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The amazing Year Up program and a powerful lesson that suicide is not the answer

Scenes from the August 2014 graduation program for the amazing Year Up program in Baltimore.
Scenes from the August 2014 graduation program for the amazing Year Up program in Baltimore.
Photos by Professor Metze

Imagine an auditorium filled with small business corporations and community partners joined together with parents, teachers and friends all working together empowering urban talent to reach their potential. If you can imagine such a program call Year Up at 410-462-8446 and you will find such an opportunity. Year Up is changing the lives of urban young adults.

Site Director Lameteria Hall and Keynote Speaker Damian Cooper
Photo by Professor Metze

Having covered the Year Up program in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, there is no program like it in America. For people who do not believe that American small business owners care about the communities they serve they were not at the August 2014 graduation ceremony for Year Up. For those who were present they saw an amazing display of corporate and community partners who gathered at the beautiful Baltimore City Community College for the Class of July 2014 graduation ceremony.

For the students, parents, corporate and community partners who packed into the BCCC auditorium witnessed a positive event that showcased young urban adults who were engaged in a successful program that was one of the best in the four years that has attended the event. Small business owners and corporate partners have joined the Year Up effort to do something positive to change the economic conditions that American urban young adults are fighting to overcome each day.

Compassionate small business leaders answered the call to give back to the communities that they serve by contacting the site director for the Year Up program. What started as a very small program in Baltimore in 2011 has now grown into a program that graduated 30 future small business leaders in August 2014. Hope is alive and well in the Year Up program.

The keynote speaker, Damion J. Cooper, for the August 2014, graduation ceremony shocked the audience when he told them he had been shot at point blank range in the chest. As a silence fell across the BCCC auditorium Cooper recalled the night he came home from Catholic school, listening to the song, When We Come to the End of the Road, with earphones in his ears, to turn and find a man standing behind him with a handgun and without saying a word the man shot him in his chest.

In most cases when a person is the victim of a violent crime the people paid to help the victim blame the victim for getting hurt. Cooper remembered the police officer who asked him what he did to get shot. Cooper was the innocent victim of a senseless crime. He had not done anything to provoke the man who shot him. The police report confirmed the horrible incident on the the night Cooper was shot on October 16, 1992, behind the 3900 block of Chesterfield Avenue in Baltimore.

In Cooper’s case he was an innocent altar boy, living in a two parent, middle class, neighborhood with dream of going college whose life was shattered by the evil, hateful, act of a man with a gun. The bullet tore through Cooper’s chest breaking ribs, destroying tissue and muscle and bringing a young man with a Howard University scholarship offer in the works, to the brink of death. In the four years that the present writer has covered the Year Up graduation program, Cooper’s story was the most compelling, even surpassing Congressman Kwesi Mfume’s amazing life story of growing up in West Baltimore.

Cooper suffered years of painful surgeries and physical therapy. He said that the emotional damage and devastation caused by the violence against him almost drove him to take his own life. “I was going to finish what the man who shot me started,” Cooper said. Having gone to his parent’s gun cabinet and taking the gun, Cooper planned to commit suicide.

As Cooper shared his harrowing life and death experience the Year Up graduates listened to him in rapt attention. There was no story about how a life of alcohol and cocaine abuse led to the decision to take a life, this story was about a young man who had a dream to make his life better through hard work, dedication and living a clean life. Cooper was a good man who became the victim of a brutal, senseless, crime. Cooper said that at first he blamed God. “I blamed God for what he let happen to me. I blamed God for what he took from me," Cooper said. Bad things do happen to good people.

On the night he planned to kill himself the gun was in his hand when there was a knock on his door. He placed the gun under his pillow to answer the door. He planned to continue with his suicide plan after he got rid of the person knocking on his door. As it turned out the knock came from two of his best friends from school. They came to invite him to attend a church service with them. When Cooper said he did not want to go to church his friends insisted and refused to leave until he came with them. The friends saved his life because Cooper was convinced to leave the suicide plan to attend church that night.

The church service convinced Cooper to give his life to Jesus Christ and changed the course of his plans. Instead of committing suicide Cooper would go on to a life of helping others. Today he is the Assistant to the President of the Baltimore City Council. He does his best to give young people a better start and in one ironic twist of fate, Cooper met the man who almost took his life while helping young people. Cooper said he realized that suicide was not the answer.

