Photos by Mike Adams
Growing up, Aaron Cooper thought he needed to choose between being black or being Jewish.
Cooper, now a freshman at Brown University, spoke about being raised by a Jewish mother and black father at the event “Blewish,” which drew more than 100 York College students and Pennsylvania community members to Marketview Arts.
The talk was hosted by York College Hillel, Unity Club, Allies Committed to Social Justice, Temple Beth Israel and the Office of Intercultural Student Life and Global Programming on Friday, Feb. 16.
“We wanted to bring together different cultural organizations at York College in a way that would appeal to both the campus and the community,” said David Bass, assistant director for Jewish Student Life at York College.
Cooper told the audience that when he was in kindergarten, he noticed that he was different from his classmates. He asked his mother when his hair would become like the hair of his peers.
It wasn’t until Cooper reached middle school that he began to realize that being different was O.K. He embraced his hair by growing dreadlocks, which served as a transitional period in his life and made him feel like, “The coolest kid at school,” drawing attention from many other students.
In high school, Cooper’s friends, aware of his Jewish identity, said that he wasn’t limited to connecting with a single identity. It was about expressing himself and discovering who he is and who he wanted to be.
Cooper began exploring his Jewish roots and soon became a leader in the Jewish youth organization BBYO.
Cooper said he hoped that his story inspired a sense of unity and helped other students who had a similar upbringing.
Attendee Jessika Roberts, who is African American, Caucasian and Native American, said she was able to connect to Cooper’s story.
“I felt a sense of understanding of my identities and a sense of comfort within myself knowing that people are multidimensional,” Roberts said. “We all have a lot of different characteristics and backgrounds that make us unique and individuals. Aaron Cooper shared his experiences with us in hope that we realize that you can be one in the same with both or all of your identities.”
-- Ally Lilly