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Samuel Wagner Cooke

Samuel Wagner Cooke

Graduated with a Secondary Education Degree. Fled during the Civil War and settled in Minnesota, where he received a Masters degree and works in the Robbinsdale School District.

Born: Talla, Liberia
Heritage: Liberian

Samuel Wagner Cooke

Graduated with a Secondary Education Degree. Fled during the Civil War and settled in Minnesota, where he received a Masters degree and works in the Robbinsdale School District.

My name is Samuel Wagner Cooke. I also have a play-name that my dad gave me called Congo-boy. I was born in a little town called Talla and Talla is located in Grand Cape Mount County, the Republic of Liberia, West Africa.

I was born on May 5th, 1955 unto the union of the late Daniel Victor Nathaniel Cooke and Madam Mousou Cooke.

At the age of you guys or maybe younger for some of you, my dad took me away from my mother and gave me to one of his sisters, in fact, his older sister. It’s a common thing in Africa where you have too many kids and we are many, some of whom have died. Your parents gave you out to his siblings or her siblings to bring you up. So I was reared by my aunt.

She was very inspirational and instrumental in getting me to where I am today. She introduced me to the Christian faith and I’m a Baptist by religion, a Baptist Deacon.
I grew up in a home with my aunt and her husband and some of her children. She took me in as one of her own kids. Sent me to elementary school. The school I went to was called The Mettadis Elementary School in Talla, private, parochial.

When I graduated from the elementary school, like you’ll be leaving in the fifth grade to go into middle school, for us in Liberia, you go up to sixth grade before you leave elementary school to go to middle school. Middle school starts at seventh grade.

So you take national exams like Minnesota exams to move from grade six to grade seven. We were five kids in that room and we sat for those exams. We all pass and so I move to middle school. We call that junior high school back in Africa.

I was still under the care of my aunt. She taught me how to cook; how to wash clothes with her. At the time, we didn’t have laundry machines so we wash it with our hands. We wash with our hands and washing bowls, wooden bowls.

She taught me how to cook, how to clean her home, and everything else that a man or a woman would do around the home.

I still have those traits in me with the exception of cooking. And I will tell you in a short while the reasons I forgot about cooking.

But I was happy being around. She loved me, her husband loved me until he passed away. And we were there. She took me like one of her own like I was her youngest son. We lived there together.

When I moved to middle school, she sent me to another town, which is like the city for that county. I was there for a year and a half. I didn’t like the environment. I live with one of my first cousins who happened to be one of her daughters.

But life wasn’t going the way I wanted it to go. All of the kids and support of the services I had with her, I wasn’t getting the attention. I wasn’t like some of you do, I wasn’t getting that attention from my cousin and her husband.

So I told my aunt that I wanted to come back to our little town. By then, we had a middle school built by a private person who married a husband from Ohio and they had moved there as missionaries. So they build this private middle school and I enrolled into it.

When I graduated in 1972 from middle school to go to senior high school, a secondary school, I told my late father that I didn’t want to go back to that city because of the experiences I had so I chose to enroll to a boarding institution.

And it was one of those unusual boarding institutions. What do I mean by that? At this institution, I was now beginning to learn how to be an elementary school teacher and at the same time, doing my secondary ed courses.

So I was taking like 18 – 20 courses per term, not the usual high school. I was being taught to be an elementary school teacher to teach in the rural areas of Liberia, what we call back-country here. And become a high school graduate.

So I went on until ? in early ’72, ’73, ’74. And I graduated with a C-certificate. Grade C-Certificate in elementary school teaching in the Republic of Liberia.

When I graduated, I was assigned outside of my home area. But my late father called me aside, being an astute politician himself, he called me aside and warned me. He suggested to me that I should go back home and work because in the future, it would be like now, if I were home, I’d have the desire to be a member of Congress or wanted to be a commissioner or superintendent or whatever you call it in politics. So he said, it’s better that you come by who works so that people will know you or people will know you better to prepare you for the future. So I listened to him and I went back home between the years of 1975 and 1979. I taught in the elementary school that I attended back home town for four or five years.

Then he died in 1977. My aunt was still alive. I wasn’t living with her again. I’m a grown man living on my own. I had emancipated as you call it here. But I still received support from my aunt like she was my maternal mom. I was distance away from my mother. I had not seen her. I didn’t know her for years and she didn’t know me. Strange as that story may be.

