Pride, Poise & Elegance: The Imani Cooper Story

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When I became an HBCU All-Star, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what the future held. Sure, a trip to the White House and exclusive opportunities were guaranteed but whether I’d find companionship in my cohort was a question that arose from the innate fear that we all have of doing something different. On August 2, 2017 I found out that I was blessed with the opportunity to be a 2017-2018 White House HBCU All-Star Ambassador for the White House Initiative on HBCU’s. On August 3, 2017, I was blessed to meet Imani Cooper.

Our friendship occurred on happenstance. I happened to announce to the world that I was an HBCU All-Star on all of my social media outlets and she did too. A former All-Star from another cohort contacted both of us separately to congratulate us and add us to her network. The curious writer in me decided to click to view that All-Star’s Twitter account. From there, I saw them retweet Imani’s All-Star announcement tweet.

 The tweet caught my eye for various reasons. One, she was the first person from my cohort that I encountered on social media. I clicked through her page and saw she was a involved and notable student leader on the campus of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, her breathtaking beauty notwithstanding. Innately, I doubt myself. As I viewed her Twitter page, I knew I wanted to connect with her. Immediately, I talked against it.

“You go to Fort Valley and she goes to FAMU. She has no interest in connecting with you!”

Nevertheless, I tweeted my congratulations to her and that I looked forward to working with her. You could feel the positivity and excitement through the words that she typed.

Eventually, we exchanged numbers. My self-doubt almost prevented me from meeting a lifelong friend that I hit it off with immediately after we started texting. My negative thoughts almost halted me from having the opportunity of meeting a Queen that I call my angel on earth because she’s so positive that I joke with her that it seems as if she’s only a figment of my imagination. Sure, we would’ve eventually connected in our GroupMe and in Washington but there’s always the “what-if”.

Over the past six months I haven’t had the opportunity to discuss the “what-ifs”, only what exists of a friendship that feels as if started in our infancy. I talked about my first encounters and adventures with her during our All-Star trip in Washington DC in my HBCU All-Star Recaps. The story didn’t just stop there. We continued to build upon our friendship, leading me to attending FAMU’s homecoming weeks after our trip to DC. I convinced my parents and my brother to come with me and make this a family trip.

The ride from Fort Valley/Macon to Tallahassee was long and full of rest stops but was worth every second to get a chance to hang with the Queen-to-be. After confusion on where I needed to go to be in the student section, and maneuvering around what seemed to be millions of people, I got a chance to finally see Imani in person once again. She had a regal glow that exuded FAMU spirit and an appearance that would cause Janelle Monaé to pause in awe as if she was looking in a mirror.

Observing Imani throughout my duration of being with her throughout the end of the game and the tailgating was even more interesting the the game itself. She took all the action going on around her in stride. I witnessed her humble sensibilities intersect with her campus celebrity as she tried and succeeded in being a good host to me and taking 10-12 pictures and talking with everyone that came to her. Me wondering away to the tailgate area with one of her friends that she introduced me to as she fulfilled a needed duty resulted in me seeing her innate compassion. The way she blew my phone and her friend’s phone up to see where I was and to make sure I didn’t get lost showed me that her care wasn’t a one time thing that occured because of the extremity of missing a shuttle bus to the airport in DC.

A five minute walk to my parent’s van turned into a twenty-five minute walk due to mentees running up to hug and take pictures with her and on-goers becoming enthralled inthe allure of her natural glow. My parents and little brother interacted with her as we rode her back to Village West, which I jokingly call the “Tipton Hotel” because that thing looked more impressive than the Ritz Carlton we saw in DC a couple of hours after we got off of the plane.

The months after we started to talk everyday and kept each other informed about our endeavors at our respective HBCU’s. I’m an “honorary Rattler” waiting to finally experience my first Set Friday and Imani is so connected to everything concerning FVSU that she might as well be my date to the CAB Collegiate Prom this Saturday! My friendship with Imani is something that I needed in my life as I inch closer to my dream. I know she supports me 100% and I reciprocate with being her personal motivator, counselor and allowing her access to any media platform that I build or inherit.  

