As a Black high school teacher — and a mother of sons — this is my urgent message

As a Black high school teacher — and a mother of sons — this is my urgent message

This article originally appeared on Chalkbeat Indiana


George Floyd’s senseless death has set my soul on fire.

I like to think that I am an objective, rational person. I never hitch rides on bandwagons, and I always want to know both sides of an issue before forming an opinion, and then I usually only share it with close friends and family.

But the death of George Floyd was so disgusting and incomprehensible to me that I feel compelled to use my voice, since his has been extinguished. His senseless death has set my soul on fire.

Courtesy Photo Nikia D. Garland

I am a Black educator, and I know that brutality against Black people by the police and the world at large is nothing new. In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which made the federal government accountable for locating, returning, and trying slaves that had successfully escaped. We may have been “free” since 1865, but we are still being hunted by bigots who feel obligated to return us to our “rightful” state of bondage or death.

It does not matter the perceived offense. Whether we are walking through a neighborhood where we live, selling cigarettes, watching birds, jogging, sleeping, playing with a toy gun, partying, getting a traffic ticket, lawfully carrying a weapon, shopping, reading, decorating for a party, relaxing at home, asking for help after being in a car accident, holding a cell phone, playing loud music, going to church, riding in a car, or breathing, our existence spurs the hate-mongers into action. It’s troubling and just plain sad.

There has never been a time in my life that I have not been aware of the color of my skin. During my freshman year at Broad Ripple High School, I was waiting outside — ironically, under the flag — for my stepfather to pick me up after ballet rehearsal. A car sped down the avenue, and a man screamed, “Go home, n—!” I graduated high school exactly 24 years ago, and I still recall that incident vividly.

Even today, as someone with several degrees, I am never quite certain if I am viewed as credible by white counterparts. I recently declined a position at a primarily white and affluent school to avoid dealing with racist attitudes. I understood that I would be challenged more than my white colleagues on pedagogical style and content knowledge, and I did not wish to fight that battle daily.

I have to fight as a parent, too. I have two sons, ages 21 and 10, and I have explicitly taught them how to interact with law enforcement. My older son knows to always remain calm, keep quiet unless addressed, and to be compliant. The objective for him is to leave any encounter with the police alive.

When my older son initially received his driver’s license, he did not come to a complete halt at a stop sign and received a hefty ticket. When I reviewed the ticket, I noticed it had him listed as white. I couldn’t help but wonder if that mistake had spared him harm. This is why we discuss high-profile murders and systemic racism: so that they both may understand the severity of what they are facing as Black men in America.

Each death highlights the urgency of my message. That doesn’t mean I teach that all police officers are dangerous. One of our neighbors, a white male police officer, is friendly and kind. But my sons cannot count on such treatment in America.

My daily response to this violence is to tie social justice into every facet of my high school English curriculum. My students have read about the murder of Emmett Till, responding in disbelief when I displayed the photograph of his grotesque corpse for a stream-of-consciousness writing session. We have read the story of Amadou Diallo, watched William Bonilla perform his poem “41 Shots,” and listened to the Springsteen song “American Skin.” We have read articles and watched “Fruitvale Station” to process the life and untimely demise of Oscar Grant. We used the New York Times’ 1619 Project as a prelude to reading “Kindred.” We have also combed through Brent Staples’ profound personal essay, “Just Walk On By,” which outlines his brushes with racism and how he has chosen to cope.

As an educator, I simply cannot ignore my civic duty to address current events relevant to my students. My Black students have to be taught how to “read” the world in order to navigate its mainly hostile terrain. They need to know who they are historically and culturally. And my students have truly appreciated my willingness to set aside “traditional” topics and tackle ones that matter to them and their futures.

Not having an opportunity for a face-to-face discussion with my students now, because of the coronavirus, is painful. No matter how school takes place in the fall, whether it be in the traditional setting, online, or a hybrid, this will be a first priority.

As we move forward, it would be wise to remember the words of the Holocaust and writer Elie Wiesel, who said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.”

Sometimes we ignore what is taking place in our society no matter how vile and overt it is merely because it is uncomfortable to take action, and we “have no skin in the game.” My two precious Black sons, my Black family members and friends, and all the Black students that I teach are my skin in the game. And there is no denying that our skin, Black skin, is simply the most dangerous skin in the game.

But we all have skin in the game as Americans, and this is a fight that Black people cannot win alone. We need all our white allies to stand alongside us. White friends and colleagues, I challenge you to speak up. Use any platform you have, whether it be posting on social media, writing letters to the editor, contacting your members of Congress, participating in peaceful protests, organizing protests, informing yourself on the issues at hand, creating petitions, or talking with your children.