But at some point in time, I got introduced back to my mother through one of my aunts and when I located her, it took more than five hours before she could recognize me.

Of course, evidently, I didn’t know her at all. And when she got to know me, she wept. Everyone around her wept. And since then, always been in touch with my mother.

My aunt passed away after my dad passed away in 1977. My aunt pass away about five years later when I was in college doing my undergrad studies.

Again, enrolled in a teacher’s training institution. I went to do secondary education. I had done Elementary Ed and then I proceeded to do Secondary Ed at the only state teachers college in Liberia. I enrolled.

My aunt died when I was a junior. I came for her funeral from the city and we bury her. I paid a tribute I could pay and I became a man on my own. No dad, no aunt because my aunt was like my mom; I was just getting used to my mother then. She was far away from me.

But I began to live on my own. Graduated from the University with my Secondary Ed degree. I was scheduled to travel to do what you call studies in population at the Carol Demographic Center. That would have started in early 1984.

But like my father was dreaming, maybe he was prophesizing for the future. The leadership of the county where I come from called me to reopen the only public high school they had in there as first principal after seven years of closure.

So I willing agreed and put on table my trip to go to Carol. And I went down to open that school. I would be more than glad to show you guys the pictures later. I was there for seven years until the war. I work with Peace Corps from America. I work with Peace Corps from Japan. We worked together and built an annex to the school, which still stands today.

Some of my students are right here in the state of Minnesota working with banks, some are in the nursing field. If I told my age like I just told you, they say, “No, you are not that age.”

Some of the students call me when they see me on Facebook or other social media. They go, “When are you going to get old?”And I tell them, “Well, God’s still got me here for a reason.” Then they ask me, “What I the formula? And I tell them some basic formula.

Maximize the best in life. And so I do. That’s all I do. As you grow older, you’ll discover what I’m talking about. For now, you may not know.

But, after seven years at that school, we produce a lot of men and women some of whom are serving in different positions of government, some are here working in this country.

The war enter Liberia. The Civil War, if you heard about it. And that war lasted for almost ten years. It closed all the schools down. I travel during the course of the war. I finally found myself in Monrovia like you would do for Washington, D.C. here.

We don’t have a Federation, we have like one state and counties like Hennepin, Scott, Ramsey. So I travel to Monrovia and I got myself attached to the National Teachers Association. Like you have education in Minnesota. And I serve as Research Director and later became Secretary General.

In that position, as Secretary General of the Association, I was also elected to another international body called the West African’s Examination Council. What we do, we develop policies, examination policies for five member-countries in West Africa, the English-speaking countries in West Africa.

That’s Liberia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia, and Nigeria. And we had the opportunity to travel around all of these countries. At the time I was the youngest on council. Everybody there used to like me. They used to spoon-feed me, you know, they’d pay a lot of attention to me for being the youngest.

But I did make my contribution and my presence felt. Basically, on this council, we developed policies for teachers or professionals in the field of education to draw up test questions for elementary school students, for middle school students, and secondary school students to take.

Unlike here, back in Liberia, every kid that is the sixth grade is supposed to be moving on to the seventh grade, which is middle school for us there, sit and pass an exam that takes you from sixth grade to middle-school seventh grade. If you don’t pass it, you are not moving ahead.

That’s abrading for most parents because they buy uniform, they buy books, buy notebooks, buy pencils, it’s not free. Everything is paid for [by the parents]. So you have to do your best. Everybody doesn’t pass, but people aspire to pass, you know, they try to do their best to go ahead.

Aside from those policies will determine each member country who runs the head-offices, the type of exams that should be given, when those exams are to be given, how much fees are to be charged for those exams. So I played that role until I came over here.

My last visit was to Abuja, Nigeria, the federal capital territory for the Federacy of Nigeria. It’s one of the largest countries and I think and I believe the largest population in Africa, about a hundred-million people. [174,000,000 people]

But I was there, last place in 1998. In September of 1998, I had the opportunity to come here and represent the teachers of Liberia to solicit for assistance for the teachers coming out of our Civil War.

I attended a meeting in Washington, D.C. and we had an ? administration called Education International that raises/reaches the American Federation of Teachers, Education Minnesota, and all of the other teacher organization around this country.

