Former student looks for family

By ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON

Many have compared the story of Thomas Brooks, a Pitt grad, to that of presidential… Many have compared the story of Thomas Brooks, a Pitt grad, to that of presidential candidate Barack Obama.

On Friday, Brooks returned to share his inspirational story with the Pitt community.

Brooks grew up in Pittsburgh with a devoted divorced mother who struggled to make ends meet, loving grandparents, aunts, uncles and lots of cousins.

“As young as the age of 6, I saw education as a way out of poverty,” Brooks said.

Brooks became the first black valedictorian at New Brighton High School and, with the money he was awarded with scholarships, the first member of his family to attend college.

As an undergraduate student at Pitt, he majored in electrical engineering and joined the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

He then went on to earn an MBA from the University of Maryland.

Yet there was something missing from the life of this high achiever.

“When I was 25, I asked myself, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where did I come from?'” said Brooks.

In 1992, Brooks, seeking to put together the pieces of his identity, decided to look into what his mother, Joan Lowry Brooks, had told him at 11 – that he was adopted.

“Unfortunately, with the pace of modern society, we tend to forget our roots,” Brooks said. “Without roots, we are nothing.”

In his award-winning book, A Wealth of Family: An Adopted Son’s International Quest for Heritage, Reunion and Enrichment, Brooks details the search that led him to two continents and two diverse cultures.

“I challenge every one of you to write a 10 to 20 page history of your life that includes the successes and the failures,” he said. “Think how much your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will appreciate it when you hand it down to them.”

He learned from the agency that handled his adoption that his biological mother was white and a descendent of Lithuanian Jews. His father was a member of the Kisii tribe in western Kenya.

Brooks’ biological mother had grown up in the Cheswick area and attended Fox Chapel High School. Dorothy Blazier met Mboga Mageeka Omwenga at Penn State when she was a 19-year-old freshman and he a 26-year-old graduate student.

After Brooks contacted the adoption agency, it contacted his biological grandmother, Maryan Blazier, who was still living in the Cheswick area. Maryan in turn contacted Dorothy, who was married and living in England.

Brooks then received an unexpected letter from his biological mother. Six months later she flew to Pittsburgh to meet her son.

“I thanked her for not having an abortion, which may sound weird to some, but it was important to me at the time,” Brooks said.

Meeting Dorothy inspired him to search for his biological father.

Although he was not able to reunite with his father on his first trip to Kenya, he returned to Kenya seven months later and the two met in October 1994.

“I had a tangible connection to him and to Africa,” he said. “Many African-Americans have been robbed of their connection to Africa through slavery.”

On another trip, Brooks, greeted by about 500 people, visited his family’s original village in the mountains of Kenya. There, he met his 100-year-old grandmother, Kemunto. He was also given a plot of land on which he plans to build a house someday.

“We have to get passed ethnic barriers,” he said. “We must become global citizens.”

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