Enough is enough. It’s time to refuse to be silent in the face of injustice.

Nikia D. Garland is an English teacher and an adjunct professor who resides in Indianapolis.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

If you’ve got Jesus in your profile, don’t be nasty on your timeline

If you’ve got Jesus in your profile, don’t be nasty on your timeline

Video Courtesy of THE BEAT by Allen Parr


“Follower of Jesus.” A follower of Jesus myself, I normally like to see those words on someone’s Twitter profile. Lately, however, I’m reluctant to scroll down for fear that this same follower has cussed out a politician on the social media platform or tweeted nasty things at a person they disagree with.

How can people who claim Jesus as Lord act so mean?

First, we often think that because we are fighting for the right things — justice, truth, righteousness — that it doesn’t matter how we say what we say. The Apostle Peter, no stranger to impulsive talk, has a tip for us. He urged first-century believers to “have an answer for everyone for the hope that lies within you” but to do this with “gentleness and kindness.” In other words, civility and courage are not enemies, but friends. The loudest person in the room or online is not necessarily the most courageous.

Second, we go off the rails online because we forget the humanity of the person on the other end of that tweet. That person we are calling out or punching at rhetorically is not a mere avatar to be crushed, but a person, made in the image of God. Those with whom we disagree are not the sum total of their opinions. James, Jesus’ brother and another leader in the first-century church, urges us to consider the imago dei of the other before we unleash a verbal assault.

Third, we often abandon kindness because politics has replaced religion as the primary driver of our discourse. We may have Jesus in the bio, but it’s the Republican or Democratic Party that is really in our hearts.

The collapse of religious institutions and the decline of church attendance have created a vacuum that politics is only too ready to fill. But politics makes for a disappointing god. It only takes and will never fully satisfy the longings of the heart.

How do we know we are worshipping at the altar of the 24/7 political cycle? When we make every argument a political one. When every aspect of life becomes read through a narrow ideological lens. When every criticism of our candidate is perceived as an attack on our hero. When we turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of leaders in our ideological camp.

As we muddle through the coming election season and a global pandemic that has divided Americans, Christians will be more tempted than ever to abandon civility.

Christians should engage in politics, but we should do so out of responsibility. Politics should be a way to love our neighbors, to use our voices and votes to shape the world in which our neighbors live. We should hold our party affiliations loosely, refusing to give temporal institutions a primacy and authority reserved for the Bible.

As members of God’s kingdom, we are indeed “strangers and exiles,” as Peter wrote. We should always sense a dissonance between our temporal, earthly allegiances and the kingdom of God. Temporal kingdoms and leaders will only disappoint us. Our faith should shape our politics rather than our politics shape our faith.

Kindness and civility shouldn’t be confused with a syrupy niceness that refuses to take a stand against injustice and for the vulnerable. The Bible is full of prophets who refused to be silent.

Yet, we should engage with humility, holding our ideas and our opinions loosely and not taking ourselves too seriously. We should start seeing folks on the other side of the aisle not as enemies to be vanquished, but as people who may have good ideas. We are not always right about everything all the time. It’s our own prejudices and biases, in fact, that lead us to believe the worst about our ideological opponents.

Instead, we should do as James instructed: be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. In an internet age, we might repurpose his words as: be quick to read the whole story, slow to post and slow to outrage.

That’s what we should commit to when we put Jesus in our bio, and it should be evident in the words we post on our timelines.

(Daniel Darling is the senior vice president of National Religious Broadcasters and is the author of eight books, including most recently, “A Way With Words: Using Our Online Conversations for Good.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Leading a nonprofit through this racial reckoning? It’s more complicated if you’re Black.

Leading a nonprofit through this racial reckoning? It’s more complicated if you’re Black.

Video Courtesy of SoloCEO Summit Team


This article originally appeared on Chalkbeat.org

When speaking out directly against injustice, our white counterparts are perceived as brave, while Black leaders see our anger weaponized.

Like most of us, my inbox has been flooded for weeks with pointed statements from organizations condemning the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks. Most of these messages have shown support for the calls for justice and reform being heard across the country and taken a stand against racism and hate generally, and anti-Blackness specifically.

