What Story will You Tell?

I have always been curious about the stories that shape people’s lives. Listening and hearing other’s stories help us connect to each other. In my role as CEO of Rogue Credit Union, I meet our new team members every two weeks. Sometimes it is one or two new team members and other times it might six to eight. While it is important that we share with them what Rogue Credit Union is all about…it is equally important that I learn what our team members are all about. Each new team member has a story, and I love to hear the stories that serve as the foundation of those that will serve you, our members. 

Our teams’ stories are diverse, rich and interesting.  I’ve learned about what it was like to grow up in an Alaskan village or moving from Virginia to Gold Beach to explore new opportunities. Often the stories I hear revolve around sacrifice and hope. Whether it is a story about their parents leaving Mexico to provide a better life for their family or the challenges of growing up as an Asian-American in a predominantly white, rural community at the end of the Vietnam War. 

We all have our stories about how we got to where we are in life. I have been told stories of my grandfather’s sacrifice by leaving a secure mill job on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington to move to Medford. He left Washington for the hope of a say in his future as a member of the cooperative that ran Med-Ply plywood mill in White City. 

I still credit his hope, sacrifice, and desire for self-determination through the cooperative spirit as the force that has drawn me to credit unions. That is also why I was drawn to the opportunity to partner with Chetco Federal Credit Union -- they were founded by the participants in another cooperative mill Brookings Plywood. As not-for-profit financial cooperatives, credit unions have always been about giving a voice and the power of many to individuals. The simple credit union principle of people helping people overcome financial inequity and put the power of their finances in their own hands is why I love what I do. 

So, as I take time to learn about our team, their stories of hope and sacrifice always stick with me. With today being June 19th, I was reminded of a powerful story that was told to me by Sidney Cooper Jr., our Treasurer. First, a little about Sidney…he moved from Southern California to the Rogue Valley for an opportunity for raise his family in a smaller community. Sidney has been instrumental in helping us safely invest the deposits you entrust to us. 

As I sat down to get to know Sidney, I learned about a childhood of seeing his father and mother work to bring their neighborhood together. His father was a barber, his mother was a hairdresser, and they also ran a fresh fruit and vegetable stand in San Diego. Sidney Cooper Sr became known as the “Mayor of Imperial Avenue” for his belief in the support of Black-owned businesses and giving back to the community. One of the ways that Sidney Sr. and his family celebrated their African-American heritage and culture was by an annual celebration of Juneteenth. Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

It was on June 19, 1865, that Union Soldiers landed in Galveston, TX with the news the war had ended, and the enslaved African-Americans were told they were free. That was more than two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln. This is an important story of sacrifice, hope and heritage for all of us to hear.

For Sidney Jr., he grew up in a family that worked to bring people together. What started as a small celebration over 50 years ago on the block with family businesses, has grown into an annual event celebrated by 3,000 San Diego residents. The event features educational programs, health screenings, food, vendors and lively cultural events. It was Sidney Sr.’s desire to bring his community together through this event. Fifty years later, the Cooper Family Foundation’s Juneteenth Celebration works to preserve the heritage of their historically Black neighborhood and welcome the multicultural aspects of the racially diverse community where they live.

The Cooper’s Juneteenth celebration started with a story that had to be told. Sidney Cooper Sr, his wife Thelma and their family shared the story with their community. The power of their influence for good for their community has only grown over the last fifty years. The important aspect to consider is that to create understanding, the Cooper’s shared their story with others, welcomed others to celebrate their heritage, and to share their stories of hope, sacrifice and self-determination. With an idea and a belief, Sidney Sr. is a powerful force for change by telling his story. 

I know that Sidney Cooper Jr. is proud of the stories people tell about his father. He works everyday through service to others to add another great story to the Cooper family lore. What story will the life you live tell for today…or even more importantly what stories will people tell about you fifty years from now?

Note: Many of the references for this story were taken from the Cooper Family Foundation website.