Toby and David Brooks Still Dream

Toby and David Brooks Still Dream

Toby and David moved into their CCOC triplex on Flora Street over 33 years ago. Since then they have been active members of their community on many levels.

But their journey to activism goes back much further, all the way to that day 51 years ago when Martin Luther King gave his powerful speech,“I Have a Dream” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

David and Toby were there, young people concerned about the civil rights of their African-American neighbours.

CCOC spent a bit of time at their dining room table on the 50th anniversary of the speech. Here is a portion of the “interview” we had.

CCOC: You both continue to fight injustice on many fronts. Can you give us some examples in your recent past?
David: Essentially, my main thrust has been environmental justice, both nationally and internationally. Other than signing petitions and occasionally making donations, it’s been environmental justice because I think we can’t just have more efficient water, it has to be delivered justly and equitably.
Toby: My thrust since I’ve been in Canada has been work with abused women and their children and rights for the disabled. I must say that both those struggles have taken many cues from the civil rights movement. The disabled looked at the civil rights movement and said “Yes, of course, and us too!”

CCOC: Where do you think young people today should put their energies to make the world a better place?
David: I’d suggest they think about combining their professional life with their political (small “p”) life. There are a lot of occupations (engineering for example), where you can make a real difference. If that’s not possible, then pick one or two areas and become a volunteer. Volunteering is critical to the justice movement. Don’t just sit back and sign petitions or cheques, but give of your time.
Toby: I’ve been thinking that I would combine respect for preserving our physical world with understanding the social needs of the people who live on the world. Animal rights are not my top priority, but when I see that we don’t worry about preserving environment that has supported animals, we are destroying something we need. I go back to Martin Luther King and one of the things he taught me. He said that when a person throws hate at another person, they not only hurt the victim, they poison something inside themselves. I’m connecting that to respect for the world we live in because lack of respect will hurt us and others.

CCOC: What brought you to CCOC over 30 years ago?
Toby: I had always vaguely known that housing was a big problem for low income people, but when I was working at Interval House, it really became front and centre how important good (and I emphasise good) affordable housing is for low income people. So much such housing becomes a huge sea of everybody who has a problem, and I very much liked the idea of mixed neighbourhoods. Also, I’m a very urban person and I liked the idea that CCOC had preserved some of the older housing stock.
David: I was perfectly willing to go along with Toby’s views and I have since become hugely enthusiastic about the concept. And I think about the amount of time we have saved not having to worry about owning a house and all that entails. We have just joined a car-sharing program, which living downtown has allowed us to do.

CCOC: Can you talk a bit about volunteering at CCOC ?
David: I always felt we should give something back to CCOC. I found my way to the CCOC Rental Committee years ago. Because I travel out of country a lot, Toby and I share one seat so that she can attend when I’m away. But of course, we both attend the pot lucks!
Toby: My contribution is more centered on the building here. I try to keep relations and maintenance on a community basis. We have pretty good luck keeping up the yard work, recycling, etc. We get together at least once a year for a social and quite a few of the folks who have lived here over the past 30 years join us, some of them with their adult children!

CCOC: Thinking back 50 years, what was your favorite song from the civil rights struggle?
David: I have to say the various versions of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”, not because it’s so thrilling, but it was so easy to sing. It could roar across the jailhouse walls and anyone could make up verses.
Toby: Mine is still “We Shall Overcome”, because it encapsulates all the historic longing and suffering and the determination to overcome this suffering for American blacks.

CCOC: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and time with us.

Posted on August 28, the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. Link to a video of the march on Washington and Dr. King’s speech is here.