Courtesy photo Carmita Semaan

Courtesy photo Carmita Semaan

Many organizations have been applauded for these bold and vocal stances. But I’ve noticed another dangerous and more subversive trend that has largely been ignored. Multiple — primarily Black — leaders of nonprofit and youth-serving organizations have shared with me that they have faced negative backlash from “supporters” who found their statements off-putting.

These “supporters” have found the direct reproach of abject racism and calls for justice regarding violence against Black citizens just a step too far. It turns out that sanitized language regarding the education, housing, food, and health inequities faced by people of color is palatable, but direct language about Blackness — and the reality of our country’s history of fear and weaponization of Blackness that underpins those inequities — is a bit too unpleasant.

I founded and run the Surge Institute, an organization that supports, educates, and elevates Black, brown, and Asian/Pacific Islander education leaders. It’s why we exist, which means I’ve never felt the need to sanitize or downplay who we are and why we do this work. That has admittedly made it more difficult for us to secure some investments and scale as rapidly as we would like, but that’s been a consequence I’ve been willing to accept.

I didn’t have to hesitate to publish a statement from Surge in which I said, “We must understand and never forget that the roots of this nation are forever stained with the blood of our Black ancestors … We cannot — especially now — passively accept or ignore the anti-Blackness that infects our country like a virus.” In response, one of our most dedicated white investors responded with, “Surge’s focus on strengthening Black educational leadership seems even more urgent and vital for communities these days,” and pledged to continue to work in partnership with me and my team.

Conversely, a Black colleague and CEO who sent a much tamer statement in support of Black lives was told by a donor in writing that they would cease their financial support because of the statement’s “racially divisive” tone. They went on to remind this leader that the focus of their work was “education, not race.”

I worry, too, that when speaking out directly against injustice, our white counterparts are perceived as brave, while Black leaders see our anger weaponized. This difference in reception is not news to any of the leaders of color with whom I’ve discussed this issue. Quite the contrary. We are accustomed to being held to the impossible standard of speaking our truth, but not too directly.

This is the ugly truth far too many Black leaders are facing. I’ve spoken to leaders who are now facing six- or seven-figure losses in revenue for daring to take a public stand for the calls for justice, and all of them are leading organizations that directly serve communities that are primarily Black and brown.

This backlash is not trivial. It is well documented that leaders of color face steeper challenges in securing philanthropic support than their white counterparts. And in the midst of a global pandemic that has already led to uncertain financial futures and tenuous commitments, it is the type of thing that can lead to nonprofits that disproportionately serve those who can least afford to be without their services to sunset or downsize.

And fundraising challenges aren’t the only burden of fear these leaders are carrying. They are also carrying the weight of not speaking so bluntly about their outrage and pain that they offend non-Black team members who now have a budding consciousness of the reality in which Black people lived for so long.

This is not an irrational fear. I spoke to an executive leader this week who was called to the metaphorical principal’s office by his CEO because of an email in which he shared how he had been pained within the organization and provided resources and articles regarding white fragility and unconscious bias. Apparently, a white female colleague found his email deeply troubling, even threatening, so this gentleman was given an HR warning for sharing his truth in a moment of deep reckoning in this country. The irony of this is so deep it’s almost laughable.

But it’s not funny. It’s a natural extension of what so many of us have faced for so long. In 2012, as I shopped the idea for Surge around among my network, I consistently heard, “Surge sounds like a wonderful idea, but I would suggest you tone down the specific focus on the race of your fellows” or “This sounds amazing! But could you possibly incubate under [fill-in-the-blank white leader]? I think it would be better received by funders that way.” I wish I could say those were one-off comments, but they were not.

So my privilege in this moment makes me compelled to speak up on behalf of others who find themselves caught in this bind. If they speak with raw vulnerability, they may face the wrath of those on whom they rely for the financial lifeblood of their organizations or those internally who revert to fear tactics when they are made the least bit uncomfortable. If they don’t speak at all, not only do they suffer the personal trauma of internalized pain and racism, but they are also letting down their peers and those they serve by not utilizing their proverbial “seat at the table” to lead.

So, as you’re asking yourself what you can do in this moment, I say this:

1. If you have the means to support a Black nonprofit leader or other leader of color driving work aligned with your calls for racial equity and support for Black communities — just do it. (Here’s a list of nonprofit organizations led by Black, brown, and Asian/Pacific Islander leaders.)

2. If you know of leaders who are being negatively affected by their vocal stance in support of Black lives in the wake of the multiple crises being faced by Black communities, applaud their courage, double your financial support of them, and encourage others to do so as well.

3. If you are a board member of an organization being led by a Black leader, create the space for them to tell you what they need you to do to support their leadership at this moment, not just share how they feel. There’s a difference.

