The road to justice and equity can be long and full of hardships; however, for Kameron Middlebrooks, that road became his passion and purpose in life.
Kameron is the 3rd Vice President for the Des Moines Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and former branch president. The 32-year-old has been involved with the organization for almost half his life.
Kameron was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but his mother moved to Iowa to be closer to her family when he was three. Growing up in Des Moines, Kameron often found himself to be the only Black kid in his classroom.
While attending Roosevelt High School—where he also ran track and played football—Kameron’s spark for equity and justice began during American history classes. He realized the history of African Americans had been nearly erased from the books. Additionally, he recognized the inequalities of the judicial system and in life as he watched and learned more about the beatings and killings of Black people.
As a high school junior, a friend invited Kameron to attend his first NAACP meeting. That same day an opportunity presented itself in the form of chapter elections. He was nominated as youth council treasurer and won. He had found a place he belonged other than a gymnasium or athletic field.
Before joining the NAACP, Kameron found solace in sports and mentorship in his coaches.
“The term is student-athlete, but I considered myself an athlete-student because it was all athletics to me because that was the only way I saw somebody that looked like me getting out of their situation,” he said.
“I didn’t have many people to look up to that were Black males that weren’t in basketball or football. My real male role models were my coaches.”
However, Kameron found additional mentors in the NAACP who worked around his sports practices and kept him engaged. That made an enormous impact on him.
For him, an important part of staying involved with the NAACP was a program called ACT-SO (Academic, Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics). This is an academic and cultural achievement program for underserved minority high school students. Kameron competed in poetry and won a state-level competition.
In summer 2006, Kameron attended the national NAACP convention in Washington, DC.
“I remember walking into the convention and seeing thousands of Black kids my age with the same purpose,” he said. “We also did a march from our hotel to the US Capitol, and everybody went to their respected Senator advocating for our agenda. That’s when as a young person, I realized I had a voice.”
Kameron kept climbing the organization’s ladder. He became the youth representative of the NAACP’s National Board at age 19 and served in that capacity for four years.
“Many people saw something in me first but then, at the same time, showed me the way,” he said.
Sports also continued to be a big part of Kameron’s life in high school. His athletic skills earned him a scholarship to study and play football at the University of South Dakota in Vermillon.
However, after the birth of his first child, Kameron transferred to Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs to be closer to his son. Kameron transferred once more to Grand View University in Des Moines in 2010 but dropped out of college the same year.
In his continued desire to change the system, he volunteered for then-President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign. Kameron ran the caucus in his neighborhood and ended up working for the campaign as a field organizer.
Three months into the campaign, at age 22, he was offered a job as a Midwestern regional field director for the NAACP. He became the youngest person to ever serve in that position.
“One of my biggest challenges was meeting with these chapters and earning my elders’ respect,” Kameron said. “On the other hand, it was the first time I opened my mind to the many realities of civil rights, not just in criminal justice focus but also economics, environment, and education.”
After three years with the NAACP, Kameron explored different opportunities. He became a business coach at the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families in Des Moines. While working at the center, he had the chance to meet individuals going through different challenges, from homelessness to those exiting the prison system and starting anew.
He witnessed those individuals grow and flourish while receiving the support and knowledge they needed at the center.
“The community just needs opportunities,” Kameron said. “We don’t need handouts, we need the same opportunities that everybody else has.”
When the pandemic hit last year and civil unrest ignited by the murder of George Floyd, it exacerbated the many challenges faced by African Americans and others and protests ensued all over the country, including Des Moines.
“At that time I was tired—even before George Floyd—of seeing all the killings of Black people,” Kameron said. “I was tired of being sad and mad. I was seeing all the people protesting in the streets, but what got me mad was hearing people complain about the way people have chosen to protest and complain more about that than a police officer killing a man in broad daylight in front of other officers. Some people was more outraged about property damage than human life.”
Middlebrooks, who at the time was chair of the City of Des Moines Human and Civil Rights Commission, was and continues to be a strong proponent of ongoing dialogue and systemic change.
During times of protest, he was considered more of an elder which took him by surprise at a time when generational differences on the issue became very pronounced.
”I couldn’t believe I was considered part of the old guard,” he said.
His passion and career have positioned Kameron in meaningful and important roles. Kameron serves as Director of Community Impact for the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines. However, his career is not all that drives Kameron. His children, a 13-year-old son and a daughter age six, are his daily inspiration,
“When my son was born, I looked at it as a moment of purpose and when my daughter was born, I saw it as a moment of joy because, at those times in my life, I needed that purpose,” he said.
One can see that Kameron is not even halfway on his path. He is smart, driven, caring, and purposeful. His passion has led his career into some difficult and hopeful places. His love for his children, family, and community drives him to do more and to do better.
What sets Kameron apart is that he extends his hand to bring others to join the work towards equality and justice. We have not seen the last Kameron Middlebrooks, stay tuned.
By Claudia Thrane