Andrea Cooke is a dreamer.
“Probably an extreme dreamer,” she admits. “And I’m also an optimist, so I believe that all things are possible.”
Right now, she is focusing her dreams on bettering the Macon community, where she’s working to eliminate barriers to mental health services and bring more opportunities to underserved populations.
Cooke, who earned her Master of Family Therapy from Mercer University’s School of Medicine, lives and works in Macon’s historic Napier Heights neighborhood, which is also where she grew up. Her mom, Gloria Smith Cissé, owns The Southern Center for Choice Theory, a counseling center where Cooke is director of development.
Cooke also is executive director of C-QUL, the center’s nonprofit. Through C-QUL, which stands for Choosing A Quality Life, Cooke is working to create a mental health clinic that would be no-cost to the consumer.
“Anyone who needs services could get them,” she said.
She also is involved in a movement to create a food co-op in Napier Heights. In recent years, the neighborhood lost its only grocery store, cutting off many residents’ access to fresh food.
“If you don’t have a car, you’re in trouble,” Cooke said.
But the co-op is about more than just restoring access to fresh meat, fruits and vegetables.
“We want not just access but also to create education opportunities for people who have been in this community about healthy food options and what’s the relationship between what you eat and how you feel mentally,” she said.
Co-op supporters are doing community cleanups, which give them the opportunity to talk with residents about what they would like to see. Mercer students have helped with the cleanups and will be involved in other parts of the project, including land surveying and grant writing, Cooke said.
This fall, the co-op hopes to have its first pop-up market, she said.
Another one of Cooke’s dreams, to bring a TED-style talk to Macon, is happening again in December with MAC Speaks. The series is hosted by Georgia Women (And Those Who Stand With Us), Mercer’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Wesleyan College’s Office of Equity and Inclusion. It will kick off with a virtual event at 7 p.m. Dec. 4. The topic this year is Equity and Inclusion.
Cooke said they wanted something “that is uniquely about Macon and highlighting people from Macon.”
“There will be seven speakers sharing stories about equity and inclusion,” she said, including students from Mercer and Wesleyan.
Cooke’s efforts — which also include working to end period poverty with Macon Periods Easier, providing art activities and food for children through a backpack program, and creating conversations through Laundry Days — earned her a place on Macon Magazine’s list of 5 Under 40 earlier this year.
Although Cooke has been a lifelong volunteer, the tragic death of her 22-year-old nephew, Shemar Deandre Brooks, added a new urgency to her efforts. Brooks was killed while helping a friend stranded on the side of the interstate.
“Oftentimes, we feel like we have enough time to do the stuff that we want to do,” she said. “My nephew was doing the right things, had gotten off work and could have done anything else with the rest of his day but chose to go help someone get off the side of the road. That was a true testament to his character. …
“I do a lot because I don’t know how much time I have.”