“I always (have) been looking for a way to honor him on his birthday, in a way that represents him,” said Keinika Carlton, daughter of Keith Cooper. Early Saturday morning, Surrounded by a dozen of family, friends and community members at Kenwood Community Park, 1330 E. 50th St., Carlton set off on a walk to celebrate what would have been her father’s 76th birthday.
Cooper was killed by two teenagers in a botched carjacking on July 14, 2021; he had been out running errands. In the years following his death, family and community members have worked to keep the memory of the beloved A father, jazz aficionado, Vietnam veteran and Augustana Lutheran Church parishioner alive.
Last summer, Cooper’s church family at Augustana established the Keith Cooper Fund, a scholarship program that gives grants to young people seeking non-traditional education, such as vocational training and certification programs, as well as those starting up a business or launching a career in the arts. That July, community members and family gathered for a birthday commemoration and fundraiser for Cooper’s scholarship, hosting a screening of the 2022 horror movie “Nope.” Cooper, his daughter said, loved the horror genre.
Saturday’s walk, Calton said, served the dual purpose of honoring Cooper and raising money for the scholarship fund.
“This year I wanted to do a walk because he loved to walk and this is actually the park him and I used to walk at all the time. He used to live in the building right there,” said Carlton, gesturing to the Harper Square Cooperative. Located at 4800 S. Lake Park Ave., the high rise was Cooper’s residence for several years before his death.
“My daddy would be walking with me up and down 53rd, but as he got older he liked to stay close (to Harper Square) so we used to come here all the time,” Carlton said, holding hands with family gathered for a prayer ahead of the walk. “I’m always thinking of ways to carry on (the) legacy of who he was as a father, grandfather, community person; I can’t think of a better way to do that on his birthday and raise money for the Keith Cooper Fund.”
Carlton reflected on her father’s knack for learning, the inspiration for the scholarship fund: “My dad was a non-traditionally educated type of man. He was educated by life and the world … He always felt that there was a way to learn something from everything.”
As Cooper was an avid runner, the initial plan for this year’s birthday celebration was a 5K race hosted by the family and Augustana. After repeated delays, the Chicago Park District did not approve the permit in time, Carlton — who walks every Saturday as part of GirlTrek — pivoted to the walk.
Boasting over a million members nationally, GirlTrek is a “sisterhood” of Black women seeking to get active in physical activity and self care. The walk is not much different from their normal Saturdays.
“Every Saturday morning, we walk in a different neighborhood as an organization,” Carlton told the Herald. “(GirlTrek members) came to do their normal Saturday morning walk with us.”
As the walk began, GirlTrek members maintained the rear of the group and offered support to anyone with difficulties keeping pace with the walk.
More than 15 attendees participated in the hour-long walk, including Carlton’s husband Scott Calton, Cooper’s granddaughters Alyna and Mikayla, Hyde Park Jazz Festival supporters and others.
More information about the Keith Cooper Memorial Fund can be found at augustanahydepark.org/the-keith-cooper-fund/ or by contacting the Augustana Lutheran Church.