Growing up on Chicago’s Westside in the 1990s, Arshay Cooper needed a positive influence in his life.
He found it in a most unusual way for an inner-city youth – in the sport known as crew as part of a squad that made history as America’s first all-Black high school rowing team.
Cooper recounts the story in A Most Beautiful Thing, the 2022 One Book One Community selection.
Originally published with the title Suga Water, the book has been turned into an award-winning documentary from filmmaker Mary Mazzio that is narrated by Common and was produced by Grant Hill, Dwyane Wade, and 9th Wonder.
A Golden Oar recipient for his contributions to the sport of rowing, Cooper is also a Benjamin Franklin award-winning author, a motivational speaker, and an activist, particularly around issues of accessibility for low-income families.
A Most Beautiful Thing is the inspiring true story about the most unlikely band of brothers that form a family and forever change a sport and their lives for the better.
Cooper recounts his life as a teenager in Chicago where the street corners were full of gangs and the hallways of his apartment complex were haunted by drug addicts he called “zombies” with strung out arms, clutching at him as he passed by. His mother was a recovering addict, and his three siblings all slept in a one-room apartment, a small infantry against the war zone on the street below.
Cooper kept to himself, preferring to write poetry about the girl he had a crush on, and spent his school days in the home economics kitchen, dreaming of becoming a chef. And then one day as he’s walking out of school, he noticed a boat in the school lunchroom, and a poster that read “Join the Crew Team.”
Having no knowledge of the sport of crew, Cooper decided to take a chance. This decision to join was one that changed his life. As he and his teammates began to come together to learn how to row -- many never having been in water before -- the sport took them from the mean streets of Chicago to the hallowed halls of the Ivy League. But Cooper and his teammates face adversity at every turn, from racism, gang violence, and a sport that has never seen anyone like them before.
Cooper will visit Alliance on the evening of Thursday, March 31. Other One Book One Community programs leading up to the author’s visit will be announced at a later date.
Each year, the One Book One Community committee selects a book for an all-community read.
This year’s committee is Marcia Addison, Nicole Brown, Steve Daskalov, JoAnn Jones, Cheryl Paine, Libby Patterson, Carla Sarratt, Louise Schwartz, Chelsea Shar, Michael Zerbe, and Eric Taggart, who serves as chairman.
The selection for 2020 was Orphan Train, a novel by Christina Baker Kline. Other past One Book One Community selections include The Color of Water by James McBride, Riding the Bus with My Sister by Rachel Simon, Lisa’s Story by Tom Batiuk, Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy Tyson and What Stands in a Storm by Kim Cross.
One Book One Community, established in Alliance in 2004, is a collaborative undertaking of Rodman Public Library, the Friends of Rodman Public Library, the University of Mount Union, the Greater Alliance Foundation and The Alliance Review.
Books are available for purchase at Rodman Public Library and Rodman Branch Library The cost is $14.50 each. They are also be available at both facilities for a two-week loan for cardholders and via the Ohio Digital Library on the Libby and Overdrive apps for those who prefer to read a digital copy.