Harold W. Brooks is chief executive officer of the American Red Cross Bay Area chapter, responsible for the strategic development of one of the leading chapters in the country, serving six Bay Area counties and the day-to-day operations for nearly 2,000 volunteers and more than 60 employees. He spent five years serving as country director for the Peace Corps in Papua New Guinea and for Africare in Kenya.
Who has had the biggest influence on you in your life?
It would be my parents: my mother and father. They grew up in a time that was so full of discrimination and somehow made it through that and provided for us kids. We didn’t realize that were poor and didn’t have what other kids had. We were encouraged to get a good education and strive to get ahead.
Is there a “golden rule” by which you live?
My golden rule is to expect amazing things from people, and they will usually exceed that expectation.
What book or piece of writing had a lasting effect on you?
I’ve always been a big proponent of Peter Drucker. He wrote a lot about being an effective leader and manager, from a mega corporation to a nonprofit operation. How he lived had a very profound effect on me.
Where do you find inspiration?
In community leaders. In my work, I have the privilege of working with a lot of folks throughout local neighborhoods and disasters throughout the world. The kind of folks that have, that allow people to trust them … continues to renew my belief in humanity.
Where do you turn to in dark times?
I probably call on all lifelines: I’ll call on the Almighty, look inside of myself, look to friends and neighbors … I can get help from all sources.
How did you get involved with the Red Cross?
I got involved years ago, when the Red Cross and United Way were partners in fundraising. But I fell in love with the Red Cross when I went out with the Red Cross to a fire in the middle of the night in South Central L.A. And here we are more than 30 years later.
What kind of work does the Red Cross do in the Bay Area?
We prep the community for emergencies: everything from how to save someone’s life if they have a heart attack to preparing faith-based organizations to provide shelter if there’s a disaster. We also work with schools [to provide shelter] if there’s a catastrophic disaster.
What’s the difference between the Red Cross and the International Red Cross?
We are all a part of the name organization, with the same seven Fundamental Principals [humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality]. The Red Cross started in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1863. Clara Barton dropped the idea of helping victims of the Civil War. She turned what had been a wartime organization into one that responds to disasters.
What’s one of the most moving things you have seen in your work with the Red Cross?
During Hurricane Hugo, which was a devastating hurricane that hit in Puerto Rico [in 1989], we went into a house where the flood waters had gone into the house. On top of the kitchen counters, there was this frail 80-year-old woman, who said to us in Spanish: “I knew the Red Cross would come to me.” She had so much faith in us.
How do you see your role in the world?
My role in the world is to be a leader in helping the community around being more resilient.