by Ace Epps

About 30 years ago, I had a job at Lentine’s Music. It was a family-owned, mom-and-pop retail store that sold musical instruments in the heart of North Hill on North Main Street. 

Akron has always provided me opportunities to live out my passions. From my days doing annual talent shows at the Civic Theater to working at 2 Live Music, this city has always opened her arms to me. Lentine’s, however, gave me the opportunity to meet new and interesting people.

Lentine’s was a haven for aspiring rock stars, hip-hop artists and jazz musicians. I met a lot of people during my years working there. My co-workers gave me a blueprint for networking and building relationships with a multitude of diverse people who frequented the store. As a credit and collection specialist, I would spend most of my time on phone calls trying to get weekend band members to pay their overdue bills — but what I really wanted to do is hang out and meet people. 

One of the most interesting people I met was DaMareo Cooper. DaMareo is now the Executive Director of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative and Stand Up for Ohio, which are statewide organizations dedicated to improving the lives of everyday Ohioans. However, when I met him at Lentine’s Music, DaMareo was fresh out of the Marines and back in Akron, contemplating his next move. DaMareo resembled my nephew. Both were tall and dark with smiles that lit up the room. 

As DaMareo played with a keyboard, I introduced myself. He told me that he was passing time waiting to pick up his two little brothers from the sitter. Ironically, my mother had been babysitting two little boys for our mail lady. It didn’t take long for us to realize that those little boys were his brothers, and DaMareo had been to my house several times without us ever meeting. 

DaMareo and I had music in common, but after hanging out, I realized that he had bigger ambitions. After inviting him to Kent State University to see a world-renowned poet and telling him about my past experiences in the Department of Pan-African Studies, he was hooked. He enrolled and quickly became a leader on campus. 

After graduation, DaMareo started an independent community center called The W.O.M.B. (Way of the Mind and Body). He has trained hundreds of community activists and has taken people to meet their legislators. As the Executive Director of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, DaMareo has played an integral role in shaping and developing electoral and community organizing campaigns across the state since 2008. His passion for organizing grew out of the love for the community in which he was raised and still lives — Akron, Ohio. 

DaMareo has spent his career working with leaders in communities of color and developing campaigns to address issues of race and economic inequality in our communities, starting from the grassroots. In 2016 he was selected into the BMe Genius Fellowship, a national network of Black males who contribute to better communities nationwide. There are a lot of people who have been featured on local radio, television and  newspapers. I think it’s time to celebrate one of Akron’s most charismatic thought leaders. So, DaMareo Cooper — keep doing what you do, and thank you for being you!

Ace Epps is Director of Inclusive Entrepreneurship at Bounce Innovation Hub and Host of Akron Community Voice on WAKR. Contact him at aepps@bouncehub.org and learn more about the radio show at www.akroncommunityvoice.org

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