Christmas Break was something special. I was able to stop my non-stop hustling and she was able to take a break from her student leadership and campus activism and take a break. Imani was still living her best life, going to Disney World in Orlando before she left Florida and went back to the Queen City Charlotte, North Carolina. We talked on the phone for hours on end almost every day. She read every page of my free Christmas eBook Cold Hearted on Christmas after urging me to make a sequel to Thankful For My Ex she posted a moving birthday tribute to me on her Instagram that truly made me happy and proud that I’m making an impact on such an amazing young woman. She then convinced me to go on a social media fast.

I want to take the time to acknowledge someone who I have gotten to know so much about in just a semester! This comedian, author, all-star, counselor, body guard 😂and good friend here is one of the most humble, talented and genuine people I have met and happens to be my favorite HBCU All-Star! ✊🏽 He’s an honorary Rattler at this point because he knows more about FAMU than most people! 😅Thank you for being there for me when I needed advice, and constantly reassuring me that the world is not over from one small issue 😂 and for helping me realize that I need to let go of certain toxic people! If you don’t know him now you’ll see him producing your favorite movies or writing world-renowned articles for all to read in the future (as if he hasn’t started that already 😂👏🏾)! Happy birthday and Merry Christmas Randall!! I pray you enjoy every second, minute, hour and moment of today! 🙌🏾😘🎉🎄

A post shared by Imani H. Cooper 👑 (@_faithfullyimani) on

Yup, she was the one that got me doing social media fast. I’m a social media expert, a maven and the big three social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and she was the one that inspired me to step back and even joined me in the social media fast so I wouldn’t be doing it alone. The fast in itself was a transformative experience. It allowed me time to think about what I aspired to do in 2018. It gave me time to rest and appreciate my break. It reinvigorated me and got me ready for the months of work ahead of me.

Imani Cooper already reigns as a queen to me. She exemplifies everything that make HBCU life brilliant. She’s kind, passionate, intelligent, wise and uncompromising. She’ll make you smile when you’re down and goes out of her way to help everyone that she comes across. She gives so much to everyone else so it’s time to sew into her. Support her as she runs to be the 112th Miss Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University. She’ll be a First Lady of the highest of the seven hills that’ll work for you and will make the FAMU experience more dynamic than it already is.

I got a chance to talk with the Campus Queen-to-be about her journey and her experience as an HBCU All-Star.

Randall: Thank you so much for allowing me to do this interview! You don’t know how much of an honor it is Imani! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Imani Cooper: Randall! Thank you once again for this opportunity, I apologize in the delay in getting back to you on this interview…it has been a truly busy yet productive few weeks and I am slowly getting caught back up on my growing to-do list! But to share a little about myself, I am Imani Cooper and I am a current junior at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, FL. My major is Biological Systems Engineering with a concentration on Bioprocessing and Food Engineering. I grew up in the city of Charlotte, NC before eventually relocating around the southern region between South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida. I am the oldest of four children, with Indya, Ilona and Isaiah Cooper being the youngest, to my lovely parents Wendolyn and David Cooper. I am a true believer in God and will most likely refer to Him a lot in this interview! He has done so many amazing things in my life over these past years in which I will share, so I owe everything to Him!

Randall: You’re currently a student at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Florida, the #1 public HBCU in the nation. What all are you involved in at the illustrious FAMU? We have to get this list going at the beginning of the interview because it’s a lot!

Imani Cooper: Yes this is very true!! Like I stated before, I have been soooo blessed to be as active as I am and can still function as a full-time student and employee! I am currently involved on campus as the founding president of the FAMU Women Student Union, an organization catered towards the personal, political and spiritual development of the women on campus, Resident Assistant in one of the majority freshman facilities on campus, Peer Mentor for the FAMU First-Year Experience program, Student Volunteer for FAMU’s Volunteer Services Program, member of the National Society of Black Engineers, and my most memorable leadership position, being an HBCU All-Star Ambassador for White House Initiatives where I was able to meet the legendary Randall Barnes!! In my previous years I also got to serve as an Orientation Leader, treasurer of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), the Chief-of-Staff for the sophomore class of FAMU 2019, and member of the FAMU Section of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).  

Randall: Now, let’s get back to the beginning! You were born in Charlotte, North Carolina and ended up graduating from Vivian Gaither High School in Tampa, Florida. In your bio, it also says that you’ve moved around the south several times. What was your childhood like?

