With Chicago Prize, alumna makes an impact

Posted on February 12, 2024

Kemena Brooks '09

As director of development for The Community Builders, Inc., Kemena Brooks ’09 is changing the face of Chicago neighborhoods and earning recognition on the city’s Crain’s Business 40-Under-40 list. Her current development, the Sankofa Wellness Village, has won the Chicago Prize, which comes with a $10 million grant from the Pritzker Traubert Foundation. 

She always wanted to make a difference and brought that desire with her when she began her career as a student in the Interior Architecture program – and a member of the Womens’ Basketball team – at UNCG. “I had the idea that architecture can change the world,” says Brooks. After graduation, she studied urban planning and business administration, but always kept lessons from UNCG close.

“I’m fortunate to lead developments that bring major investments to under-resourced communities including delivering affordable housing, providing essential retail and neighborhood amenities that improve quality of life, and also positively influencing property values in surrounding areas,” says Brooks. 

The Sankofa Wellness Village development will impact 17,000 residents in the West Garfield Park neighborhood who do not have access to what most consider basic neighborhood conveniences by bringing a health clinic, community and fitness space, financial institution, and job center. 

Even as this project was being developed, she says, the only grocery store in the neighborhood closed. “In the middle of the night, it took its sign down, cleared out all the shelves, and locked the doors. The Wellness Village is a reminder of why I got into this work, which is to create opportunities and access that improve the quality of life for families of all incomes.”     

Brooks came to UNCG after former Women’s Basketball coach Lynn Agee recruited her, offering a scholarship. Her most memorable moment? The UNCG Women beat the ACC’s Wake Forest. “We were in the locker room and celebrating like we’d won a championship.”

Brooks remembers the care of the coaching staff. At the end of the season, Coach Agee “would always do a poem that would incorporate every single person on the team and something about them that stood out.”   

At the same time, balancing athletics and academics was a challenge, but Brooks says, “I wanted to make sure I was spending time setting the path forward for my future.”  

How does she feel now? “I’m honestly fortunate to have found a career path that I truly believe in.”    

Even though Brooks has been a Windy City resident for the last five years, she’s still connected to Greensboro for another important reason. “I met my now wife at UNCG,” says Brooks. After the wedding, she recalls, the new couple took photos in front of Alumni House. 

By Mercer Bufter ’11 MA
Courtesy photography 

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