His life changed forever when he was 12 years old.
Jarvis Cooper, president of Columbus-based Envision Organizational Consulting, had never even heard of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at that time in 1968. He still can hear himself pleading with his parents not to force him to go to a rally King was holding at a Memphis church one weekday afternoon.
But from the moment he stepped into the church, the 12-year-old Memphis native knew he was standing in the midst of something bigger than himself. And when King shared his message of peace and equality, Cooper joined the thousands of other Americans who looked to the civil rights activist as a beacon of hope for the future.
“He instantly became my hero,” Cooper told the Sunrise Rotary Club on Friday as he shared his experience with them.
But then, just days after delivering a speech that forever changed Cooper’s life, King was shot and killed in Memphis, shattering the 12-year-old’s dreams for a future of racial and class equality.
Tempted to develop hatred and seek revenge, “my parents wouldn’t let me go there,” Cooper said.
After he got over the initial shock of King’s death, Cooper decided to turn his anger into action.
Instead of seeking revenge against those who opposed the civil rights movement, Cooper chose to dedicated his life to inspiring the movement’s supporters to use their unique talents to improve society.
“I decided I would try to live out the principles of what (King) said,” the former pastor of Faith Ministries said.
As he shared his advice with Rotary Club members, Cooper addressed the crowd not as himself, but as the spirit of King returned to the world.
The civil rights activist would be pleased that the country pauses each year to remember his work, said Cooper, speaking as King. But if his teachings are forgotten for the remaining 364 days of the year, then the annual celebration of King’s life is in vain, Cooper said.
Most people admired King’s ability to speak to a crowd of thousands or even millions and still connect with each individual, but few are able to recognize that same ability within themselves, Cooper said.
Even if they are not an eloquent and powerful speaker like King was, people who want to promote equality in the world have their own gifts they can contribute to the human race, he said.
Finding your gift means looking past the things that scare you and embracing your passions, Cooper said.
“If the gift is in one of us. It’s in all of us,” he said.
But discovering your gift is only the first step on the journey toward making an impact on the world. Without action or passion, the talents a person has to contribute to the world are as useful as a real gift that is left in its wrapping paper, Cooper said.
“Your gift is not a landing strip but a launching pad for the gift you have inside of you,” he said.
African American Ministerial Alliance community breakfast
When: 7:15 – 9 a.m.
Where: Columbus North High School cafeteria, 1400 25th St., Columbus
Who: Pastor David Bosley Speaking
Calvary Community Church youth luncheon
When: 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Where: Calvary Community Church, 1031 Chestnut St., Columbus
Who: Open to youth ages 7-17
IUPUC diversity and inclusion luncheon
When: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Where: Columbus Learning Center, 4555 Central Ave., Columbus
Who: Speaking are Kim Kirkland, IUPUI director of office of equal opportunity, and Margo Foreman, IUPUC assistant director of diverse workforce recruitment and retention.
“Let it Shine: The American Civil Rights Movement” performance
When: 2 p.m.
Where: The Commons, Nugent-Custer Performance Hall, 300 Washington St., Columbus
Who: Performance by Bright Star Tour Theatre Company; appropriate for third grade and older