For more than three years, Randarious Cooper, a 17-year-old Lexington, Miss. native, has been working with Nollie Jenkins Family Center (NJFC), which advances the “goal of empowering the citizens of the community by developing grassroots leaders.”
Randarious is quickly becoming one such leader. He has led campaigns around the abolition of corporal punishment in schools. He has been active in the Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC), which calls for genuine ways to help students with their education.
In fact, dignity and respect are key drivers in almost everything that he pursues. “I am rooted in a community that is filled with many injustices and inadequacies,” he says. “I believe that in order to fix these obstacles we must effectively utilize and lift up our young people.”
Janice Harper, a community organizer with NJFC, says Randarious is a hard worker who is addressing big-picture issues: He is “challenging the systemic problem of push out in our schools, while also advocating for the human right of every young person to a quality education and to be treated with dignity.”
In addition to his work with NJFC and the DSC, Randarious works with an organization called Prevention of Schoolhouse 2 Jailhouse, which looks for solutions to keep students in the classroom and away from the path to prison. Organization members do this by holding training sessions and conversations with parents and students.
He is also dedicated to helping fellow young people in impoverished, low-wealth communities. He encourages them to find their voice and use it. As he puts it, it’s important to listen to their ideas.
With his Shriver Award, Randarious plans to create a program called “The Grand Slam,” a cultural arts effort that intersects with the push for social justice.
The program will “display young people’s talents such as poetry, song writing, spoken lyric[s] or painting to spark change. I think it is a great way to… [create] a culture of change to form healthy and productive schools and communities,” he says.
“I stand strong on this idea.”
Each story in the “America’s Next Leaders 2014” special series features a young person who contributes to his or her community and who has received a Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty Leadership Award. Each year, Marguerite Casey Foundation, which publishes Equal Voice News, honors young people with this award. The Mississippi Delta Catalyst Roundtable (Nollie Jenkins Family Center) nominated him for the award.