At the end of the meeting, I called my sisters who stay in Minnesota and I told them look, I don’t want to go back. And they paid my way from Washington, D.C. to come to Minnesota and I stayed here and left my kids behind. That’s the portion I left out of this story.

But I have kids that have grown. Six living children: one girl, five boys. I met my wife with one son, so basically I have seven children. Five are here now currently in the United States. I still have two boys back in Africa. They are all grown ups. I have grandchildren, seven grandchildren.

My mother is still alive. I have 29 brothers and sisters, these are siblings from my dad. So I’m from a high-fertility family. We bond a whole lot. And if you count us right in the state of Minnesota, there’s ? for us. Family members, I mean, extensions, cousins, and nieces and nephews.

I’m highly religious and permit me to say it’s because that’s how I was brought up. I was brought up the Old Way. I didn’t have to just walk in a church house, like some of you may have gone through that experience. They don’t throw water on my head, no.

I went through the old form In the southern area. I had to go down on your knees for days, sometimes without food, seeking for that religion, seeking for that transition.

I became baptized in the lake one early Sunday morning, not in a tub, in the lake. I’m from a very big lake, Lake Piso, largest lake in Liberia. And I became a Baptist member, became a Baptist deacon subsequently. And before the war, I became a Baptist licensure. And who is a licensure? The one who performs in the absence of a Baptist preacher.

I have married folks out, I have buried people, and you name it. I can counsel people, of course I don’t counsel myself, but I do for other people.

And that’s why if you find me around just laughing, it’s where I take these attributes. They don’t just come easy, they come over the years from practice and from association.

There will be other things I have left out and maybe subsequently, you’re questioning me, you may want to ask or they may come to me and I will answer.

Oh! Just to add, I did enroll in law school and I did one year of law schooling. My first year, I have all of those courses done and I would have enrolled in law school here in the state of Minnesota, but it’s costly, one. Two, costly not only in terms of the finances because I could go for the loans, but costly in terms of family support.

You must have maybe the wife telling you how to pay these bills. Maybe if you went as a part-time student, you have to go every Saturday and Sunday for the next four years and then somebody has to take care of the bills because the school’s must ensure that you are part-time indeed. You can’t sneak away full-time and go to school.

So I add that to my bag. I have my teaching degree and here in the state, I did go back to school. There are some friend’s family members, “Man, you’re too old. Look for a job and just work.” “Save some money and go.” I said, “No! Do I know when I am gonna die? I don’t know. So the longer I live, the more experiences I want.” So I enrolled in school 2010. Some terms I was doing one course and went to the University of St. Thomas to do my graduate in special education.

I graduated last year, May. I have my Masters degree. Next Tuesday, I’ll be doing the second set of my teaching exams. I’ve already registered for those. I’ve mastered business skills, math, reading, and writing. And I’m gonna do my next ? exams, I’ll be taking next week in the Pedagogy Department.

I have right here in the state, before coming to Sonnesyn, I would just like to say that quickly. When I got here in 1998, September, December of ’98, I was employed through a friend with the high school, a charter school and I began to work.

At the time, the state didn’t require teaching licenses. If they have one person in the building that had a teaching license, all of you guys could come in and teach. I mean, once you met the basic requirements, yes. That was the case.

So I was hired by this lady called Laura Smoller. She hired a school called Hand’s On. I worked that program and we moved on to what they call the Mansion? not too far away from the Hennepin County Medical Center.

In 2000, she appointed me as the school principal. I always used the word Director ‘cause if you don’t have a license, title, you don’t own it. So I prefer using the title, School Director.

So I ran that program and after some time, about a year, 2001, I moved from Hand’s On and I got employed right away City, Inc. which was space in north Minneapolis, another charter school.

And I work at City, Inc. February 2001 ‘til June of 2009. And I moved over here last year, February. I become an educational assistant. I love my job and I hope I can get my teaching license and continue to help humanity and kids all over this place.

Ultimately, I would desire going back home or being between here and home and building a special ed institution that would assist the kids in Liberia growing up out of a civil war.

I think so far, that much I can remember. Sunday school superintendent, Boy Scout, all of those things that rambled through there. But I’m still getting younger, that’s it. Greatest asset I have. Thank you.

And let me add this please. I haven’t been home since 2012, June, July. I travel home. So don’t be afraid. I’m from Liberia. I don’t have Ebola. I haven’t been back since June of 2012 when I went to visit with my mom and other friends.