city for a rich environmental education camping experience?” Without skipping a beat he exclaimed, “Oh Randy, yes! It’s what I’ve always wanted for our Oakland children!”
With that, Science Horizons had it’s champion.
Norman Brooks joined the Faith Network staff as Director of Outdoor Environmental Education Programs, which later became Science Horizons. Neither of us would ever forget the 5th grade student from an impoverished neighborhood in East Oakland getting off the bus at Mission Springs, then falling to her knees gazing upon the surrounding Redwoods and exclaiming “I want to stay here for the rest of my life!”
Norman retired from Children Rising in 2013, but was never far from us. He and his wife Barbara paid a visit to Mission Springs this past February. MSOE director Stacie Daoust thought they would love to be there while 5th graders from three Oakland schools were attending outdoor science camp. Needless to say it was a homecoming experience that brought back a flood of memories.
Norman’s been an inspiring mentor to thousands of East Bay students, including their teachers and principals, ever since. And he will go down in history for his creepin’ crawlin’ bug collection.
We join with the wide circle of family, friends, students and colleagues in honoring Norman’s fruitful life and lasting legacy.