Imani Cooper: Well, growing up my family never liked to stay in one place for too long! We are what you would call a “knock-off military family”, we moved around as frequently as a military family would but without the military title! My dad’s former job (TYCO Integrated Security) would often relocate him to either a new city or state just about every year, resulting in my younger siblings and I having to attend almost a new school every year. It was this sacrifice, however, that would keep the food on the table and the clothes on our backs as my dad was the only one able to bring in a stable income for the family after my mom decided to take on the role as a stay-at-home mother to ensure my siblings and I still had an enjoyable and active childhood. Although we were not the richest of families in the world, my parents made sure they did what they could to provide for all that we needed and I truly admire and appreciate them for that! They are a big part of why I am where I am today, their continued support has been so helpful and motivating to me!

Randall: Like I said before, you went to Vivian Gaither High School in Tampa, Florida. How was that experience?

Imani Cooper: Attending Gaither High, in my junior and senior year of high school was definitely one of the hardest and most challenging experiences in my life. Gaither is a majority Caucasian and Hispanic high school in the Carrollwood area of Tampa, and was not very excepting of new and minority students. I struggled my first year in finding valuable friendships and finding my place within the school being that I was new and not yet accustomed to the “Floridian culture”. Although Tampa is considered the “south”, the culture is much more like that of South Florida and Northern U.S. in that the people are not very welcoming and inviting of new faces. Being that I was from the Carolinas where “southern hospitality” is very much alive and well, the new culture was very hard to adjust to. However, after my first year, I was able to get somewhat adjusted and find my niche. I was able to join the Gospel Choir and Legacy Student Ministries and even maintain leadership roles in those organizations. I also partially credit my decision to attend FAMU to being in the Tampa area and being exposed to the many FAMU Alumni of the area.

Randall: You often speak about being at a predominately white high school and, because of this, not seeing attending an HBCU as a viable option. You also talk about the transformative experience of attending a FAMU recruitment event at Blake High School in Tampa. What was it about the event, recruiters or even the brand of FAMU itself that made you want to attend?

Imani Cooper: Honestly, FAMU knows how to put on a great show for prospective students! They truly engaged me from the very beginning of the event with a performance from the FAMU Connection, a theater and performing arts group that FAMU often uses in recruitment to grasp the attentions of prospective students, along with seeing the BEAUTIFUL FAMU Royal Court led by, at the time, Miss Dominique James (Miss FAMU, 2014-2015) and hearing from successful FAMU Alumni and student leaders. It was at this moment, and several other encounters, that led me in making my decision to come to FAMU!

Randall: It’s time to talk about your experience on “The Hill”! I want to go through your first few years at FAMU. How was your:

    1. Freshman Year?

IC: Okay, so freshman year definitely was my transition and growth year! My family had decided to relocate back to North Carolina after refusing to remain in Tampa any longer, and actually were moving on the same day I moved into college…we literally had the moving truck for them and myself all leaving the area together! Upon arriving at FAMU, I met a majority of my closest friends at freshman orientation and continued to meet soooo many cool people in my first semester that became my “home away from home”. This definitely helped with the fact that my family was now almost 11 hours away rather than 4. In my first semester at FAMU, I was able to experience the true “FAMU culture” in attending pretty much every event, party lol, game and anything else that was fun to go to as a freshman! I also joined the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and Big Sister Little Sister Mentoring Program (BSLS). My value for education was also very high in my early years, and it was with much dedication to my schoolwork and academics in general that allowed me to end my first semester with a 4.0 GPA! Towards the end of my first semester and beginning in the spring semester I applied and received the Orientation Leader position, as well as Resident Assistant for the next year. It was these two leadership experiences that opened the doors for so many more to come! My appreciation for my HBCU also grew a lot in my second semester as I learned more and more about the history of FAMU and African Americans in general. I had to take in every aspect of the black culture to make up for the lack of it in my primary school years!

