Timmons Hall will host Newark, New Jersey high school principal Akbar Cook, Sr. as part of its Black History Month programming in February. Cook is the keynote speaker in the Freedom Classroom 101 Workshop Series and will present at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 4 at Timmons Hall in Silver Springs Park, 1055 E. Webster St.
Seating is limited; please register by Jan. 21 by calling 417-864-1046. The presentation will be livestreamed on the City of Springfield’s Facebook page @CityofSGF and on AfricanAmericanHeritageTrailSGF.org.
The workshop series aims to equip teachers to research, rethink and reimagine how they teach African American studies
Cook became known for creating the Light’s On program at Newark, New Jersey’s West Side High School, which provides students with a safe place to spend Friday nights. Each week, kids eat, play video games, basketball, and participate in other activities until 11 p.m. thanks to Cook’s efforts. During the summer, the one-night-a-week program initially increased to three, but in 2020, Oprah Winfrey surprised Cook with a $500,000 donation to the school, which allows it to keep its lights on every night.
Cook has not lost a student to gun violence since starting Light’s On. He says there has been an increase in daily attendance since making other investments in the school. In 2019, West Side installed a laundry room to provide students with a way to launder their school uniforms because some students were coming to school in dirty uniforms and were being bullied, resulting in chronic absenteeism. While students wash their clothes, a teacher helps them with their school work.
Cook has appeared on “Ellen” and “CBS This Morning” and been featured on CNN and The Grio’s websites for his efforts.
Community Foundation of the Ozarks provided the grant funding the Freedom Classroom 101 Workshop Series and to bring Cook to Springfield. Last summer, CFO announced that it is deepening its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion with the first grant programs of the new fiscal year, dedicating additional unrestricted grantmaking funds for nonprofit agencies that work to uplift members of marginalized identity groups.
“Ultimately, our goal with this program isn’t to merely bring to light issues that face underserved individuals but to create significant, lasting change to the Springfield community,” said Bridget Dierks, CFO vice president of programs. Last year, the program funded projects for eight nonprofits serving a wide range of people, including Hand in Hand Multicultural Center’s work with immigrant families, Springfield Public Schools’ professional development program for students with disabilities, and Ujima Language and Literacy’s development as an up-and-coming educational program.
“The CFO is proud to support the work of agencies committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in Springfield and across central and southern Missouri,” Dierks said. “We continue to commit grant dollars to this work because it is vital to the future success of our communities.”
The Freedom Classroom 101 Workshop Series will feature three additional presenters at Timmons Hall in April, June and August. More information will be posted to parkboard.org/TimmonsHall when the details are finalized.
Cook was born and raised in Newark’s West Ward. He attended Essex Catholic High School, where he excelled as a student and basketball player. Cook attended college on two basketball scholarships, attending St. Catherine’s College in Kentucky before graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in education from Florida Atlantic University, a Division I university in Boca Raton, Florida. He went on to receive a master’s degree in administration from St. Peters University in Jersey City in 2006. Cook’s love for children and basketball led him to Newark Vocational School in 2008, where he became head coach of the boys’ basketball team. In 2012, he was named vice principal of West Side High School.
He also serves as co-director of Greater Newark’s LifeCamp, a summer camp for inner city youth.