Leadership Project Profiles
Feature excerpts at a glance
Originally printed 5/31/2012 (Issue 2022 - Between The Lines News)
Desiree Cooper is a lawyer, an award-winning columnist and a former public radio personality. She is currently a new media content specialist who helps non-profits communicate the extraordinary impact they have upon the people they serve.
A columnist with the Detroit Free Press for 11 years, Cooper was nominated for a Pulitzer in 2000 and 2001, for her coverage of the trial of Nathaniel Abraham, an 11-year-old in Pontiac who was tried as an adult for murder.
Cooper has been a frequent commentator for National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," the BBC's "Americana," and WNET's "Need to Know." She has also co-hosted and served as senior correspondent for the American Public Media's "Weekend America."
She is also an award-winning fiction writer. Her short story, "Night Coming," is included in Best African American Fiction 2010, guest edited by Nikki Giovanni. Her novella, "New Birth" was included in Other People's Skin, (Atria 2007). Cooper's interest in the human condition was shaped by her childhood as an Air Force dependent. Born in Itazuke, Japan, she spent nine of her formative years living on three different Japanese islands. She also has lived in Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, Maryland and Michigan.
Cooper graduated magna cum laude from the University of Maryland in 1981 with a double major in journalism and economics, and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Kappa Alpha. She obtained her law degree from the University of Virginia in 1984. She and her family reside in suburban Detroit.
Cooper has written all the original profiles for the LGBT Leadership of Color Project.
From closeted activist to Detroit dynamo: Kirsten Ussery
Detroiter Kirsten Ussery is not afraid of a challenge. At 32, she has been a public relations specialist for Yazaki North America, Inc., a tier-one, global, automotive supplier. She has been an account executive with a major public relations firm and led communications strategies for Business Leaders for Michigan, a roundtable of Michigan's top business executives. She directed communications for the Downtown Detroit Partnership, an organization of the city's most influential leaders. Today, she is a media specialist for Charles Pugh, president of the Detroit City Council. In her free time, she is a wife and a community activist.
"People are still afraid about their jobs and their families," she said about the issue of coming out. "We need to help people get out of the closet. We need to grow more leaders -- there's a lot of potential out there."
Area activist challenges notions of privilege: Rosemary Linares
Rosemary Linares is a bubbly 29-year-old with a master's degree from New York University, a supportive husband and an adorable stepson. From the outside, it looks like she has it all -- including what she calls "heterosexual privilege."
"I can share in my husband's benefits, I can determine his medical treatment if necessary," she said. "I can be accepted in circles as an 'ordinary' wife and mother."
What is not so obvious is that Linares is a bisexual Latina. "I'm used to straddling identities," said Linares, president of Cross Movement Social Justice Consulting, L3C in Ann Arbor. "I identify as Latina because I'm half Cuban, but my heritage is not obvious when you see me. I identify as queer and bi-sexual, but I'm in a heterosexual marriage. I live between identities."
"The motto for my alma mater Antioch College is 'Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity,'" she said. "For me, fighting for social change is a lifetime commitment."
Social activist challenges groups to create safe spaced for all: Adrienne Maree Brown
"I help social justice groups align themselves with their vision," said the 33-year-old Detroit resident. "So much is wasted on small, petty things, or harboring bitterness, grief and trauma. I try to exorcise those feelings."
The work of healing progressive movements requires Brown to be everything from an organizational guru, to a facilitator, networker and life coach. Since her early 20s, she has worked on the ground floor of social movements in order to hone her skills. From 2006 to 2010, she was the executive director of The Ruckus Society, a California-based organization that trains activists in non-violent direct action.
Through her work in Detroit, Brown met Invincible, the Detroit rapper who is now her same-sex partner. "My father used to say that he'd always dream I'd fall for someone like him," said Brown. "Well, I have."
In 2010, she was a co-host for the U.S. Social Forum that brought thousands of progressive activists to the city.
"The evolutionary goal is to live openly in all spaces without compromise," said Brown. "Once you can be open about one thing, you can open the gate to other things. That's how new kinds of families, traditions and ideas can emerge. One of the biggest mistakes we make as a society is trying to pull the conversations apart, as if racism isn't related to sexism which isn't related to homophobia."
To those who have much, activist finding meaning in giving back: Royale Theus
For Detroit native Royale Theus, now 30, life has been a series of curveballs.
At 18, he was eager to get out into the world and experience life. He worked at FOCUS: Hope and then with the Detroit Health Department doing HIV testing and counseling in a mobile unit. By the age of 25, Theus was the program director at the Michigan AIDS Coalition.
When he was only 20-years-old, Theus discovered he was going to be a father. It wasn't exactly what he had planned for his future. "I had my son with my best friend," said Theus, who is gay. "Life happens."
Then, in 2005, his mother was in a head-on collision when she was driving to church. She survived, but she was diagnosed with dementia and a serious brain injury. So in addition to raising a son, he is the sole caretaker of his 62-year-old mother.
A year ago, his father was incarcerated for a violent crime -- at 90 years old. Diagnosed with dementia, his father served time in jail and was released into Theus's custody. Now he is also his dad's legal guardian.
It's a crushing responsibility, but Theus, takes his family demands in stride. "This is what I should be doing and I'm blessed to be able to do it. To those who much is given, much is required."
Leading by example: Tony Johnson
Johnson, 47, is disabled and lives on a fixed income. In 1993, he discovered that he was HIV-positive, but the virus has been undetectable in his blood since 2004. "I've come to terms with it, but I can't believe that there are still new cases being diagnosed," he said. "If I can save one person from getting it, it's worth it."
Johnson not only volunteers with KICK three full days a week, but he also serves at the United Sisters of Charity soup kitchen in Highland Park twice a week. He is also one of the founding members of a support group for HIV-positive veterans.
Johnson said he believes his life purpose is to make life better for others. He regularly shares little gifts with his fellow bus riders, or a joke with the people in the soup line. "At the soup kitchen they say that I'm always so happy," said Tony. "But you have to laugh to keep from crying. If they had to walk one day in my shoes, I don't think they could handle it."
Trans and triumphant, Local activist leads from the margins: Ryan Oliver
Ryan Oliver, 28, can tell you a thing or two about what it really means to be an African American man. At 28, Oliver's view of manhood has been hard-won. From his youth in a violent Detroit neighborhood, to his isolation as a black college student in a white environment, he has struggled to define himself and his masculinity. It's a challenge that's been even more daunting because Oliver is biologically female.
"I'm committed to there being a more visible trans movement in our society - a more confident movement," said Oliver, who is now a medical case manager at AIDS Partnership Michigan. "I've grown to learn more about my identity and to be OK with it. I want people to ask me questions and I want people to understand."
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A study published in the journal The Lancet HIV reports that there is a significant disparity in HIV prevalence between black and white men who have sex with men. The study was published on Nov. 18 and found a startling 32 percent prevalence rate for black men who have sex with men, compared with only eight percent for white men who have sex with men.View More World AIDS Day
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