The name, Earl “Skip” Cooper, is practically synonymous with Black business and one reason is because he has devoted decades to ensuring that African American companies of all sizes prosper and excel in Greater Los Angeles.
So when Cooper announced his retirement as president of the Black Business Association of Los Angeles last week, he was met with raised eyebrows and concerned expressions because no one wanted or expected him to step aside as the region’s chief advocate for minority firms.
However, a huge sigh of relief emitted from many people once Cooper clarified that he will still be involved as chairman of the BBA Board of Directors as well as assisting Interim President/CEO Sarah Harris as she takes over the helm.
“It is and always will be a true commitment and my special purpose in life of serving African Americans and business owners, in addition to others,” Cooper said.
“I look forward to assisting the Board in whatever way I can with the transition to building a stronger organization with the commitment to service young African Americans entrepreneurs because they are our future. My servitude will continue as I transition to the role of president emeritus and chairman of the board.”
The legacy Cooper leaves will endure for years to come. Under his leadership, BBA established strong and strategic relationships with many top U.S. corporations and key legislators throughout the nation. As a result, the organization has developed into a significant influencer in policy decisions affecting businesses in the both the public and private sectors.
Cooper is also responsible for the range of programs, workshops and events that BBA regularly sponsors to help minority enterprises and companies grow along with spotlighting their achievements. Some of the outreach events created by Cooper include the annual presentation of BBA’s Veteran’s Conference, which highlights businesses and services operated by former members of the military; Feed the Community Program, designed to support Black restaurant owners; and the Salute to Black Music, which recognizes vocalists, musicians, executives and people-behind-the scene in the music industry.
Although he’s not one to sing his own praises, others are quick to share their opinion of Cooper’s contribution to the Black community. Congresswoman Maxine Waters are among those who expressed appreciation to the president emeritus.
“Skip Cooper, a long-time friend, has been the integral and leading voice of the Black Business Association in this region. He has always believed that we should fight for our access to capital, that we should organize to defeat efforts to undermine our success, and that we should enhance and exemplify our rights as legitimate businesspeople to provide contracting services across California,” said Waters.
“Thank you, Skip, for your continued service to our communities and making sure our Black businesses are elevated, respected, and given opportunities to compete and be successful in our modern and diverse economy,” added the congresswoman.
Alluding to Cooper’s commitment to Black businesses, Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., chairman of the Brotherhood Crusade and executive publisher of The L.A. Sentinel, noted, “Skip is a one-of a kind brother. The tireless work he has invested into promoting and advancing Black businesses throughout Los Angeles and throughout all of California is second to none.
“Whether it was at the Brotherhood Crusade or through my work in real estate or here at the Sentinel, Skip has always been someone who I have counted on, trusted to help advance the business of Black people and Black the Black community,” Bakewell said.
A native of Oakland, California, Cooper’s journey as the BBA’s top leader actually began as a youngster. From time he was in the third grade, he realized that enjoyed helping people and sincerely believed that God would use him to serve others in a big way.
By the age of 19, Cooper was convinced of God’s “special purpose” for his life and even while serving in the U.S. Army and fighting in Vietnam, he maintained his belief that God had a plan for his life. After the military, he earned A.A and B.A. degrees, and then relocated to Los Angeles in 1972, where he enrolled in graduate school at USC.
“While at USC, I worked as a student intern on 85th and Broadway and that was when I knew my ‘special purpose’ involved helping Black people and I told God that that I really wanted to help Black businesses,” recalled Cooper.
And certainly, he has worked to fulfill his ‘special purpose,’ advocating for Black business enterprise from City Hall to the White House. In addition to persuading decision makers in all arenas to do business with Black companies, Cooper also mentors young entrepreneurs and shares his knowledge and resources with others whenever the opportunity arises.
While he is retiring from leading BBA, Cooper intends to continue fulfilling his ‘special purpose’ of serving others, especially youth and young adults.
“Our future is young people and we have to do all that we can to develop young people and help them take advantage of new opportunities,” insisted Cooper. “We must help them with the acquisition of land and property, not just residential but also industrial, commercial and rural property in terms of really being a voice in America.”
As part of bringing that pledge to fruition, Cooper has promised to assist BBA Interim President Harris in engaging a new generation of business owners.
“It is my intention to offer all support to Sarah in a way that affords her the opportunity to lead without encumbrances,” Cooper said.
“I look forward to assisting the Board in whatever way I can with the transition to building a stronger organization with the commitment to service young African Americans entrepreneurs because they are our future.”
The BBA Board will host a reception for Cooper on Thursday, February 24, prior to the installation of the 2022-2023 Board of Directors. To learn more, visit, bbala.org.