Umoja hosts speaker; motivation ensues


Dakotah Zabroski

Umoja guest speaker San Francisco State Professor delivers motivational speech.

San Francisco State professor Jamal Cooks delivered a motivational speech to the Umoja program that students could relate to.

Cooks started off in the not so nice part of Oakland but overcame adversity and is currently only the second African-American professor to be tenured at San Francisco State.

Cooks discusses what he had to overcome to be successful and admits that balancing the line between friends and staying focused was difficult.  Cooks discusses the “hood” philosophy and how there were four options for the kids of his neighborhood. The options were to sell drugs, rap, play sports, or go to school. Ultimately he saw what was happening to his friends and he didn’t want the same fate, so he chose to educate himself.

“At the end of the day, my attitude is always what’s the alternative? What’s the other option? If the other option or alternative is not better than what you’re already doing then you need to just stick at that,’ said Cooks

In his speech Cooks admits to his flaws and mistakes but was motivated enough to overcome them.  When he attended College at the University of Berkeley he admitted to heavy partying and how it affected him. To compensate for his partying he finished his last semester taking on 22 units as well as working a job.

“I think the toughest thing was staying on the right path and being an academic, staying on the right path socially, staying on the right path all the way around,” said Cooks.

After attending Berkeley, Cooks wanted to get his Ph.D. so he applied to Michigan, Ohio St., Columbia, as well as Harvard. Despite being accepted into prestigious Harvard, Cooks went to Michigan because they offered him a full-ride scholarship.

The San Francisco State professor was proud to give his speech to students.

“It’s vital, as a professor, you can get very worked up and caught up in doing research, teaching, traveling, consulting and doing all that but for me this is what is most important because this is the next generation of future educators, future doctors, future lawyers and hopefully if my journey can inspire them to get over the hump, or to overcome some challenges, and to get clearer about what there career objectives are, then I think it’s well worth it,” said Cooks.

The audience was moved by the speech and felt the importance of the message.

“It means a lot to me, I think it was a great opportunity for them to hear someone whose had a lot of academic success who comes from an area that a lot of them are familiar with,” said Jamila Stewart, program assistant for the Umoja scholars program.

The students felt the impact of the speech immediately and are motivated to take action.

“It’s very motivating, it gives me a lot of inspiration…he gave me a whole bunch of inspiration and to just keep going and not quit,” said Student Renee Washington. Fellow student Teniesha Little adds “It gives inspiration that you can do it no matter what, no matter where you grew up at, no matter what you’ve seen, your mindset has to be your determination”

Cooks gave many words of advice such as “don’t make up an excuse to quit,” to motivate students and his passion about telling his story.

“I enjoy the idea of being able to come and talk to students like this and help motivate people to be able to meet whatever their goals and dreams are,” said Cooks.