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Center Stage Employee: Eugene Brooks

April 2014

Who Is Eugene Brooks?

Eugene BrooksEugene Brooks describes himself as “a people person.” Lots of people say that and go about their business seemingly oblivious to other human beings. The difference with Eugene Brooks is that he means it and his whole life is lived as proof.

Currently the silviculturist for the National Forests in Alabama, Brooks is acutely aware of the importance of mentors in his life and he has responded by freely offering the treasure of his extensive experience. For Brooks, this means providing guidance to others at every level of his professional and private life. For others, it means a world of benefit available for the asking.

The Past as a Touchstone

Eugene Brooks has a long memory and it serves him well.  He has the credentials to offer guidance to his community. He is a commissioner on the Bessemer Housing Authority Board and a member of the City of Bessemer Zoning Committee. He is a Mason and an active member of Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Birmingham. All of these activities and accomplishments represent a solid life that grew from a firm faith in God and appreciation of family.

He is blessed with a loving family, wife and three children and has a mother who, at age 91, continues to provide guidance and wisdom to her son. As a youth, he farmed in Macon County, Alabama and worked in several textile mills in Columbus, Georgia. The hard work taught him a valuable lesson that led him to consider a different future.

Young Eugene had an inquisitive mind and physical agility that did not readily accommodate the repetition of mill tasks. He also had multiple abilities and put them to work by extending his education. Exceptional ability as a basketball player helped the young man ease into university life.

The academic program he found in Huntsville at the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU, better known as Alabama A&M) was tailored to boost young graduates into the workforce with both knowledge and experience directly applicable in the world. He also found a capable counselor who guided him into a useful career path. Carefully studying the university course catalog with his counselor, Eugene turned in an important direction. By majoring in timber harvesting management, Brooks acquired specific knowledge and with a minor in business administration, he was equipped with the tools necessary to apply that knowledge.

Eugene was fortunate to find more than books in his new surroundings. Two of the professors particularly retain a fond place in his memory. Dr. MacArthur Floyd, a soil scientist, gave Eugene the benefit of his guidance in personal as well as academic matters. Dr. Oscar Montgomery was both a professor and the pastor of the church Eugene attended and provided the spiritual sustenance helpful to a youth on his own for the first time. These mentors and others provided a family atmosphere that greatly assisted the development of young people.

In 1983 after graduation, Brooks began searching for his first real career position and he found it at Tuskegee University as assistant station superintendent of the George Washington Carver Research and Experiment Station. While serving in that capacity, he met Joe Brown, forest supervisor of the National Forests in Alabama (1982-1990) at a meeting where Brooks was a guest speaker. After a private conversation with Brown, Eugene found a new career move and mentor.

More than Trees Grow in the National Forests

Surveying his new career environment at the Forest Service, Brooks knew that he had an opportunity ahead of him. The Forest Service was bigger than Tuskegee, and Eugene was prepared for the major changes that would help his career development.  

Adapting to the multi-faceted aspects of Forest Service programs, Brooks dug in, reading widely and absorbing the plentiful information that he encountered about a wide variety of issues. Soon, growing steadily in knowledge and ability as he worked, Brooks was ready to advance.

His first job, from April to July, 1987, with the Forest Service was as a forest aide on the Tuskegee National Forest. He then advanced to timber marker and contract technician on the Oakmulgee Ranger District from July 1987 to 1991. He found his next advancement as a prescription forester/district silviculturist from 1991 to 2003 on the Shoal Creek Ranger District. He was then promoted to his current position as forest silviculturist for the National Forests of Alabama in the Supervisor’s Office in Montgomery.

Without people helping others, Brooks knows that some of the most successful initiatives of the Forest Service would not have occurred. He cites the fact that cooperation among individuals and organizations have contributed fundamentally to the outstanding effort currently underway to replenish Alabama Forests with longleaf pine. Important studies conducted at Louisiana State University, he explains, along with the multiple partnerships that evolved, paved the way for widespread success of the longleaf. Brooks says that it is significant that the longleaf project addressed transformation of the entire ecosystem, preparing the way for the return of the red-cockaded woodpecker, a Forest Service success story.

Advice and a Promise for the Future

MAC developed partnership agreement with Alabama A&M gentlemen  While forest ecosystems provide the setting, it’s the people that are essential, Brooks notes. It is interesting that the growth of individuals constitutes some of his most cherished memories at the Forest Service.  One of his most important accomplishments, Brooks cites his key role in negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding that developed a new partnership for expanding both Forest Service programs and employment opportunities. In September 2003, Acting Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart and former Alabama A & M President John T. Gibson signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The program provided recruitment, retention and research opportunities to study forest management on the national forests as well as other training with potential to supply permanent employment with the Forest Service.

Brooks followed up with his involvement in programs that expose young people to an assortment of career opportunities. For example, Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) welcome participants of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to expanded education in the field of agriculture and related sciences, and “Classroom in the Forest,” is aimed at public school students in Jefferson County, Alabama exposing them to traditional and urban forestry.

Community involvement is a major part of Brooks’ career with the Forest Service. He continues to give back by mentoring students and Forest Service employees, serving as a “big brother”.  Brooks also served on the National Forests in Alabama Multicultural Advisory Committee, represented the Forest Service at AAMU Center of Excellence meetings and coordinated projects funded to public schools and their communities in Jefferson County. Significantly—in hands-on fashion—he has provided teaching demonstrations in a variety of activities including potting, pruning and mulching. Brooks taught flower bed design and coordinated the distribution and planting of seedlings as well as demonstrating safety techniques.  He was a guest speaker for various forestry and natural resource management classes; and expects his silviculturist activities to expand in coming years as longleaf forest management duties progress along with acres impacted by conversion to longleaf pine.

Keeping students in mind has always been important for Eugene Brooks and he has some ready advice for them. With his own experience as a guide, Brooks is certain that students should take advantage of all available opportunities to learn and evaluate how various career paths suit their own temperament. “Attend as many career development fairs as possible,” Brooks advises, adding that “this will help them decide if natural resource management is an interest.” He also advises students to study hard and make sacrifices early in life. “This will have a direct impact on the quality of life later.”

Perspective for Improvement

People would be the enduring theme of Brooks’ life, a work in progress that he would like to see rounded out with still more advantage to others. To protect the gains of the past, he says, it is time to influence the future by applying greater concern for the present status of diversity in the workplace.

“Sustaining diversity,” Brooks says, “takes three things: recruitment, retention and financing.” Affirmative action programs of previous years resulted in more attention to diversity, he comments. It’s more difficult now, he notes, with lower budgets permitting fewer employees and he realizes that contracting work to a variety of private enterprises comes with the consequent loss of institutional memory as well as the actual employees. He knows that solid gains can be made in training and the expansion of opportunities. He knows the capabilities possessed by workers of all backgrounds. And he knows that the very best results come from the greatest possible diversity. Opportunities are strong for the future and as long as employees like Eugene Brooks are around, there will be mentors to show the way forward.

 

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