Arshay Cooper recounted his experience as a member of the first all-Black high school rowing team in a memoir titled ‘A Most Beautiful Thing.’
The memoir is also the subject of a new documentary directed by former Olympic rower Mary Mazzio.
Cooper’s memoir portrays his experience growing up on the West Side of Chicago in a neighborhood surrounded by gang violence, and the unlikely circumstances that led him to join his high school’s newly created rowing team in the late Nineties. “I would go and speak, and a lot of kids would ask me how do you become successful when you live in a neighborhood that doesn’t have a lot of resources? And I talked about how rowing was my way,” says Cooper.
“It was such a wealthy, first-class affluent sport. We only raced with very wealthy high school kids. And there was this new world that we see that was different from ours: almost like a different America in the way that they lived and the way we live,” he says. “We joined this sport and we became a team, started traveling, and it was different guys from different gangs in one boat. [The book is about] how we bonded and became a brotherhood through the sport of rowing. And the impact that we not only made in our lives and our schools, and how the sport moves us.”
“The ultimate goal is to make sure that these rowing teams reflect the diversity in their cities,” says Cooper, who has his eye on an even bigger win: a more diverse Olympic rowing team. “In the 100-plus years of rowing, there’s only been five [Black] Olympians,” he adds. “But now there’s more and more Black folks rowing.”
Tap the link in bio for the full interview.