DIXON – Three pieces of paper sent Carolynn Brooks on a 9-year journey to unearth family secrets, fill in holes of her history and capture her life story in the pages of a book.
Those 308 pages fill “You Will Know My Name: A Memoir,” which revolves around what it means to push against adversity, to persevere until something happens.
“My desire in life is to empower others, to plant seeds of success for other people,” Brooks said Saturday during a signing at Books On First.
The 66-year-old was raised in Dixon, graduated from Dixon High School in 1969 and went on to be vice president, chief diversity officer for OfficeMax, the first black woman in that position, as well as president of the OfficeMax Charitable Foundation.
“This book is about my journey to put together the puzzle pieces of my complicated and mysterious past – puzzle pieces I found in a box, tucked away and forgotten,” Brooks said in the book’s introduction. “It’s about how I used my own words of power to overcome debilitating words of destruction and evolved my self image, overcoming traumatic events and abusive situations.”
Her mother, Zelodious “Zee” Williams-Ashford, was a special education teacher at DHS and died in 1999.
While cleaning out her home, Brooks found a box containing three different birth certificates for the same baby born in 1951 in Kansas City, Missouri. They were all hers.
The find later led to years of research and writing, unfolding secrets for her and her mother, both “unintentional trailblazers.”
“To tell my story, I had to tell hers,” she said.
It’s about the healing of her family, the obstacles along the way, and the “faith, perseverance and bold determination” it took to overcome hatred, sexual abuse, racism, workplace sexual harassment and financial ruin.
“I really hope people can say it’s a story of triumph,” she said.
Brooks moved to the Atlanta, Georgia, area about 3 years ago and started the company KEYS4Empowerment where she travels as a professional motivational speaker.
She plans to continue writing and hopes that her memoir will one day become a movie.
More than 50 people came to the book signing, and Brooks said it was like a homecoming reuniting with several of her old classmates.
“It just touches my heart,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting it, and I feel so blessed.”