I’m not the first to feature Skip. A feature is how I first found him.
I’m not sure how I got there, but I was one day browsing a blog formatted with pink and green, written in swirly script, and talking mostly about jewelry and dresses. Again, I have no idea how I got there, but I do know it was a Wednesday. I remember it clearly. I read the headings, Socialite Sunday, Monogram Monday, this was WASP Wednesday.
There, under that heading, was a glowing, sweet, and complimentary review of Branden “Skip” Brooks, author of the blog Alex Grant. I re-read the article a few times, trying to find the joke, the irony, the sarcasm. It wasn’t there. It was one of those moments where you look around for others to affirm that you aren’t seeing a mirage, save for me the room was empty, and so I sent Skip an email.
He replied he had indeed noticed and that he is positive it never even occurred to the writer that there was something amiss. He was OK with it. It was a perfect introduction to a guy, who has spent so much of his life out of place, yet somehow he blends in, and he just simply is OK with it.
He didn’t start out like this. “This” meaning a moc-boot wearing, popped collar having, Harvard guy, practicing law in Pennsylvania. He originally hails from Wilmington Delaware, the son of blue collar parents. He was in an all black neighborhood, attending a mostly black school. Sometime around the fourth grade teachers intervened and Sperry topsiders will never be the same. The gifted program was on the top floor of the building and he began to see the neighborhood kids less and less. Skip is the kind of guy you feel comfortable asking things, so I asked him if anyone ever made the oft cited critique that he was “acting white”. He furrowed his brow and thought for a moment, looking up, off into space, trying to remember. “Naw, in fact I recall one of the guys getting a peek at my report card once. I don’t even think it was all A’s, but after seeing it the kid said, Wow, If I had grades like that I could go to any college I wanted.” It was his Good Will Hunting moment. You know the scene, the one where Ben Affleck tells Matt Damon that he has the winning lottery ticket and he owes it to everyone else to cash it in? Skip cashed it in.
First it was the Tatnall School. This private prep school in the heart of DuPont country opened Brooks up to a whole new world. He was one of two black kids in his class. I asked him if this was hard, to which he shrugged and replied that he was the Student Body President. He did just fine. It was here, in prep school, that a preppy seed was planted. The seed took root at the senior class graduation party. It was at a classmate’s home, Avery’s home. The place, the setting, the house and lifestyle it presented were unlike anything Skip knew, but he knew right away that this was where he wanted to be.
Next stop Ursinus. While here he had an internship at a bank where he learned an important lesson not related to banking. He looked at the other interns, kids from U Penn and Bryn Mawr, and realized that while he looked like an intern, they looked like they owned the place. In an effort to up his game he found a used copy of The Official Preppy Handbook. In the cover of the book was a hand written note that read something along the lines of
“To my dearest Jonathan,
Here is a book that we can use to turn over a new leaf and learn to raise our children right.
Never knowing if Jonathan ever got the joke, or even if it was meant as a joke, Brooks used the book as course work. By all accounts he passed the course. I’m sure passing this class isn’t what got him into Harvard, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt.
As he retold this tale I did the math to realize when all this was happening. It was before Farnsworth Bentley, before Kanye West, it was surely before the return of tapered jeans. “Yeah, back then it was just me and Carleton.” He quipped. “Any of the neighborhood guys ever call you that?” I asked.
“Those neighborhood guys were slippin’.” I stated. Skip laughed.
Today he is a father of two, husband to one, and lawyer for a firm north of Philadelphia. He blogs about L.L. Bean, bowties, and likes to sail. He started a church group called “Parent of Little Ones” or P.O.L.O. One would look at him and think he had left the world of his youth behind; trading up, if you will. One would be wrong.
Skip commutes to the law firm in Philly from his home near Wilmington. He moved back to be close to his family. It is likely the most telling thing about him. He admits he dresses differently than his friends; meaning he didn’t trade in his friends when he bought new shoes. Somehow, the kid from the gifted class has infiltrated the exclusive preppy world without becoming exclusive himself.