Toni Brooks, 33, is a go-getting Columbia College Chicago student who owns bR LOFT, a high-end membership-only clothing boutique, and aspires to be an actress and talk show host.
Brooks was born and raised on the South side of Chicago and attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where she received two bachelors degrees in business, before attending Columbia as a theatre major.
“I was always fashionable when I was young, but I never really thought to make that a career, because in my generation we were always told that there were some things that you should never study in college, and fashion was taboo,” said Brooks.
“Still, I tried to be creative. I don’t like when people tell me I can’t do something. You telling me no is what makes me want to do it. I decided to make one of my degrees entrepreneurship, and from there open up clothing stores and design apparel.”
“My favorite designers are Valentino and Issey Miyake,” said Brooks. “Miyake is a very fearless designer. I believe every designer should have a calling card and you should know that it’s their design. This is where my advertising and marketing background come into play.”
For Brooks, the transition from stylist to actor was a natural one. Brooks said she was a stylist for ten years in Los Angeles, drawn to the profession because of her love of fashion and art, but found she missed being the one onscreen instead of the one getting people ready to be on camera.
Carter Brooks, 68, Toni’s mother, knew her daughter was going to go places from a very young age.
“She was a good girl,” said Carter Brooks. “A good little lady. She was very motivated to become successful and she had her life planned out for herself. She’s a go-getter. She was very determined to do something.”
For this reason, said Brooks, she joined the National Guard for eight years after she graduating high school–remaining in it before, during and after college until 2004.
“I’m a fearless person,” said Brooks. “I was the only woman in my family to go into the military. Every man in my family, including my brothers and uncles, were all in the military. They used to sit around and trade war stories. I remember my cousin and I walked into the room and they were talking about weapons and magazines, and we thought they meant Vogue or Essence. They laughed at us so bad, saying that we were girls and that all we know about is clothes and make-up.”
So joining the military was “sort of an, ‘I’ll prove you wrong,’” said Brooks.
When Brooks returned home from the military, she took only a few months before starting at SIU Carbondale. Education is very important to Brooks, and she said she will be a student the rest of her life. Her love of learning took her from the military to college, then ten years in Los Angeles, where she learned about costume design in styling, she said.
Brooks then came home and settled in Chicago to open her business, the Bourgeoisie REBEL Loft, and pursue her theater studies at Columbia.
“Bourgeoise REBEL is me,” said Brooks. “It’s a girly girl that celebrates her wild side or vice versa… I think every woman out there–if she is a girly girl or corporate female–has that edgy wild side. Or if she is the wild girl, party girl, she still has that girly girl, feminine side of her. I teach women to embrace that other side of them and don’t be afraid to let that other side show.”
Ann Boyd, Brooks’ instructor last year at Columbia, said she misses having Brooks in her class.
“One word to describe Toni is vibrant,” said Boyd. “She has such a sense of being absolutely present in the room. She has a great sense of warmth and generosity coming from her.”