President, Brookshire Services Unlimited
LaJoyce Brookshire’s life story is the stuff TV movies are made of. Smart overachiever moves to New York City, builds an accomplished career in media and publicity, falls in love with a dashing, handsome man. Marries. Discovers a dark, dark secret.
Eventually, there’s a happy ending. At the moment, though, more than ten years after she uncovered her first husband’s unconscionable deceit, Brookshire is determined to bring that dark secret to light. In her new book, a self-published memoir called Faith Under Fire: Betrayed by a Thing Called Love (read an exclusive excerpt on pg. 22), she chronicles her discovery that the man she trusted married her knowing he had AIDS –– but didn’t bother to tell her. Even more profound, Brookshire says her late husband’s mother and sister also kept his secret. According to Brookshire, the three of them –– mother, son and sister –– conspired to hide the truth so he wouldn’t die alone.
“I needed to write this book because after more than 10 years of silence, looking at the rate of African-American women becoming infected –– primarily through heterosexual transmission –– I could no longer remain silent,” says Brookshire of her decision to share this intensely personal story. “There are so many signs women could be alerted to if they knew what they were looking for…”
Brookshire says those signs include extreme homophobia and selfishness. “[He was] spending money for himself like he knew he was going to die,” says Brookshire in hindsight. “Never having a care about putting away for tomorrow, as if there would always be the endless well to dip in.”
Faith Under Fire is the Chicago-born writer’s third book. Her first, the “novelized” version of the hit movie “Soul Food,” was published by Harper Collins in 1997. Though the book sold 180,000 copies, Brookshire says her experience with the major publisher was disappointing. “I had to plan my own tour for that and raise my own money,” she says. “I got four national sponsors. I sold most of those books hand-to-hand. Twenty-five cities, 40 events.” With her second novel, Web of Deception, she eschewed the major publishing route and went independent, duplicating the model she’d used for Soul Food. She says her sophomore effort sold 100,000 copies. She plans to follow a similar path with Faith Under Fire, using print-on-demand services from Author House.
“My attorney was a little concerned with me going with print-on-demand. She said the story is too important, I need it to be taken seriously in the publishing business,” Brookshire recalls. “I said, you know what, let the publishing business come to me. This story has sat in every publishing house, has been to every Black editor and many others, and not one of them thought it worthy enough as a body of work to be published…They’re publishing Black erotica by the handful…The publishing industry is falling victim in many ways to what they think Black people want to read…But there are some of us who want to read things that truly help us, empower us and set us free.”
The former publicist says she pulled the agonizing story of Faith Under Fire from the journals and diaries she’s been in the habit of keeping since she was a kid growing up in Chicago. A habit started by her childhood sweetheart, who’s now her husband. “When I was 12, he gave me a diary for Christmas of 1975,” says Brookshire. “He could have bought anything else in the store with his $10, but he chose a diary. Then that was the staple gift, the diary and the stuffed animal… If it weren’t for him giving me those diaries I probably wouldn’t have any stories.”
Brookshire’s storytelling abilities and her vivacious personality (her classmates called her “Radio”) jump-started her career in communications while she was still in high school. The Chicago PBS radio station, WBEZ, held citywide auditions for a two-year course that would have students produce a weekly radio show. Brookshire was one of just 15 chosen out of thousands.
Bitten by the media bug, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in speech and Spanish from Eastern Illinois University before moving to New York to work in radio. She started as a television sales assistant at Blair Radio in 1984 and then moved onto Sheridan Broadcasting Networks where, as an entertainment reporter, she covered the party scene –– every night –– for the syndicated show, On the Beat. During the day, Brookshire taught writing at a specialized arts high school until the program lost its funding and she turned to radio full-time. Sheridan promoted her to programming coordinator in 1988 and she helped produce a popular syndicated show called Top 30 USA, hosted by BET VJ Donnie Simpson.
When Sheridan moved its operations to Pittsburgh, Brookshire chose to stay in New York. She used her severance package to start Retnuh Relations, a publicity, programming and production firm. She worked extensively with not-for-profit clients, and a successful event she coordinated for the National Urban League got the attention of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS. She took the research and advocacy group on as a client and became their director of communications and marketing in 1993. Ironically, she was working with the Commission when she learned her first husband had AIDS. Working for an AIDS advocacy group while dealing with the discovery of her husband’s condition was a blessing in many ways, but eventually it became overwhelming and she had to leave. “I could no longer do AIDS at home and AIDS at work,” she says.
Brookshire joined W&W Public Relations, where she spent a year as a senior account executive handling artists such as George Howard, Men at Large and Sean Levert. While she juggled music industry publicity at work, she battled her husband’s illness at home. During her time at W&W, Brookshire’s husband became permanently disabled (she cared for him until his death in spite of his deceit). When he was hospitalized for weeks at a time, Brookshire leaned heavily on her boss, PR maven Patti Webster (who is a deaconess and the daughter of ministers). “Patti’s family saved my life. I literally slept on their couch so I could be at work. I would go home to the Poconos three times a week, and stay on their couch three days a week.”
From W&W she went to Arista Records where, as a publicity director, she worked with artists such as Aretha Franklin, Kenny G, Toni Braxton, Usher and the roster at Bad Boy Entertainment –– including the late rap legend, The Notorious B.I.G. In fact, Brookshire had been with the rapper in Los Angeles for several days leading up to the fateful weekend of the 1997 Soul Train Music Awards (riding, she recalls, in the vehicle in which he was shot). After the awards show, though, Brookshire had had enough of L.A. She gave Biggie her passes to the “Vibe” magazine party and took a flight back to New York. By the time she got home, the rapper was dead.
Before she could descend into depression in the aftermath of the shooting, though, Brookshire got a call from her literary agent with the news that she’d been hired to write the Soul Food novel –– as long as she could get it done in five weeks.
Brookshire returned to consulting over the past several years. She did another stint with the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS and worked with ClearChannel Radio Tri-State. Last summer, she did marketing and community relations for the Mountain Laurel Center for the Performing Arts, a $25 million facility near her home in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.
These days she’s preparing for a 30-city book tour for Faith Under Fire. There are plans to do 10 of those cities with Brenda Stone Browder, author of On the Up and Up and ex-wife of On the Down Low author J.L. King. There’s also talk of a Web of Deception movie. Primarily though, Brookshire, is crafting a new life for herself. She goes to bed early, teaches dance, is an active member of her church, enjoys horseback riding and is a doctor of naturopathic medicine –– she earned for the degree through an intensive study group while pregnant with her daughter, Brooke. “I keep saying that I quit the entertainment business,” Brookshire insists. “I’m no longer a publicist. I’m no longer doing those kinds of things. That’s my other life. My new life is that I’m Gus’ wife. I’m Brooke’s mommy. I am a naturopathic doctor and I’m an author.”
You can obtain Faith Under Fire: Betrayed by a Thing Called Love at www.LaJoyceBrookshire.com or at a bookstore near you