His desire to help young people was the reason for his being the keynote speaker for the Class of July 2014 Graduation Ceremony. Today Damion J. Cooper has to explain to his children why he has a hole in his chest. He serves as the Neighborhood Relations for the Baltimore City Council President. However, it was in his capacity as a Certified Gang Awareness and Intervention Trainer that has led him to bridge the gap between Baltimore City Government, Baltimore Communities, and Faith Based Institutions of Higher Learning.

In many respects the Year Up program is the perfect program for urban youth in America. The idea that began with the dream of Year Up founder, Gerald Chertavian, exists in living color and enthusiasm as 30 young men and women marched in step behind site director Lameteria Hall to receive their certificates of program completion. As each graduate walked across the BCCC stage their name, photo, and accomplishments in the Year Up program were projected on the large screens above their heads.

“Our graduates are role models for their communities and we look forward to watching them, listening to them, and learning from them as they become our future leaders. Congratulations to Year up Baltimore’s Class of July 2014!” The words of the man who had a dream in 2000 to create a one year, intensive training, program to provide urban young adults ages 18-24 with a unique combination of technical and professional skills, college credits, corporate and federal internships, as well as an educational stipend to overcome the opportunity divide made Year Up a reality.

The great words of the man who had a dream in the millennial year of 2000, when many predicted the end of the world, to create a one year, intensive training program to provide urban young adults ages 18-24 became a reality. He wanted to give Year Up graduates a unique combination of technical and professional skills, college credits, corporate and federal internships. He also added an educational stipend to overcome the tremendous obstacles that inner city urban youth face every single day as they attempt to compete with American youth born of affluent families with every opportunity for success.Year Up gives urban young adults a fighting chance to bring them closer to closing the gap.

In covering the event for four years this investigative reporter has been able to go behind the scenes to watch as the young urban professionals are trained. It is an inside look at how hard the staff works to take these highly motivated young people and to give them the training to walk into the boardrooms of some of the greatest corporations in America and not to feel out of place. The behind the scenes work, sweat, and preparation that this writer has witnessed over years is a far cry from the image of lazy, sleeping, students in urban classrooms that CBS depicted in a special report several years ago.The Year Up graduates were full of energy and excited about their future.

The Year Up classrooms at Baltimore City Community College feature young people who come to class prepared. The students realize that they are being given a unique opportunity. A great example of the Year Up program can be found in the transformation experienced by the student who escorted the present writer to the Year Up Reception. To look at the well dressed and confident Wilmot Rose it is hard to imagine that the future business executive was once uncertain about his future. “I was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. I went to Northwestern High School and graduated in 2012. During my four years in high school I attended Cisco class. I didn't know at the time if I wanted to pursue IT. After I graduated from Northwestern High School I went to Baltimore City Community College. My major at BCCC was general studies. I attended BCCC for two years without a clear goal for myself. Then I dropped out of BCCC. Then a friend kept pestering me about joining Year Up. I finally gave into the whole idea. After joining Year Up it has become one of the best decisions I've made in my life. I wouldn't change my Year Up experience for anything. My goals have changed and I’m only looking forward to more success,” Rose said.

Many small business owners and CEO’s are looking for programs to help the community. In talking with small business owners across the nation over the past five years there has been a consensus that if a worthy program is available the small business owners will support it. Year Up is such a program. The program in Baltimore is staffed with dedicated professionals who seek to give the inner city youth an opportunity to improve their lives. The first thing that site director Hall said, “You can do something, call!”

The decision not to commit suicide meant that Cooper lived to help thousands of people. He lived to have children to plan for grandchildren. His decision not to kill himself made it possible for him to inspire a new generation of urban youth on August 1, 2014, not to give up and not to give in. He taught them to fight for their lives. The bullet in his chest did not stop Damion Cooper. It gave him the determination to fight and to win. Friends stopped Cooper before he could commit suicide. If you are alone and having thoughts of taking your life stop and call CrisisLink at 703-527-4077. Cooper realized that suicide is a permanent end to a temporary problem. CrisisLink can help when things seem the darkest and there is no hope. Interested 2014-2015 high school seniors should contact Year Up early to apply to enter after graduation.

If you are a small business owner or CEO looking to help urban youth call Year Up.

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