4. If you are working within an organization being led by a Black leader who has been relatively mute in this moment, give them some grace. Don’t assume that their silence means they are asleep at the wheel. Share how this moment is impacting you and ask how you can help them create space for others. They may surprise you!

5. If you are uncomfortable with these direct stances being taken by organizations that you have otherwise ostensibly supported, or have friends who are, encourage them to explore the sources of their discomfort.

We are all angry. We are all disillusioned. But outcry is not — and has never been — enough to quell the lie of racial superiority that leads to individual, institutional, and state-sanctioned acts to demean, disempower, and damage Black people. We must act, and act with a spirit of hope and optimism.

But that spirit requires honesty. Honesty about the impediments we face, the negative consequences often associated with speaking the truth, and the disproportionate weight carried by Black leaders and other leaders of color during these times.

Carmita Semaan is the founder and CEO of the Surge Institute.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

The Me I See: My Race, My Faith, My Identity

The Me I See: My Race, My Faith, My Identity

“Are you brown all over?”

The innocence of the question did nothing to prevent me from being flabbergasted. As I stared into the almost cartoon-sized blue eyes of this 4-year-old boy, compassion filled my heart. I simply smiled and replied, “Why yes, of course!”

He nodded in understanding and continued playing with the toys that had previously occupied his attention. As I sat there watching his imagination create a world only he would understand, I wondered if this moment would be as memorable for him as I was sure it would be for me.

There’s a temptation to somehow prove my humanity, to validate my existence; especially because I live in a society that labels me a minority. The definition of “minority” is “a racial, ethnic, religious, or social subdivision of a society that is subordinate to the dominant group in political, financial, or social power without regard to the size of these groups.”

My nation, my homeland, defines me as a racial subordinate to the dominant group. It’s a label that follows me every time I check “Black/African-American” on any document. It’s a label that follows me any time I walk into a room and I’m the only one there who looks like me. I have a pre-disposition to believe that I am less than because it is what I’ve been told since I was born. It’s even printed on my birth certificate.

In indignation, I wear my hair natural. I comb through hundreds of photos on Instagram that have the “#BlackGirlMagic” marker. I recite Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” at any given opportunity. I go out of my way to compliment any black woman I meet.

I vote knowing what it cost my ancestors to grant me this right. I fight to prove that no quantifiable data could box me in and keep me from living the life I want to live.

It’s funny, all of that effort did nothing to quiet the comparison or stop the Caucasian woman from accosting me and my little cousins. It did nothing to abate the voice in my head that hurls insults every time I’m in front of a mirror. The only thing that has proven strong enough to rectify my identity is the Word of God.

I am black. I am a woman. I am southern. I am a millennial. I can come up with lots of ways to identify myself. I can make a list of a thousand superlatives. However, anything I fathom about who I am does not compare to who I am in Christ.

Society has a lot to say about who we are. In fact, we have a lot to say, ourselves, about who we are, and a lot of times we are better than anyone at putting ourselves down. Is it possible that when we say “yes” to Jesus, when we surrender our lives to Him, in doing so, we subject our idea of identity to Him as well?  Identity then becomes more than a list of quantifiers.

If the Word of God created the world and all we see, how much more powerful then would it be to believe His words about us? We are children of the Most High God. We are His handiwork. In the same way He created the earth, He fashioned us together in our mothers’ womb. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We, the children of God, are His royal priesthood. We are the head and not the tail. We have every spiritual blessing made available to us through Christ. We are chosen.

We aren’t beautiful because of, or in spite of,  being black. We are beautiful because we were created by Beauty Himself. My skin color becomes more than a sign of my socio-economic status; it is part of the hand-picked design as imagined by my Creator. We aren’t worthy because our society calls us worthy, but because Jesus thought us worthy enough to die for.

Our choice is this: To live subjected to societal labels or to allow this new identity to supersede what we once believed. My faith then doesn’t just inform my identity. It becomes the lens through which I’m even able to see who I really am. It doesn’t stop there.

When we are able to see ourselves through this lens, we are empowered, nay obligated, to see others the same way. It transforms a “me against the world” ideology into an understanding that it is “us under God.” The need for validation becomes obsolete and pure confidence flourishes as the love of Christ permeates the entirety of our beings.

 

Commentary: The Enduring Gift of a Father’s Love

Commentary: The Enduring Gift of a Father’s Love


It is hard to explain what I lost when my father died. It is even more difficult to explain how much of him remains with me, even five years after his death.

