Celebrating Black History Month: Q&A with PRIDE! and Threads president Gabrielle Cooper


Senior Gabrielle Gooch-Cooper,president of PRIDE and Threads, smiles for a portrait on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. 

McKenzie Jean-Philippe

In honor of Black History Month, The Kent Stater will be featuring Q&As with black student leaders throughout the month of February.

This week, the Stater spoke with Gabrielle Cooper, a senior human development and family studies major. Cooper is president of PRIDE! Kent and Threads. She opened about what it’s like to lead one of the oldest campus LGBTQ organizations in the country and what love means to her this Valentine’s Day.

KS:What encouraged you to choose your major?

GC: I have a really strong passion for helping people … social work, child and youth care work, counseling … I want to be an art therapist … (so) I’d have to get my master’s to do that. In that profession I will be able to combine both of my loves, which is art and helping people. Helping children specifically. I can combine it into one and that would be the perfect job for me.

KS: How did you become president of both PRIDE! and Threads?

GC: I was asked to be president of Threads in (Fall 2015). I’m the first president, so I’m a founder. I was asked because of my involvement in PRIDE! and just my involvement on campus. I became president of PRIDE! because I ran a year ago in spring, and I was elected. 

KS: Why is it important to you be involved in organizations like PRIDE! and Threads?

GC:I love helping people find themselves. These are two LGBTQIA — + organizations. I think PRIDE! has helped me discover myself and discover who I really am – not just my sexuality, but my likes and dislikes as a regular person.

To be of service to others is really important to me. I think that through these organizations people really discover themselves. Also, I love bringing people together and educating them on different things in the community and just how to treat each other. PRIDE! stands for People Respecting Identity, Diversity and Equality, so it’s not just about being gay or lesbian or bi-sexual or anything like that. It’s more about being a respectful human being (and) being kind to anyone for any reason, no matter what they look like.

KS: What’s the importance of having an organization like Threads that specifically recognizes minorities?

GC: That’s very important because at Threads people can really let their hair down because there’s not many places where you can find a group of people that have that intersectionality – being LGBTQ and being a person of color. Personally, I feel really great there. It’s really important because a lot of times if you’re in a white space, you’re worried about them judging you based on the color of your skin — a white LGBTQ space. And sometimes if you’re in a black space, you’re worried about them judging you based on being gay or pansexual or anything like that. So to have a place where both of those identities is recognized and respected is really important for one’s self esteem and development, (as well as) a sense of belonging here at Kent State.

KS: PRIDE! just celebrated 45 years on Kent State’s campus this past December. How does that make you feel?

GC: That makes me feel great. I don’t like helping people because it makes me feel good, I love helping people because they become better people after I have assisted them with anything. So it was really good to be president during that time … I think it’s really good that we have made it this far. We’re the (second) oldest LGBTQ organization on a college campus in the United States.

It’s really an honor just to show people that we’ve been around this long and we’ve been doing a lot of good things for the community. We’re continuing to educate people and help people 45 years after it was started.

KS: In light of the Trump administration, what’s it like being in this society right now when you can identify in various minority groups?

GC: It was stressful when the election happened last semester. I was just really down. I skipped my classes the next day … I emailed my professors. I felt like if my life didn’t matter before, as a black person, my life doesn’t really matter now because all of these people voted him in. I just felt like America hated me and my communities. It was a really bad time. One thing I told myself was not everyone feels this way.

As it relates to my leadership positions, I made sure that in each of my meetings a couple weeks after (Election Day) I told people that they could come to the office to talk. I really opened my arms wider than they were already open. I made sure that people had someone to come to. I was like, ‘If you need to come here, to talk, cry or anything – to deal with this – you can come to our office.’ 

It’s going to be rough because I feel like by him being president, it’s making a lot of people think it’s OK to be a bigot, to be racist, to be sexist, to be a xenophobic. It makes people think that all that is OK because he’s president now.

KS: What does Black History Month mean to you?

GC: I don’t know if you’ve seen the meme of a giant mug full of coffee being dumped into a really small cup and it says “Black History Month” on the really giant mug of coffee?

It’s very important to me, but I honestly wish that black history was taught in every school curriculum year-round.

There’s a lot of stuff people don’t know. At a Threads meeting we were talking about how people didn’t learn about Malcolm X in school. He wasn’t Martin Luther King Jr. He wasn’t non-violent, but he was a little bit more aggressive. People don’t learn about the things we’re supposed to learn about.

The history of us. I think it’s really important to know about where we came from and a lot of people don’t know these things and they don’t go out searching for these things. Sometimes people don’t teach their children either. So if the schools aren’t teaching their children and their parents aren’t teaching their children, how are these people going to know about their history?

I think it’s wonderful — the recognition we get during this month — but to me, one month is not enough.

KS: Is there a specific African American figure that you look up to?

GC: Not exactly. For celebrities, I don’t really admire them. A lot of people have a celebrity icon that they just idolize, but I don’t really do that because I’ve never met them. I don’t know them.

To be honest, that’s my mom to me. She’s a strong woman. She’s done a lot, and been through a lot, and she’s still standing optimistic and positive.

KS: In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, what does love mean to you?

GC: To me, love doesn’t mean just family. A lot of times people’s families can just be the worst. They can be the source of all their anger; their family can be very destructive. I think it’s surrounding yourself with people who love you and respect you. This year Valentine’s Day is really important to me because I’m with my girlfriend and she’s just a very important person to me. I’ve never felt this way about anybody.

Love means to me supporting others (and) helping others when they need something from you. Love means to me loving people when you don’t know them. Loving others just because.

McKenzie Jean-Philippe is the diversity editor, contact her at [email protected]