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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Surprise Parade Sends B-N College Grad Into Life's Next Challenge

Markus Brooks
Markus Brooks
After graduating from Normal Community High School in 2016, Markus Brooks went onto Jackson State University in Mississippi to major in criminal justice with a goal of becoming an attorney.

This spring, college seniors across the country have faced a graduation experience like never before. For Markus Brooks of Bloomington, his support system helped him push through.

After graduating from Normal Community High School in 2016, Brooks went onto Jackson State University in Mississippi to major in criminal justice with a goal of becoming an attorney. He would’ve walked across the stage in early May. But COVID-19 canceled those plans. 

Wanting to celebrate his graduation (with honors), Brooks’ family and friends surprised him with a drive-thru parade May 2 in his Eagle Creek neighborhood in east Bloomington. Waking up to the celebration, Brooks said it was the highlight of his year.

“I was really surprised because I had no idea that it was happening. My dad told me to go outside and stand by the mailbox which made me really confused because I wondered why I was just standing out there. Then all of a sudden, I saw a whole bunch of cars coming around the corner that had signs with my name on it and some even had it written on their cars,” he said.

“It was really nice knowing I had a great support system. It sucked not being able to walk for graduation, but having that parade with my family and friends there to support me during this time was great because it felt like I was walking since I had all of them there.”

It was an uplifting end to a discouraging final semester.

“They showed me a lot of support because it was really discouraging. I had just gotten back from spring break and we found out that classes were going to be moved to strictly online in less than a week later. From there,I just knew my semester was over, but my family really encouraged me and let me know this was just a means to an end, and college was not the end,” said Brooks.

Markus Brooks family
Credit Courtesy
Aiming to celebrate his graduation (with honors), Markus Brooks’ family and friends surprised him with a drive-thru parade May 2 in his family's Eagle Creek neighborhood in east Bloomington.

While friends and family played a role in his successful journey, Brooks said becoming a member of the central Illinois chapter of the 100 Black Men national organization opened doors to the many opportunities he’s received. 

Joining as a sophomore in high school, mentors of the 100 taught Brooks different ways to be successful and exposed him to black history that was not taught in school. During his junior year, he was invited to the national convention in Atlanta, Georgia, where he met the chairman of the board, Thomas Dortch Jr, who helped him find scholarship opportunities and gain connections with professionals in his field. 

“The pandemic really messed a lot of things up, but my mentors ... always checked up on me to see what my grades were, what I was doing, and kept me encouraged, which made a difference during this time,” he said.

In 2015, Brooks received the 100 Black Men’s Mentee of the Year award. Public affairs chair and mentor within the organization, Justin Hicks, said regardless of unexpected bumps in the road, Brooks’ success was expected as he has a reputation of being a high achiever. 

“Markus was one of those young men that was always talked about with great reverence. Everybody always looked to him as an example, and we would constantly try to direct other kids to be like him,” said Hicks. “He’s done nothing but live up to our standards and beyond. I don't have a lot of experience with him in the classroom directly, but his reputation precedes him, and everything that everybody says about him has been nothing but glowing.”

Heading to law school in the coming year, Hicks said the example Brooks has set will have a lasting impact on members and the organization believes he will take the world by storm. 

“We’ve had a few others that have come through the program here in the Bloomington-Normal area, but the guys that are really driven, motivated, and locked-in students, those are the ones that we've been trying to hold up as the example of what each of our students has the potential to be if they focus and prioritize things the right way,” said Hicks.

“Going to Jackson State, graduating with honors, and going on to law school, with that I think the world is his oyster right now and he has the potential to be anything he wants to be. He's a very shining example of what we hope for all of our students.” 

Set to attend law school at Northern Illinois University, Brooks plans to uphold his high achieving reputation and create change for the future. 

“Being an attorney, not only would I get to work with law enforcement, but with corrections, other attorneys, and judges, too. My ultimate goal is to work for the district attorney's office when I first get out of law school and eventually transition into politics and hopefully, one day become president of the United States.”

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Tiffani Jackson is a reporting intern at WGLT and a student at Illinois State University's School of Communication. She started working at WGLT in summer 2019.
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