The team at BookNook recently had the opportunity to hear Arshay Cooper speak about the importance of taking small steps and making them count for your community. Arshay grew up on the West Side of Chicago. In 1997 he joined—and later became captain of—the country’s first all-Black high school rowing team at Manley High School, an experience that changed his life.
He shared his insights on how working together as a team and being an authentic leader can help us achieve our goals and transform young people’s lives.
First and foremost, Arshay emphasized the importance of taking that one small step by “laying one brick the best way you can, rather than trying to build the whole bridge alone.” He explained that many of us tend to get overwhelmed by the sheer size of community need, and the amount of work required to achieve positive change. Working together as a team is another crucial aspect of making our small steps count. Drawing a connection to rowing, Arshay emphasized that “you cannot do the work of eight people—the challenge is to get eight people to do their work as one.”
“His message reminded all of us that a winning crew isn’t possible without every single person on the team getting at least one thing right. We all must figure out what our absolute one thing is, own it, know it matters, and make things happen no matter where things were when you started.
Tamara Fentress, Chief Administrative Officer
He also encouraged us as educators, reminding us to “make small dreams come true, in order to make room for the big dreams.” This means delivering on those small victories along the way, as it is a reminder of our progress and a source of inspiration to keep going to reach for the bigger dreams we all have, but especially children. For example, working hard to meet our mission to help kids read better so that they can go on to achieve their bigger dreams in life!
Finally, Arshay talked about the role of leadership in making our small steps count. He explained that leaders are the ones who set the direction, motivate the team, and provide guidance and support along the way. He encouraged us to be authentic leaders in our own lives, to take initiative and make things happen, and to inspire others to do the same.
“Arshay was profoundly inspirational, a true reminder that stepping up in education is as simple as making one thing better for those that come behind us—don’t give up!”
Lanell White, Senior Director of Demand Generation
Arshay’s speech was a powerful reminder of the importance of the power we all have to make change and that “it’s okay to look back, as long as you keep pushing forward.”
BookNook is on a mission to ensure equitable access to life-changing literacy interventions that address disparities in reading achievement. By working together as a team and partnering with districts across the nation, we can achieve our goals and make a positive impact in the world.
Arshay Cooper’s award-winning memoir chronicling his high school rowing career, “A Most Beautiful Thing,” can be found anywhere books are sold, or at your local library. The film is also now available for streaming.
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