|Anthony Cooper Sr., the 2019 King Humanitarian Award Recipient with
his wife Alicia on January 21st at the City-County King Holiday
Observance at the Overture Center.
Anthony Cooper Jr. Receives the 2019 King Humanitarian Award
Leading through Determination and Example
she still didn’t completely know what all was out there.”
“It’s still like that today, sometimes people don’t know because they are afraid to ask, but some things are more accessible to people who have the right
relationships,” Cooper continued. “For example, some people didn’t think my mom lived here in Madison. They knew me because I am a little more outgoing than my
mom and I navigated different circles even as a younger man, but I wasn’t out here by myself.”
Cooper would, however, find himself incarcerated just as he entered adulthood. He found himself at boot camp, in St. Croix. “I am definitely a product of that,” Cooper
emphasized. “There were some things that happened there that added to my value system. I was there when I was 22-23.”
When he returned to Madison, his mind was made up that he would live his life differently. Already a father of two sons, he knew that he needed to show them
“I came back to Madison,” Cooper recalled. “Got denied from job to job. Today they would hire me, but then they wouldn’t give me a chance. Then I was a man trying to
turn my life around, do something different and provide for my family.”
He would eventually find his path, and wife Alicia, at Fountain of Life Covenant Church and its non-profit arm, The Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development.
Cooper used the experience he gained as a young man in prison, his work at the Urban League of Greater Madison and as owner/director of Opportunity Tree, Inc. to
perform his current work as vice president of strategic partnerships and reentry services at Nehemiah.
As violence in Madison took a turn that resulted in families in trauma, he and other local community leaders came together to form the Focused Interruption Coalition,
of which he is the executive director of in addition to his Nehemiah duties.
“Not only do we know most of the people, but we were a part of this life in some way or another,” Cooper admitted. “So being able to talk to them and have that
connection made our work easier. Someone may feel more comfortable talking to me about certain things or another coalition member. We noticed that it helped us to
help people better. Like most things starting up, we had our highs and lows. We have been able to help families in the community that have suffered or who have gone
through trauma. Those things can’t be taught in a book.”
After receiving additional funding, the coalition has started the process of training new peer support specialists.
“We are developing and growing our team in order to help the community,” Cooper emphasized. “We have people on the team with real life experiences. Moms who
may have had a traumatic experience and can now help another and now we are that person’s back up and support system. We can sometime remove frustrations that
some experience navigating the system, especially after a traumatic experience.”
It is this mindset that sets Anthony apart and what has helped him to achieve his goals and what makes his role in the community so vital. In addition to his community
work, Cooper is also a mentor and shared the following: “I tell people if they are going to be mentors, they have to make a real commitment, something longer than just
a summer, if they are really going to make a connection and change for a young person.”
Mentors are what made his life different from most young men who find themselves out of prison and looking for a new life. As he named off the many people who
supported him, the list included community and church leaders, his friends and the non-profit workers he encountered before and after prison. It also included family
and most importantly, his mother.
By Hedi Rudd
Anthony Cooper, Sr. is a lot of things to a lot of people. He is a son, a husband, father and
friend, but he is also a peacemaker, a mentor, obstacle remover, bridge builder and
someone who makes things happen for those who may be out of options. So, it wasn’t a
huge surprise when he was named one of the recipients of the combined City-County
Humanitarian Award honoring Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for 2019.
It was, however, a surprise to him and when he received the call, he didn’t believe that it
was him and when he accepted the award the evening of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at the
Overture Center on January 21st, in front of friends and family, it was obvious why he was
chosen. Humble is a word that most certainly describes Anthony Cooper, Sr. known, as
“Coop” to those who work alongside him.
Anthony came to Madison from Chicago at the age of 14. His mom, like many mothers, hoped
to find a better place to raise her family.
“We stayed at the shelter and went to different schools and things of that nature,” Cooper
said. “My mom was trying to give us the best opportunity possible, but at the same time we
had to figure it out and navigate the system of Madison. We were not trying to abuse it, by
any means. We eventually moved to Sommerset Circle. There were certain things that were
going on that were not great, but at the same time you had good people who lived there. My
mom did the best she could, with what she had and what she could connect herself to, but
“My mom was kind of hidden under the radar,” Cooper reflected. “She knew our
neighbors, but she stayed to herself. A lot of times people fail to realize that Madison
has been a safe-haven for a lot of people that used to do wrong in another world and
come here to change. Sometimes that can be difficult.”
“Even when service providers help people, they do it in a way that makes it hard,”
Cooper observed. “If someone needs help and you tell someone to go to see “Joe Bob”
at “XYZ “organization, but you don’t tell “Joe Bob” they are coming and you are telling
them to go and figure it out, when they have no trust or knowledge of Joe Bob, that
becomes a cycle where they are let down again.
“I believe you should treat everyone equal. Treat people the right way, for the right
reasons. Period. Doesn’t matter who they are, if someone needs help, you help them.
That is something my mother taught me. Those are the foundational tools my mother
taught me. Even when I was doing wrong.”
As we search for answers here in Madison, we are fortunate to have men like Anthony
Cooper, Sr. in our midst, who are showing us the way and sharing their valuable
experience, time and energy with the village.