John’s story, a Stand IN Fellow

Parent & Family Engagement | 11/26/2019

John Cooper
Stand Indiana Fellow

I became involved with gangs at 12-years-old despite growing up in a loving two-parent home. I was only in middle school when I remember my spinal cord being cracked from a rival gang incident. But that trauma didn’t stop my rebellious childhood behavior and I continued my life in gangs. I was born in 1979, so this was the early 90’s and gangs would snatch up kids between 11 and 13 for recruitment.

As a result of my involvement with gangs, I grew up fast. I didn’t finish my education. I met my wife when I was only 12 and she was 13. We married at 17 and 18 years-old and have been together almost 22 years.

But for a long time, even with a great wife and loving children, I spent my life in the streets. During this time, I was in and out of rehabs and correctional facilities.

It wasn’t until just over four years ago when my sister was in her last stages of cancer that I got my life together. My sister wanted to have hospice at home. I watched her deteriorate for three months, and it made me think of life in a new way. I was close with my sister and watching her go from being on her feet and dancing to shriveling up and eventually taking her last breath changed me. I stayed out of the streets after that.

I’ll never look back to the life I was living because in taking a deeper look at my life and what matters—my family matters, my children matter. I want my children to have a great education so they can have great futures.

I started volunteering at URBAN ACT Academy, where my kids go to school. I became heavily involved with their education. One day, I met Ashley of Stand for Children Indiana in the hallway and she mentioned parent classes being offered in the school. I started going to the classes and I was hooked. I never missed a class. I was the first one to arrive for Stand University for Parents (Stand UP) class and the last to leave. These classes taught me parenting skills, how to have more awareness of my kids, what it means to be in my children’s lives and show them that I care. When I realized that Stand Indiana wasn’t just fighting for my kids—but all kids—it made me want to be a part of it even more. I don’t want any of my children to go down the paths I took. I want all children to get a fair shot at a great education. I want them to succeed at the things they want to do in life.

I want my children to take advantage of the opportunities that I didn’t.  I want them to be better than I was and more than I am.  I am happy that I have become a parent advocate, that I am pushing my kids to succeed and standing up in any way I can to help make that happen. My kids are proud to see their dad involved.

As a Fellow, I want to press my way through and fulfil my purpose. Through Stand for Children Indiana, I’m seeing the greatest success of my life. I feel like working with Stand Indiana is one of my purposes because I believe the kids are our futures. And these kids, they believe in us. They are counting on us. I don’t want to let them down.

It would warm my heart to know that I helped my kids and other kids. I know if I can do this, you can get involved too.

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