Stephen Cooper, leader of the Columbus State University chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, made history last month as the first Columbus student elected president of the organization's Georgia Youth and College Division.
He was elected to the statewide position on Jan. 25 during the state NAACP's 1st Quarterly Meeting and Training Institute in Statesboro, Ga.
Cooper, 20, is a political science major in his junior year. He's been a member of the CSU college chapter since 2012, and chapter president for about a year. Prior to that he served as the chapter's political actions chair for a year and a half.
Cooper said he decided to join the organization to follow in the footsteps of W.E.B. Du Bois, a black sociologist, historian and civil rights activist who cofounded the organization in 1909.
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"Upon observing the organization on campus, I found that they truly stood for what Du Bois stood for, which is equality, education and inclusion for all, regardless of color," Cooper said. "I thought this was an organization that I needed to be a part of and align myself with."
Ed Dubose, former president of both the Columbus and state NAACP, said Cooper's election is a significant milestone for the CSU chapter.
"In less than five years, they have not only started the first college chapter of the NAACP in Columbus, but now they even have the first Youth and College Division president coming from the same university," said Dubose, who is still a member of the national NAACP board.
Dubose said Cooper represents the type of leadership that's needed throughout the century-old national organization, which has been struggling to attract younger members.
"The young people are the future," Dubose said. "If we are going to solve the problems that this community faces, the problems that the state faces, with education and health care and the criminal justice system, it's people like Stephen Cooper who will be the face of that conversation."
Cooper, a native of Accra, Ghana, migrated to Atlanta at the age of 3. After completing his primary education there, he enrolled at CSU.
Apart from the NAACP, Cooper also has participated in the university's Student Government, Residents Life, the Orientation Team, and the Columbus State University Diversity Advisory Board, according to his bio.
Cooper said he plans to educate other young people about their history and the importance of getting involved in the political process. He also hopes to persuade more of his peers to join the NAACP.
"Right now, a lot of people say 'What is the NAACP? What does it stand for?'" he said. "They know it's a black organization, but I want them to understand that it's just not a racial thing, it's also about wanting to educate and better our community."