This month’s Alumni Focus profile features Amber Cooper, a student at Howard University.
Growing up, Amber attended Alain Locke Charter School with her elder cousin, as well as two aunts, who she says provided a positive influence for her regarding her schoolwork. As the eldest of four children in her immediate family, Amber says she hopes the values she’s learned at Alain Locke can help her to be a stronger role model for her family.
“I’m constantly being the role model and I’m constantly trying to make these accomplishments, do better, be better … so I can be a role model for my younger siblings,” she said.
As an eighth-grader at Alain Locke, Amber was the valedictorian of her class, which she describes as being “a huge accomplishment of mine.” After graduation, Amber went on to attend Chicago’s St. Ignatius College Prep as part of the LINK Unlimited Scholars program.
Below, Amber discusses her experience at Alain Locke, attending Howard, and more. The conversation has been lightly-edited for clarity.
AL: Are there any memories from Alain Locke that you’re particularly fond of?
AC: I remember coming to school, and every Wednesday I would be so excited. Because Wednesdays were our Harambees. … We would get in this big circle in the gym and they would call off who made the honor roll; “if it’s your birthday come to the middle of the circle,” and all of those things. It was a good bonding moment. It was a good time to see other people who I’m going to school with; see other teachers and really like interact with the principal and vice principal. Some schools don’t get that interaction.
“Alain Locke really allowed me to be open to growth and be open minded. … I knew how to talk with other people and just try to give good vibes off to them, because I’ve always been with a family.”
AL: How did your experience at Alain Locke help prepare you for your high school career?
AC: Alain Locke is a predominantly black institution, and so transferring to Ignatius—which is a predominantly white school—I really had to make that leap and make that cultural jump into, “Where do I fit in? How do I fit in? Do I even fit in?” … Alain Locke really allowed me to be open to growth and be open minded. … I knew how to talk with other people and just try to give good vibes off to them, because I’ve always been with a family, and now I’m trying to make a new family here [at St. Ignatius].
AL: What motivated your decision to attend Howard?
AC: When I decided to go to an HBCU, which is a historically black college or university, it was a hard choice to make. I [had] kept doing this leap from “predominantly black” to “predominantly white” to back to “predominantly black.” It was sort of like, “OK, I sort of want to go back around to figure out my culture and [be around] people who look like me, who can teach me, who can better me as an individual.” My aunt, who attended Clark-Atlanta, she really pushed me to go to this institution because they may have something that I’m missing; they may have that piece that I’ve been looking for.
AL: You shared a message with Alain Locke students at your graduation as the valedictorian of your class. Tell us about that.
AC: I remember getting up on that stage, and I was nervous. It was like my first big speech that I had really done. I love public speaking, so I didn’t have a problem with doing it, but I was nervous. … I got on the stage and I’m like, “OK, I’ve got my classmates behind me now and you’ve got to say something” [laughs]. I had to do it.
I started my speech and by the end of it, I just felt so relieved. I felt so like, “Wow. We’re about to go take on the rest of this world. We spent all these years together and [now] we’re all going our separate way.” But I made sure to make sure they knew that, “Although we’re going our separate ways, make sure we take the values that we learned here.”
AL: What message would you share with the young people graduating from Alain Locke today?
AC: It would be to tell them, “Make sure you remain focused in everything you do. … When you walk into Alain Locke, you feel so safe and you feel protected, but when you walk outside of these four walls, it’s not the same. You don’t know what you’re going home to, or the neighborhood you’re a part of.” So I want them to stay focused and not get lost, … I want them to keep pushing.
I want them to know that when they leave here, they still matter and they still have a job to do. They’re still important. Their work here is not finished. … I want every kid that walks into these doors to know, “One day, you’re going to graduate. And you can’t stop there; you have to keep going from there.” … Because all of us don’t make it. All of us can’t make it to that finish line. … And so I really want them to know to push harder, and I really want them to just not give up.