    1. Sophomore Year?

IC: Sophomore year!!! My mistake year LOL! I feel like this year was the year I lost myself completely into the college culture and refocused my energy on too many of the wrong things. I had my first college boyfriend the summer leading into sophomore year. Our relationship started off very strong and we swore up and down we were “in love”! He attended Florida State University, the Predominately-White Institution (PWI) in Tallahassee, and was involved in their Student Government Association and worked with State Representative Ramon Alexander and even interned with former Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum. He wanted to be the next President Obama and I was to be his Michelle! After about 6 months, our relationship came to an end after a lot of personal issues that we had with one another coming to the surface. We tried to work things out and would talk on and off for another year after, but the relationship had hit its expiration date! Also in my sophomore year, I became heavily involved as a Resident Assistant, did my first college pageant with the Miss Black and Gold Scholarship pageant, joined the sophomore class cabinet, NCNW, ASABE and several other organizations. I was also serving on the regional board of the National Society of Black Engineers which required a heavy amount of traveling and conference call meetings and planning. This year was definitely heavy in involvement, and my grades took a toll! My GPA dropped every semester and I was prioritizing my grades much less than I did in my freshman year. My mindset was off and I started to care more about knowing everybody and doing everything in leadership that I abandoned many valuable relationships with my friends and family members.

    1. Junior Year?

IC: Leading into junior year, I was still heavily involved but I knew something needed to change as this would be the year I got into my major engineering courses and I could NOT fail! I cut off some involvement, yet remained active and even became an HBCU All-Star Ambassador and met you which was a true blessing! I still worked as a Resident Assistant and maintained great relationships and mentorships with many that I had met the year before. This past semester, however, God showed me a lot about the people that I surround myself with and He completely got me back on track with my relationship with Him. I had such a strong faith coming into college but it slowly drifted away the longer I was here. So, He put me through several life tests and trials to see when I would finally come back to and refocus my energy onto Him! I went through periods of financial struggle, academic challenges, struggles with personal acceptance, and spiritual warfare. At the very end of the year, I realized that everything that I was needing and looking for in the titles, positions and “friends” that I had was really in God all along. I started off this new year with a refreshed and refocused mindset. I claimed that the year 2018 would be a year of “new beginnings” as God is going to come through with many new blessings and opportunities in my life for me to live in my true purpose in Him! So far this new year has been very powerful and refreshing! In just these last 2 weeks, I have had the opportunity to uplift the student body in prayer and encouragement after the tragic deaths of two students to a fatal car accident, reassuring them that God’s plan is far above our own understanding! I have had the opportunity to meet great people like Angel Knox, Author of My Three Trees, and many other great women who have become my mentors! I recently had the opportunity of delivering the welcoming speech at this year’s Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation as well. This year has definitely started off strong and I am so excited to live this new season with my re-established relationship with God!

Randall: So, you’re an HBCU All-Star Ambassador for the White House Initiative on HBCU’s! Tell us about your journey because you have an interesting story in your road to becoming one! Didn’t you apply before this year?

Imani Cooper: Yes! So I actually applied the summer after my freshman year to become an All-Star after one of my academic advisors sent me the application and told me some about the program. Unfortunately was not allotted the opportunity, and I was so discouraged and confused as to why I did not get the position as I was more than qualified for it. I was looking forward to having the position but realized later on that it simply was not my time to have it. The next year when applications came back out and I noticed that the application was exactly the same as the year before, I decided to take another leap of faith and reapply. I reused my old application and reference letters and made a few tweaks to them and submitted my application once again with a heart-felt letter attached to it. I made it to the semi-finals and after they selected me for an interview, I was in there! I was interviewed by Ms. Elyse Jones, the Operations and Program Analyst for the HBCU All-Star Program, and she instantly fell in love with me and selected me for the position after hearing about my story of reapplying again and how much I had done in the past year on my campus! I was sooooo excited for this new and exciting opportunity, and after meeting people like you, Randall, this past year I see why the first go round was not my time! I would’ve missed out on meeting people like you!

Randall: How has your experience as an All-Star been these past few months?

     Imani Cooper: These past few months I will definitely say my experiences have not as been as worth-while as I expected lol. Randall, you can attest to many of the difficulties that we have faced being All-Stars. The program in itself has undergone many changes within its overall structure and organization and has taken a toll on the things that we as All-Stars are able to do. I also do not maintain constant communication with a lot of the other All-Stars, and as I have told you before, you are the one All-Star that I am the closest with and that is fine with me! The right friendships last forever! I have been focusing on how I best serve my campus and have been trying to get my initiative kick-started. I actually get to finally meet with the USDA liaison for FAMU next week to discuss getting the initiative started!