As with many women, my father’s influence remains an enduring force in my life. For some of my friends, it’s a scar that threatens relationships and self-worth.

But I am one of the lucky ones.

For me, my father’s love continues to give me courage and confidence even without his physical presence. I have somehow learned to go on without his notes of encouragement, his bear hugs and his”just-to-say-I-love-you” phone calls. But what hasn’t changed is how often I still hear his words in my mind.

Whenever I experience disappointment, I can still hear him say the words I heard since I was a toddler:”I love you and I’m proud of you.” When things go well, I find my first instinct is to tell my father about my accomplishment. To this day, I sometimes reach for the phone before stopping myself, remembering he is no longer there.

As a child, I took my relationship with my father for granted. I assumed everyone had a dad who loved and cared for her.

As a teenager, some friends complained about being beaten by their fathers and their biting words. For the first time I realized my own father wasn’t like all the rest.

As an adult, I have learned how very special he was. Some of my friends spend countless hours in therapy just to let go of the pain caused by their fathers. And I now realize much of my mental and spiritual health was aided by my dad, a man who saw himself as nothing special but who never failed to make me feel like I was.


RELATED LINKS: 


I marvel at the wisdom of a man who told me,”You deserve to be treated well,”thus enabling me to turn my back on boyfriends who were less than respectful and bullies in business who tried to intimidate me.

I am amazed to think of how often he told me I was beautiful, giving me a deeply rooted sense that I didn’t need to worry about how I looked or seek out men who cared mostly about physical attributes.

My intellect was encouraged, my business sense acknowledged. Never once did my father give me a signal that girls should act differently than boys. And yet by loving me as he did, he encouraged the development of my femininity.

Now I see that I have fewer fears about men than some of my women friends whose earliest encounters with the opposite sex created a sense of dread. And as a mother, I find myself raising my two boys with the goal of becoming men like my dad.

The impact of a father on a daughter is so great that I find myself preaching to my men friends about caring for their girls.

When I see a man stroking his daughter’s hair, I am tempted to say to him, “Do you know that the memory of your touch may get her through something 30 years from now?” And when I see a man ignoring or criticizing his girl child, I want to say, “Please stop and think how hard you will make life for her. Try to understand that your words today will echo through her mind over and over again.” My father never liked to have much of a celebration on Father’s Day. He always said being a dad was such a joy that he couldn’t imagine why anyone made a fuss about it.

But I now know that it is important to girls to make a fuss over their fathers. And it is especially important that fathers make a fuss over their girls.

A man’s relationship with his daughter is a complex mystery, a puzzle containing the possibility of lifelong confidence or disabling misery.

I am one of the lucky ones. This Father’s Day I celebrate the memory of a man who loved me so well he gave me a gift that continues on without him.

A Giving Father

A Giving Father

“The Storm,” taken six months after Kimberly’s dad passed. She’s standing in a storm. You can see more of Kimberly’s work on her website.

A personal tribute from a daughter about her selfless father, a man of unwavering faith who cared deeply for his family and ingrained a ministry of caring for others in his children.

I grew up in Triangle, VA, with my two sisters, Emily and Olivia, and my brother, Gregory. Every night we would have dinner as a family. Afterward, my father would read the Bible. To motivate us to listen he’d put pudding cups, yogurts and sometimes even money in the middle of the table. If you answer the questions right, you win. Out of all my memories, my most precious memory of my childhood is when my father would get up early in the morning and walk around the house and praying. One by one we’d wake up and trickle into the living room. I’d find him kneeling there, and I’d kneel beside him. By the time he was done praying the whole family would have made their way into the living room and be on their knees.

My parents made us volunteer at homeless shelters, food banks, and nursing homes. They had a heart for people and made sure that we did too. My father was always bringing strangers home he had met on the street to live with us. It became second nature for my siblings and me to dig into own closet and find clothes for them to wear. Sometimes we would even give up our beds. We celebrated birthdays, weddings, and mourned losses together. My father would employ the men and teach them his trade. While my mother would drive others around town and help them find stable jobs and file paperwork. Those two were truly a dynamic duo. I cannot count how many people have come to our house, but I thank God for all of them.

At one point our house became too small, so my father built an addition doubling our house size. The community kids would call the house mini-mansion. Our dining room was massive. We had one table that fit 20 people and another table that fit six. During the holidays, my father would invite everyone that he knew who didn’t have families over and mom would cook. Both tables would be filled with additional chairs added. It was a sight to behold.

