Escaping Poverty and Violence in San Antonio

October 8, 2019 Updated: October 8, 2019

Joseph Brooks grew up on the east side of San Antonio, Texas in a violent neighborhood controlled by gangs and organized crime. His father was a long-haul truck driver and his mother was a maid. Despite the circumstances of violence, poverty, and drugs, Brooks’s mother refused to let him fall into the gang lifestyle.

Brooks’s mother wouldn’t allow him to speak or act like the other kids in the neighborhood. If he were to get a woman pregnant, he would be expected to marry her and take care of the child. If he were to be arrested, she would not bail him out.

Violence and gang activity were so prevalent that Brooks would simply look out of his bedroom window to see men with AK-47s shooting wantonly into the air. He would call 911, but as soon as he told the operator where he was, they would hang up on him.

Abuse and Bullying

Gangs sold drugs, ran guns, controlled the prostitution trade, and would recruit children from the playground. The majority of the kids Brooks had grown up with had been slain in the street by the time he was 17 years old.

In addition to the rough conditions of the neighborhood that Brooks had to contend with, he endured personal traumas as well. As a child, he was sexually abused by a babysitter and family members until age 12. The abuse was understandably confusing for such a young child.

“I knew it was bad, but I felt guilty. So what I did, I just held it in,” Brooks told The Epoch Times.

Brooks with friends
Joseph Brooks (3rd R) endured sexual abuse and bullying growing up. (Courtesy of Joseph Brooks)

After the sexual abuse stopped, the bullying at school began. He was an articulate kid, and was ridiculed for the way he spoke.

Furthermore, he was bullied for being in special education classes. He was stuffed in lockers, kids spit in his face, kicked him, and tried to stab him on a daily basis.

“It was painful. It was relentless. For three to four years that took place,” Brooks said.

Getting Big

However, by the time Brooks was 15 he had begun to develop physically. He would lift cinder blocks in his front yard, and would lift regularly at his high school gym. Unfortunately, Brooks became a bully himself. However, after he joined the football team he had an outlet for his aggression.

Brooks’s father had passed away when he was 11, and his mother died when he was 18. After she passed away, Brooks experienced severe depression and would drink himself to sleep after work.

One night Brooks was sitting on the edge of his bed drunk, and in a particularly dark place. He loaded a 9mm bullet into the chamber of a Glock pistol, put the gun under his chin, and pulled the trigger. The gun misfired.

Brooks is a trainer
Joseph Brooks (C) found that exercise and lifting weights helped him contend with his depression. (Courtesy of Joseph Brooks)

Brooks had exercised to cope with the abuse and bullying he experienced as a child, and he went to the YMCA the day after his suicide attempt and started lifting weights again.

“I started to feel better physically and emotionally,” Brooks recalled.

Lifting weights and exercising helped Brooks tremendously, and he realized that he wanted to help other people do the same. Brooks became a personal trainer, and was one of the youngest trainers in the city at age 19.

An Entrepreneur

Brooks worked at a gym for four years, but decided he wanted to venture off on his own with $25 in the bank. He was able to find space in a studio, and started out with one client.

After two years, he had 60 clients. Over time, he was able to open his own gym with the help of a friend he had met at his first job. The friend graciously paid for all of the equipment and moving costs.

Brooks photo
Joseph Brooks is now an author and motivational speaker. (Courtesy of Joseph Brooks)

Brooks ended up with 19 trainers who would rent out space at his gym, and his studio ultimately became one of the largest in Texas.

His career continued to progress, and he became a television fitness expert. He’s also a motivational speaker, and tells his story to encourage others to overcome their own adversities.

Even when he shares his story with individual people, it has a tremendous impact.

“It’s encouraged them, it’s inspired them, it’s motivated them to go on because you can’t make excuses,” Brooks said.