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Beryl Brooks, 72; Pioneering Long Beach Educator, Activist

January 26, 2002|From a Times Staff Writer

Beryl Brooks, the first black woman promoted to the position of principal in the Long Beach Unified School District and a longtime community activist, died in Long Beach on Monday after suffering a stroke last week. She was 72.

Brooks arrived in Long Beach from Chicago with her late husband, Joe, in 1958 and quickly established herself as both an educator and a fixture in the community.

Her first teaching job in Long Beach was at John Muir Elementary School. In 1971, she became principal of College Intermediate School (now Butler Elementary), where she led the district's first academic magnet school.

In the late 1980s, she ran a Saturday school for parents and students, which received a visit from then-U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.).

Brooks later served as principal of William McKinley Elementary School and Jane Addams Elementary School, where she worked until her retirement in 1990.

After retiring, she served on the board of a Long Beach campus for homeless children and was a member of the African American Infant Health board. She was appointed to the inaugural board of the Public Corp. for the Arts and was an original board member of the Long Beach Library Foundation.

A lifetime member of the Long Beach chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, Brooks helped found two of the city's major African American women's organizations. Brooks was active in the Long Beach Symphony Guild and the First Congregational Church of Long Beach. An avid collector of African American art, she served on the Long Beach Museum of Art board of directors.

Brooks was born Beryl O'Kelly in Raleigh, N.C., in 1929. Her father, Berry, founded the first accredited rural high school for black students in the county. Brooks graduated from O'Kelly High School, where she later had her first teaching assignment.

She earned her bachelor's degree at Hampton University in Hampton, Va., a master's degree at Columbia University in New York and a teaching credential at USC.

Brooks is survived by a nephew, Dr. Oliver Brooks of Long Beach, and a half brother, Owen White of Raleigh.

The funeral will be at 2 p.m. today at First Congregational Church, 241 Cedar Ave., Long Beach.

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