The thing I loved most about my father is that through all of this he never forgot about his children. He was still at our football games, basketball games, he would come to the track and help us train for meets. The official unofficial coach. Anything and everything we wanted to do, my parents were always right there.

Kimberly Coopwood’s family.

About My Challenges and Dreams

Growing up, I was considered illiterate and took special education classes until the seventh grade. I was bullied and beat up by my classmates. My father, “God bless him” would sit at the kitchen table with me until my homework was complete. There were nights I’d be in tears crying over my papers, but my father never gave up on me. I remember the times were I felt meaningless and wanted to take my life but, “God loves me and Daddy loves.” I promise those words have saved my life many times.

Growing up I was a shy child. Being with my father and helping people gave me confidence but when I was alone, I’d lock myself in my room. In my safe place, I began to talk to God and write.

I could not read what I was writing, but I filled journals. Soon I started having dreams and ideas. I found myself dismantling my electric toys and playing with their engines and batteries. I’d dismantle cereal boxes and design playgrounds and pools with the material. The most lavished thing I ever made was a two-story house completed with a bathroom, living room, dining room, a winding staircase, and an upstairs bedroom all by hand. In the corner of my room doing math equation on a whiteboard became my thing. My teachers would get so upset. I’d never write out my equation because I did the math in my head. Seventh grade marked the end of special education for me, but it also marked the beginning of advanced mathematics.

In middle school, I decided I was going to become an engineer. I went to my guidance counselor and researched all of the schools in the nearby cities, and decided to attend Woodbridge Senior High because of their engineering program. From there, I went to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and studied Civil Engineering.

Kimberly Coopwood

Kimberly Coopwood

My father was also an engineer, and he and I would bounce ideas and concepts off of each other. We had developed a filtration system that I was pushing my university to sponsor. We wanted to implement it in Tanzania.

In 2014, my father passed. I remember on the day of my father’s wake there was a snowstorm and almost everybody he helped came back, and if they couldn’t come they called. My siblings and I just stared at all of the faces my father had touched; we were overwhelmed. They were coming in waves; had they all came at the same time it would have filled the church three times over. After my father’s passing, I could no longer stomach an engineering class. Neither could my mother afford it for we had lost our house and the money sharks were after us.

Film and Photography

One day while my mother was cleaning up the rest of my father’s things, she gifted me all 11 of my father’s cameras. I prayed and asked God to teach me about them. I rented books from the library, watched online seminars, YouTube videos, and at the time Harvard had put their entire digital media course on Alison.com, and I studied until my body shut down. Then two days later I would be right back at it. During this time my mother was very concerned because she could not understand how I could stay locked in a room for so long. Until one night during a snowstorm, I came to her and said, “I have an idea, and I need your help.” In her PJ’s she grabbed her coat and snow boots, and we ventured out into the cold. I set up my camera, posed on a light pole, and she took my picture. This photo describes everything we had been through, a frozen hell surrounded by waves of grief and tragedy. Whenever I look at this picture, I see the storm, but I also see my father’s Queen my mother weathering the season it with me.

A year in a half later my older sister Emily took her inheritance and paid off my old University bills so that I could attend Liberty University. The University blessed with nine scholarships and grants. When I first came to Liberty I did not like it, I tried doing engineering again and ended up with a 1.4 GPA. For the first time in my life, I was placed on academic probation. In my ear, I kept hearing in my ear “film, photography.” So I made a wager with God. “God I’ve worked my whole life to be an engineer, I will try cinematic arts for one semester and if I make straight A’s this is where I’m supposed to be.” I switched my major to cinematic arts the following semester and made straight A’s. I fell in love with the staff, the students, and the environment. They have truly enriched my life. Since attending Liberty, I have worked on seven short films, one actively running commercial and one feature film.



Mixed Messages by Kimberly Coopwood


The Future

Gregory Coopwood

Even though my father’s death was tragic, it incubated something inside of me and gave birth to a gift I never knew I had. So with this gift, I would like to open a production studio that embodies both filmmaking and commercial photography. If companies can do it all in one place, why not…! But most importantly I want my work and work atmosphere to be a medium to win souls. To give hope and provoke a curiosity that would lead someone to a life-changing conversation about Jesus. Like father like daughter. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

My Last word to my Father: It is an honor to be your daughter in every way. Even though you will not be able to walk me down the aisle, I am so grateful that God chose you to be my Daddy. I am also thankful that he gave me your eyebrows. I love the fact that I carry a piece of you everywhere I go.