Randall: How was your experience in Washington DC back in September?

Imani Cooper: So a part of the program being restructured due to a change in the leadership of the U.S. government, they decided to cancel the Annual HBCU Week Conference and downsize the conference in Washington, D.C to be just for the HBCU All-Stars. This conference is a milestone for all HBCU All-Star Ambassadors as this is our chance to network amongst not only each other but with valuable government agencies and representatives.  At the conference, that is our time to network with the right individuals to get our initiative started and ask for the resources needed to make it happen. Ambassadors prepare themselves all the way for this one week! I’m talking business cards, resumes, and outfits on fleek! I came ready with all of it, and even had a custom –made HBCU All-Star polo made by All-Star, Briona Adams. Upon arriving to the conference, after previously getting to meet you and Lea at the airport, we were all welcomed by a few other All-Stars that had arrived before us. All excited and ready for the three-day adventure in D.C. we all quickly got settled and reviewed over our day of activities planned for us. We were going to have a jam-packed three days but it would serve for some great memories in the end! I had the pleasure of meeting many great people like Fort Valley State University’s Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Stuart, and several representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture. We also got to meet some not so appreciated faces lol, Betsy DeVos and Omarosa Manigault, who were quite the talk amongst us All-Stars! Although the conference was downsized, we all still had a great time getting to finally see the faces behind the GroupMe messages lol, and it made it hard to leave everyone to go back to our respective campuses and continue in our leadership.

Randall: Tell us about your Initiative! Is there anything we can do to help?

Imani Cooper: My initiative is food assistantship and bringing awareness to the various governmental programs that are offered for those in need. Since my major is centered around agriculture, I had a passion for food supply and resource for those that do not have access to it. Food is the basic necessity of life and health, so I value it so much and desire that everyone have equal access and opportunity to it. As far as help, once I get my initiative going I would love for you all to spread the word to the students on your campus and in your community and let them know what is available to them! I have an event surrounded my Initiative coming up at the end of this month so stay tuned!

Randall: So, you’re an Instagram celebrity! Tell us how that feels? Lol You know I was going to ask that! 🙂

Imani Cooper: I KNEW this question was coming LOL!! But like I have said before, I honestly do not see myself as an Instagram celebrity…I use my social media as a platform for my life, my experiences and my stories and whoever chooses to follow…cool! I have never been the one to get hyped over the number of followers or likes that I get on a picture, but moreso what people take away from my posts. It is a really great feeling to know that people actually pay attention to the things I post and say! Also, creates for some pressure to uphold an effective social media platform. I do like to keep it real though with the things that I do post, and I am learning to be more transparent to those around me to show them that I am a real person with real issues!

Randall: How can readers get in contact with you?

Imani Cooper: Of course you guys can follow me on Instagram @_faithfullyimani , Twitter @_faithfullymani and SnapChat @imani_hadiya. My email is [email protected] I am working on being more consistent in my posts so be on the look out! Lol

Randall: Imani, I want to once again thank you so much for doing this interview with me! I also want to thank you so much for being a great friend to me over the few months that I’ve known you. You’ve truly been a catalyst to my growth and you’ve grown my respect for black women. You’re one of the most amazing women that I’ve ever met and don’t let anyone tell you differently! You’re beautiful, intelligent and have a passion for your HBCU! But, most importantly, you have a caring heart. Many times, that’s what a lot of lack in this generation. You truly want to be a servant leader. I’m so blessed to know you and I wanted to say that in front of the nation and the world! Keep shining Queen! I pray that we can grow to be lifelong friends and I think that we’re on the right track! 🙂

Imani Cooper: : Randall!! Thank you soo soo much for your constant encouragement and support! Like I’ve said, you are a true gem and I am so grateful that I was able to meet you in my life journey. I look forward to the future with you and see how God will continue to grow you as a person, leader and professional! Continue to inspire me as you have done…you are truly amazing and humble!!!

 

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