5 Under 40: Andrea Cooke
Andrea Cooke, 39
Development Director/Masters Level Clinician, The Southern Center for Choice TheoryLLC| Executive Director, C-Qul.
Tell us about your job, and why you chose your career field.
My job is to identify, complete and maintain contracts for The Southern Center for Choice Theory, and I love it! I am also the executive director of C-Qul, a newly formed nonprofit seeking to eliminate barriers to wellness for members of our community. I chose the helping professions because I am passionate about people and about creating opportunities to right wrongs. I am a firm believer in social justice.
Tell us about your activities in the community, especially what you’re most excited about.
I have been a lifelong volunteer, but I really got excited about nonprofit work when I was volunteering for Peach County Family Connection when I was 19. I was a social work major at Fort Valley State University and I was ready to change the world. My mom was the executive director, so I had a front row seat to the inner workings of a corporate nonprofit.
I went on to marry an FVSU graduate, have eight children with him and now live and work in Macon. I finished my masters at Mercer University and was immediately accepted into a doctoral program at Antioch University with a focus on social justice. The fight in me was rekindled and I began becoming more engaged in community events and organizations. I attended On the Table 2018 and answered the call to get a conversation-to-action grant and was awarded the funding to create Laundry Days.
We provide everything a person needs to wash their clothing and in exchange they share with us what we can do to improve our community. The next big project is one where I worked with several other women to form Macon Periods Easier, an organization working to end period poverty in Macon and surrounding counties. I then worked with more amazing women to create MACspeaks, a TED-style event with major support from Georgia Women (and those who stand with us). I also partnered with Helping Mamas out of Atlanta to end diaper need in Macon.
I am currently working with the Macon-Bibb Parks and Recreation department on a backpack program to provide art activities and food in partnership with the Mulberry Market. I am also working to bring a Food Co-op to Napier Heights and we just launched a program with Secondhand Soil to provide our neighbors with composting options.
As you look to the future, what are your professional and personal goals?
My professional goals are to position myself as an advocate for mental wellness, whole body care and all social justice issues. My personal goal is to change the landscape of my community. I want the best for my children and they are all my children.
What are you personally committed to accomplishing in Macon and why?
I am personally committed to holding the people in power in Macon accountable to the people who elected them. I want people who look like me to be encouraged to speak up when they see the need and also to believe that their presence is needed in the spaces where we were traditionally not welcomed. I want to be an example of perseverance, and I hope I am accomplishing that.
Right now, what is the best thing going on in Macon?
The best thing going in Macon is opportunity.
What have you learned during these pandemic times?
I have learned that we have more work to do. I would be lying if I said I was happy with how people have reacted or behaved during this time. I am sad and I am mad, but these feelings make me want to do something about it! I will continue to ask people to look out for one another and wear a mask. I will continue to confront racism and sexism, and I will continue to work hard to fill in the gaps for people who may not have what they need.
What is your vision for our community?
My best hope is that we can have equitable services and equal distribution of resources throughout our community. I hope that people who earn more will understand that just like the schools in higher–earning neighborhoods deserve to be fully funded, so do ours.
What needs to change to encourage continued progress in our city?
There has to be a shift in how decisions are made. We have to consider each person, not just the influential people. I can appreciate the wonderful opportunity to have a seat at some tables, but I want to have a bigger table where more voices are included.
What would be a missed opportunity in Macon?
A missed opportunity for Macon is to not engage in the process of turning this community into a “Quality Community.” We are all traumatized by the murders happening here. Every person who hears about another person losing their life in such a violent way should want to do more to prevent it. We have to inject hope where there is none, we have to be better examples for our children of what it means to value one another.
When you talk about Macon to people who don’t live here, what do you tell them?
When I tell people about Macon, I tell them that this is a beautiful place that I have chosen to make my home! I live in the “hood” because I grew up here. I invite people to buy the blighted home next to me, so we can make this place better together. I tell them there are amazing people here who are doing great things and to help the people who aren’t doing great things by being an example of goodness. I tell them that I have seen more kindness here than I have ever experienced anywhere else, and that I am a great neighbor; come be mine!
What does it mean to be a good leader?
Being a good leader means to know “when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em”. Being a leader means to operate at all times with compassion and empathy. I lead people in the way that I would want to be led and it has not failed me yet.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is that I am the mother of eight amazing humans who know that no matter what, their mom is going to show up for them. I am their biggest advocate and I have worked hard professionally and educationally to be an example of what you can achieve if you focus. (Finishing the dissertation is challenging!) I am proud to be the wife of someone who encourages me to be the best version of myself and allows me the space to not be perfect. I am proud to be the sister and cousin of some amazing people who gave me so much of themselves as we were growing up. The helped to shape me into me!
What are three qualities that got you where you are today?
Exposure to so many cultures has prepared me for respecting everyone. Grief, losing my nephew, Shemar Brooks, in February 2019, caused me to realize that I don’t have forever to make a difference; I have to do it now. I am hard-headed, being told no is all the motivation I need to do it anyway. Defiance has been an asset for me.