Damion J. Cooper vividly recalls October 13, 1992 – the day he was shot in Baltimore. A moment in time that forever changed his life.
“I was in college back in early 90s, and on the wrestling team,” said Cooper. “I was walking home from wrestling to my mother’s house and didn’t realize I was being followed by two men. I turned around and one of the guys shot me point blank range just inches from my heart. I cracked my sternum and suffered other injuries. After getting shot, I became a very angry young man. After decades of living my life, I didn’t understand my emotions growing up in Baltimore City and just feeling pain. But I held it all in because it was a front of trying to ‘man up.’”
He added, “Over the years, all those feelings intensified, because I couldn’t understand the emotional pain, depression, and anxiety, I felt from being shot. I was always the good kid and the first in my family to get a full scholarship to college to wrestle. I lost it all the moment someone pulled the trigger and shot me.”
The Baltimore native also shared the events of December 31, 1996 – New Year’s Eve.
“People start firing off their guns,” he said. “I remember going to my mother and stepfather’s house and stealing his gun. I was going to take my life that night, but was waiting until midnight. Lucky for me, two of my closest friends who had no idea what I was about to do, came to my house and asked me to go to church with them. I didn’t want to go, but my friends weren’t going to leave. It was something I did not want to do because I literally blamed God for me getting shot. I just felt like He took everything away from me.”
Cooper added, “The word ‘but’ is used as a conjunction in The Bible and is my favorite word. “It tells us that if something bad happens, if you just hold on, a change will come.”
The Coppin State University graduate explained he grudgingly went to church with his friends with the idea of quietly easing out during the service.
“They took me to a church that was three blocks away from the place where I got shot.,” recalled Cooper. “So, I had to go back to my source of trauma. I had known the pastor of the church for years. But he brought in a guest minister to preach that night, who simply said to everybody, ‘I don’t care who you are or how much money you have, we’re all going to go through tough times.’ It felt like he was talking directly to me. He also talked about weeping enduring for a night but joy coming in the morning.”
While midnight for Cooper was to have marked when he would end his life, the moment would mark a new beginning.
“The guest minister informed us that at midnight, we were going to kneel and pray. He also said that if we felt compelled to give our life to Christ, raise our hand, and someone would come get us. I’ve never been a real emotional person, but I remember hugging this man and crying so hard, I was messing up his robe. I also remember him telling me, ‘Son, whatever you’ve gone through, let it go.’ I forgave the man who shot me even though I had no idea who he was and why he did it. That is the backstory of why I am doing the work that I am doing.”
Cooper is the founder of Project Pneuma, a holistic mentoring program teaching that teaches youth about the power of forgiveness, discipline, and self-control. Through the organization, Cooper uses his riveting story to reach fourth through eighth grade students, and help put them on the right track. Project Pneuma seeks to give young men tools to curb impulse actions from trauma, due to adverse childhood experiences.
Cooper was in the inaugural cohort of the BMe Public Voices Fellowship. The BMe Public Voices Fellowship was designed to improve the public discourse and related leadership decisions on important issues by training and supporting groups of expert Black practitioners to become vocal, published, and influential thought leaders.
“Project Pneuma started in 2014 from a seed funding from BMe,” said Cooper. “The organization liked the work I was doing in Baltimore with boys and men and awarded me $10,000.”
Since its inception, Project Pneuma has partnered with 23 schools and has served over 1,000 local boys. The core programming consists of social-emotional literacy, academic enrichment/tutoring, public speaking, physical fitness and more. Project Pneuma monitors the students’ attendance and report cards and aims to decrease suspensions. More information about Project Pneuma can be found at www.projectpneuma.org.
In turning around his life, Cooper would also attend seminary school, where he would find himself being tested again. He would come face-to-face with his shooter.
Coming next week: Part 2.