History alumnus establishes nonprofit for at-risk youth

During his four years at Wooster, James Cooper ’08 was a standout basketball player, scoring over 2,000 points in his career as a Fighting Scot and playing professionally for a year in Germany after graduation. Unfortunately, it was a tragedy after returning to his hometown Springfield, Ohio, that eventually convinced Cooper to dedicate his life to the community he grew up in. “I always wanted to give back in some way, but what made me really go for it was when my brother was shot and killed in Springfield almost seven years ago,” Cooper said. After going through a three-year depression, Cooper was motivated to live for himself and his brother. “My plan was to give back and help other people who grew up how we grew up, and give them hope,” he said.

Cooper explained that most kids who grow up in Springfield come from broken homes and are surrounded by drugs and violence, with no groups to support them. Having worked with nonprofits for several years, Cooper decided to start one himself. “Brake the Cycle is a program centered on mentorship and life coaching to support young men and help them graduate to something besides prison or an early grave,” he said. Established in November 2020, the structure of Brake the Cycle includes adult mentors, called game changers, who work with 20-25 students in 8th to 12th grade, called scouts. The scouts also meet with Cooper one-on-one each week to develop progress reports and set goals. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Brake the Cycle started out differently than expected. “Our goal was to build and use our own facilities, but we couldn’t because of COVID-19. We were still able to have our first meeting after the New Year,” Cooper said. The program covers topics like safe sex, drug use, social media etiquette, and career planning, which Cooper pulls from his own experience at Wooster. “My parents were high school dropouts and didn’t teach me about internships,” he saidso I can share my own experiences and set the kids up for success.” 

Cooper, who was inducted into the W Association Hall of Fame in 2018, described his time at Wooster as “life changing” because it was first time he lived in a stable environment that gave him a distraction. “Living in Wooster showed me that it was possible to live a positive peaceful life,” he said. “For me, it was basketball that took me away from the chaos and drama of my home life.” Cooper credited the mentorship of former men’s basketball head coach, Steve Moore. “Coach Moore was the best coach I ever played for,” Cooper said. “He taught me how to carry myself both on and off the court.” Additionally, completing an Independent Study in the history department was Cooper’s most influential academic experience. “I learned so much through the process, including new ways to conduct research and become more comfortable with writing,” he said.

Above: James Cooper ’08 works with a student for his nonprofit, Brake the Cycle, in Springfield, Ohio

Posted in Alumni on February 9, 2021.