Chuck Cooper Foundation awards recognize Penguins, ex-QB Batch
Chuck Cooper III honors his father's barrier-breaking career with a foundation that celebrates his accolades beyond basketball.
A Westinghouse High graduate and Duquesne University All-American, Cooper was the first African-American to be drafted by an NBA team, the Boston Celtics, in 1950.
But he also earned a master's degree in social work from the University of Minnesota and later became the City of Pittsburgh's first African-American department head as the director of the Parks & Recreation Department in 1970.
His son is proud to say the Chuck Cooper Foundation has awarded $106,500 over six years in scholarships and book stipends to 26 graduate-level students, some of whom were honored Tuesday at Consol Energy Center's Lexus Club.
“I look around this room and can feel my dad's legacy is alive ... in each and every young man and woman here today,” said Cooper, foundation founder and president. “If he were alive today, I know my father would be extremely humbed by what has taken place in his honor. But even more than that, I know that he would be incredibly proud of what we have done for our future.”
The Trailblazer Award was presented to the Penguins, who have partnered with the foundation to play host to the awards luncheon.
Penguins chief operating officer Travis Williams approached Cooper about getting involved with his foundation four years ago.
“It's been incredible,” Cooper said. “To been able to award $107,000 in just four short years, there's no way we could have done that without corporate partners. The Penguins and Travis Williams have led that charge, and it's been just unreal. We appreciate their efforts because we couldn't do it without them.”
Williams said he was “immediately drawn to the mission of the foundation and what it stood for,” that its honoring of students resonated with what the Penguins and their foundation want to accomplish.
The Penguins want to raise visibility and money for the cause, noting that 35 percent of new hires for Consol Energy Center were minorities.
“We can all learn something from Chuck Cooper's legacy: Diversity matters. Diversity in the workforce. Diversity in contracting. Diversity in opportunity,” Williams said. “It's not only the right thing to do, but it creates the right results. The Penguins organization has prided itself on creating this type of environment, where diversity matters.”
The foundation also honored former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch with its leadership, diversity and community service award for the work he does with his foundation, Best of the Batch.
Since 1999, Batch has provided a summer basketball league, reading and literacy programs and backpacks and supplies to students in his native Homestead. His inspiration came after his 17-year-old sister was shot and killed when caught in crossfire between rival gangs.
“It's so important to have someone who has accomplished so much on and off the field to have that sense of pride and humanity to give back to the community and the people,” Cooper said. “We live in a tumultuous time right now, and I applaud his efforts. He's been doing it a long time. The work he's doing in the community is tremendous and I look forward to the opportunity to collaborate so we can reach more people.”