The Briggs Center for Civic Engagement was packed with an eager audience who had come to hear Dr. Walter Cooper speaker as our presenter at the Commons Speaker event on January 18th. Dr. Cooper is a scientist, humanitarian, activist, and passionate advocate for education. He earned his doctorate in Chemistry at the University of Rochester in 1956, then began working at Eastman Kodak as a research scientist. Dr. Cooper also maintained his commitment to educational access and community development through local organizations, such as the Rochester branches of the NAACP and Urban League, Action for a Better Community, United Community Chest, and the Rochester Area Foundation, and was an original founder of the Urban-Suburban Program. Dr. Cooper also took his commitment to public affairs and community activism to the national level, always promoting the power of education as the primary means by which young people can improve their opportunities and circumstances.
Sharing as our honored speaker just days after the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life, Dr. Cooper addressed the complex and connected issues of education, poverty, race, and family. He offered statistic upon data point to drive home his view that the adult population in general has abdicated their responsibility to this generation. If family is the primary determining factor of a child’s success in educational achievement, then the demise of the family unit has undermined our work to value education enough to make this generation’s experience better than the last.
He shared amazing stories from his childhood and past experiences, and clearly took pride in sharing about the students at the school named for him, School #10. He boasted of the 95% attendance rate, his push to have the school hire a full-time librarian, and the phone calls he makes to the families of the school to remind them of the importance of education and supporting their children. The evening concluded with a lengthy time of questions for Dr. Cooper to answer. It was an inspiring evening all around!