Residents of Ward 4, the D.C. Council seat AJ Cooper was campaigning for before is untimely death, gathered on the corner of Georgia Avenue and Kennedy Street in Northwest for the third annual Feed the Needy barbeque and birthday celebration. (Photo by LaTrina Antoine )
A.J. Cooper III, a young political leader running for the Ward 4 D.C. Council seat in the April 28 special election, died unexpectedly on Dec. 3, 2014. Cooper’s fiancée, Ryan Palmer, held a series of events in the city on Aug. 16-17 to honor the man she loved. The events were also posted on social media under #givelike AJCIII. “
Jay had a strong sense of service and we wanted to continue that,” Palmer said during the Aug. 16 barbecue at the intersection of Kennedy and Illinois Streets in Northwest D.C. “This is the third time we have this barbecue and the first time we’ve done without him. There was so much momentum for doing this cookout that it would be a dishonor to his memory not to continue it.”
Cooper was the son of former Pritchard, Alabama Mayor Algernon Johnson Cooper, the first Black in that state to lead a majority-White city, and the nephew of Peggy Cooper Cafritz, the former president of the D.C. Board of Education. He was a former host of BET’s Teen Summit program and served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Cooper graduated from the District’s Theodore Roosevelt High School and got his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland in 2009. He worked for several years as the policy director for the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
He ran unsuccessfully for one of the two D.C. Council at-large seats in 2012 as an independent and moved toward running in the April 23, 2013 special election for the vacated at-large seat on the council but bowed out to support Elissa Silverman.
Cooper was involved in an urban farming initiative to grow food at the St. Elizabeths Hospital complex in Ward 8 for low-income residents and at charter schools throughout the city. Cooper died of a heart attack at the age of 34.
On Aug. 17, his birthday, there was a Martha’s Table Summer Market at the Browne Educational Campus where fresh fruits and vegetables were available to the general public in the afternoon. In the evening there was a community speak out on housing at the John A. Wilson Building. Silverman, elected to the council in November 2014, and her colleague, D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) were prominent at the Martha’s Table event.
Silverman served food at the barbecue along with Ward 4 community leaders including Robert White, president of the Brightwood Citizens Association.
“I was inspired by A.J. Cooper,” White said. “He was a friend of mine and I admired his spirit of giving.”
Tiffani Johnson, a resident of Ward 4, said that if Cooper was still alive, he would be on the D.C. Council. “I like Brandon Todd and Mayor Muriel Bowser, but I think, like a lot of people, that he would have won that council seat if he lived,” Johnson said. “I was at his kickoff rally last year and the community really believed in him. It was A.J.’s time on the council dais.”
Former Ward 8 D.C. Board of Education member Trayon White came to Northwest to the barbecue to remember Cooper. “A.J. Cooper was the epitome of selflessness,” White said. “We worked on projects together and he was a true warrior for the people.”
Ward 4 resident Christopher Proctor attended the cookout and said he didn’t know Cooper, but thought that he must have been someone special. “When I heard his name in the community and the way people talked about him, I thought he was running for mayor,” Proctor said. “I like this event though. All types of people, the elderly, young people, Black people, White people, are coming together and eating good food and I like that.”