Dara Monifah Cooper was born and raised on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. I graduated from Charlotte Amalie High School in 1997 after attending the University of the Virgin Islands(UVI) with a full scholarship as the only early admission student to during my senior year of 1996-1997. My educational career included completion of a B.A. in Communication focusing on writing and photo-journalism, but specializing in Layout and Publication Design with concentrations in both Music and Art.
Between 2004 – 2008, I served in various student and temporary positions within the UVI Cooperative Extension Service office, not only in my original capacity as a Graphic Designer, but also assisting in other research and public service areas ranging from Communications and 4-H/Family & Consumer Sciences. After receiving my degree, it was during my leading role as Project Assistant for the ANR AgriTourism Project that I was promoted into a permanent position as an Extension Agent.
As a multi-talented artist, community organizer and educator, I have collaboratively participated in various activities with various volunteer organizations either as an organizer, facilitator, graphic artist, photographer, news writer etc. My past and current employment experiences with youth generally include teaching in the subject areas of music, arts and crafts, technology, culture and history as well as various forms of expressive or performance arts.
I’ve also volunteered as a freelance Graphic Designer/Community Organizer with a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and regional organizations, including The Rock Collective (Outreach, Media & Communications), Per Ankh, Inc. (Outreach, Media &Communications), has served on the Department of Human Services Consumer Advisory Committee, Project Safe Neighborhoods VI, VI Anti-Gang Committee, and have served as a Family Resource Center V.I. Victim Advocate among other things. I also serve as the Advisor to the UVI Student Government Association “Black” Heritage Committee and The Writer’s Block student poets and creative artists club.
My long range employment vision is to assist the CES unit with widening their outreach abilities through the use of various social media sources, publications and technology, including but not limited to print publications, audio, video, eXtension.org© online distance education, television and radio programs, in-school and after school visits and other initiatives through both off and on campus networking. I learn, use and teach up-to-date software to produce various programs, publications and learning materials for public education and/or the educating of students, faculty and staff, and have worked on developing curriculum materials for using multi-sensory media to teach and share information in the various areas at levels from Pre-K through the university level in the Caribbean, on the U.S.mainland and abroad.
I am the natural mother of three, but plays vital mentorship roles in various youth organizations. For years I had aspired to collaboratively create a cultural education centered charter school, afterschool program or weekend initiative where along with other local artists and culture bearers, Virgin Islands students and tourists would be able to learn from and pass on trades and crafts to youth of all ages in order to insure the preservation and documentation of our heritage. At this institution I envisioned using the arts to teach youth and strengthen their emotional maturity /judgment, leadership abilities, adaptability, communication skills, enthusiasm and energy, self-confidence, respect for elders/authority, and others, but especially themselves. I feel this also would help them to have a better appreciation for their families, environments, nature and the other integral partners of our planet.
Through my non-profit, KWANZAA365, I created the Sankofa Saturdays Youth Cultural Education Initiative which focuses on volunteer community documentation work generally including the passing on of cultural education through use of various media, technology, arts or cultural and historical projects. In order to facilitate her work I have written and received grants, partnered with or gained support from various local agencies including the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts, the VI Lottery Youth Enrichment Initiative, the V. I. Academic and Cultural Endowment Scholarship, First Lady Cecille deJongh and is co-managed by Per Ankh Institute which serves as a fiduciary. As a group, we’ve also traveled throughout the territory to different cultural events where the Sankofa Saturdays students serve as the ‘youth media team’ in cultural tours, nature walks, conferences, poetry readings and other arts or cultural education activities throughout the territory. They then post pictures, comments, audio and video on their social media to share what they’ve learned with the world during their weekly radio program on UVI’s Student Radio Station WUVI.
Previously, Sankofa Saturdays has teamed up with friends TmeedEl Ben Israel, PJ Crosby, Naptali, Larry Bryant, Jalani Horton and others to teach poetry, creative writing, story-telling and performance, photography/videography, social media, web design/management and more using digital multi-media as another opportunity for them to feel proud about what they create directly related to their cultural heritage. There was usually a public presentation planned after which the youth had begun to record an album, but in an unfortunate accident, the audio was lost. They also had begun a series of multi-media photo exhibits (the 1st one was held at the Reichhold Center for the Arts in 2012) to display some of the photos, videos, creative writing that the students have captured and created over time as well as to provide a public opportunity for them to share their other accomplishments and talents. Students also share their work at The Rock Lounge, a monthly open mic experience for the arts.
Lastly, I firmly believe in the importance of documenting experiences for the purposes of cultural preservation along with organizational, historical and personal importance. Thus, I encourage students (everyone) to save and share memories of their experiences through the use of newsletters, photojournalism, presentations, collages, scrap-booking etc. I have as well been working on putting out my own first collection of poetry, photography and writings in a printed, digital and audio format… eventually. 🙂
There’s much more to come from my work with UVI, CES, WUVI, KWANZAA365 & the Sankofa Saturdays Youth Cultural Education Initiative as they continue “Passing on the torch of culture bearing and preserving (traditions and values) through experiences in the arts, cultural education, and community service” in their effort to, “Help us help the youth of the Virgin Islands remember and respect themselves and their community through Cultural Education!”