By Griffin Swartzell
People always think Keyshon Cooks is older than he is — but the new community coordinator for the Colorado Springs Council of Neighbors and Organizations is only 23.
Cooks is a native of Colorado Springs’ Southeast. He graduated from Colorado State University in 2019 with a bachelor’s in communications and a minor in criminology. He’s been working for CONO for less than a month, but he describes pursuing their missions of community outreach and advocacy as a dream job. And he’s ready to hit the ground running.
“I just wish COVID-19 was over,” Cooks said. “I’m really excited to get into the community and [work with] all these people. I don’t feel like I’ll be able to make a full impact right now just because of COVID-19.”
One of his goals is to build generational wealth to pass on to his children, giving them a stronger economic starting point so they can give their children a stronger start — and so on down the line. It’s a concept he says he learned from his father and older brothers while growing up.
How does it feel to be as young as you are in your role?
It’s not really intimidating. It’s a little scary, knowing that I finally am where I wanted to be, and it happened so quick — so now it’s just time to adapt, but it’s not really intimidating. … I’m pretty excited for what is coming in the future. I’m excited, a little anxious, but not scared.
How did you get into this work?
When I was in college, I was in a program called the Center for Public Deliberation, and we did things like this for the city of Fort Collins. All of the students who were in the program … would lead or facilitate conversations in the Fort Collins communities for residents and … topics that they were concerned about in the community. A few examples are air pollution, land use, different things like that. I really liked doing that there. It really made me want to bring that skill set back to Colorado Springs because, you know, there’s a lot of issues that we have here. I always had a passion to work in the Southeast community. I grew up here so I just always want to give back to my community.
What does your day-to-day look like?
Right now, since we’re working from home, usually I have some phone calls, emailing people in the community, kind of introducing myself. That’s most of it right now — figuring out what we’re expected to with our grants and things like that.
What projects do you hope to be working on as you get more integrated with the organization?
I know there are a few that we already have. I’m not really sure if we’re going to be able to do them because of COVID-19. One project would be advocacy training. Another one would be working with Panorama Park [on Fountain Boulevard and Jet Wing Drive] because I really want to work with kids. And then another would be [the] Neighbor Up [program] because for that one, we pick someone’s house and we repaint it and fix a few things in the house. So I think that’d be pretty cool.
Tell us about the advocacy training that CONO does.
We do advocacy training for leaders in the community to help them learn how to become more involved in the community, teach them about the resources we have in our community and teach them how to be leaders in their communities. And so when we go into those communities or when people need help in those communities, we have someone we can pinpoint and give us ideas so that we can help, since they’re the ones who live in their community. That way … they can spread information faster or tell all of their other neighbors about the resources [available to them], things like that. … Since we can’t get to know everybody, we have those advocates in there to help everyone else.
Talk about some projects you’ve worked on in Fort Collins.
I also worked with another program at CSU called Key Communities. At first, this was a program I was part of as a first year student transitioning from the last year of high school. Then I became an ambassador for that program. I got to recruit students from all over the state, and I was speaking at student panels, speaking at CSU events, holding panels, sitting at the [Northern Colorado] Diversity Conference and doing a whole bunch of different things with Key Communities. That was also a huge part of why I also wanted to do the type of work [I’ll be doing with CONO] because I got to do a lot of the recruiting aspect, see how different communities are in different parts of the state, how different cities are part of the state.
What professional goals do you have?
I definitely want to make an impact in my community. … I would love to start up mentorships some day. I think it would be cool to have a mentorship for younger kids, 18 and younger. That would be one of my main professional goals right now, because my other two goals in life are to create generational wealth and help people in any ways that I can. I would like to use my professional platform to create generational wealth and help other people.
Talk about generational wealth and why that’s important to you.
It’s important to me because in this community in the Southeast, I noticed there’s not a whole lot of people who have a whole lot of assets … like real estate, property and cars, a lot of stuff like that. There’s not a lot of people who can establish generational wealth for them and their kids and their kids’ kids. … That’s something my brothers and my father talked to me about, [and if they hadn’t] I wouldn’t know about it either. I don’t know if too many people actually know what it is.
How big is the knowledge gap on things like generational wealth?
I think there’s a pretty big gap … just because we don’t learn that in school. I didn’t learn about that in high school; I didn’t learn about it in college either. My brothers were talking about it. I think there’s a huge gap of who [understands] generational wealth because of who can establish it, who can achieve it.
What unique skills do you bring to your new position? What skills make you stand out?
The thing that makes me stand out is relatability. Because I’m from this neighborhood, I’ve seen what it’s like, what different issues we face and how people perceive us. So I can relate to all of the people in this neighborhood, for the most part.
Do you think the absence of that relatability has made it harder [for other people] to do the kind of things that you’re trying to do for that part of town in the past?
I think relatability makes it easier. I think that since I can relate to the people in the community, more people will probably listen to me.