Powerhouse is a word that is over-used when describing a lot of allegedly powerful people. But Jocelyn Cooper is a true powerhouse. The co-founder of AFROPUNK has nerves of steel and laser-like focus and in her presence you literally feel like nothing is insurmountable. She looks like something out of an action movie- with her signature dark glasses, sleeked back hair and black leather- everything about her says she has harnessed her own power. At first she comes across as very intimidating until you see that genuine kindness for everything and everyone around her.
Working with the AFROPUNK team has been an education on how to run a business transformatively. AFROPUNK is not here to exploit Joburg- it is not here for a quick hit and run- they are invested in Joburg, for five years in fact. It is a business with a mission, integrity and a conscience that understands it has a responsibility to its followers beyond just entertainment. This ethos that permeates the AFROPUNK movement comes from the top, from its commander in chief- Jocelyn Cooper.
On 9 December 2017 as a build up to the AFROPUNK festival on 30 and 31 December 2017 AFROPUNK hosted a clean-up day at Constitution Hill with over 400 volunteers, the AFROPUNK Army which painted walls, planted flowers and collected trash around the Constitution Hill precinct. There were a number of logistical difficulties on the day which is no surprise considering the large number of volunteers that turned up to serve the community. Jocelyn was there in the trenches with the team, slicing watermelons to feed the Army, serving food and water and engaging volunteers who had issues no matter how small. I noticed that anytime one of the volunteers had an issue or concern Jocelyn would look them in the eye with genuine interest and resolve to find a solution.
Jocelyn serving the AFROPUNK Army
Never once dismissive of anyone Jocelyn’s power is her understanding of people and treating everyone with respect whether it’s the Mayor of Joburg or a volunteer she accords everyone the same attention and respect. Jocelyn’s hands-on leadership is unsurprising , it’s in her genes, her mother after whom she was named, was a powerhouse in her own right, a community organiser who used to register voters on the street.
Jocelyn engaging the AFROPUNK Army
Her father, Andrew W. Cooper, was a pioneering journalist and the founder and publisher of the black weekly newspaper whose motto was ‘Speaking Truth to Power’. He believed that the truth often helps those in power to stop deluding themselves- a message that is as relevant today as it was when he started the paper.
Mr Cooper, brought a landmark lawsuit against the United State federal government in 1966 that challenged Bedford-Stuyvesant’s congressional district lines, which led to the election of the first black woman to Congress, Shirley Chisolm. Chisholm’s distinguished career is well known, but how many know that it was a successful lawsuit brought by Mr Cooper that ultimately opened the doors for Chisholm.
You see the power that emanates from Jocelyn is her heritage and her rootedness in family, community and service. Being fortunate enough to be in the same space as Jocelyn means brushing up against this incredible history of activism. When Jocelyn walks into a room she is flanked by her extra-ordinary ancestors who fought for the very values that define the AFROPUNK movement today- justice, equality and dignity.
Her father fought tirelessly for the Brooklyn’s vitality when it was virtually abandoned by the civic and business establishments. AFROPUNK’S presence in Brooklyn today has carried on that tradition and now Joburg which is usually dead at this time of the year will experience the AFROPUNK magic!
I am a constitutional lawyer with a deep respect for Constitution Hill as a site where our Constitution is upheld so reading about Jocelyn’s activism and her parent’s activism reminded me that although Jocelyn is American, the pursuit of justice is universal, we speak the same language, we are of the same tribe and there is no better Joburg home for Jocelyn and the AFROPUNK Army than Constitution Hill.
Quick Q n A with Jocelyn Cooper
- Favourite place to eat in Joburg- Fishermen’s plate in Cyrildene
- Favorite thing about Constitution Hill- The Ramparts
- Favorite South African food – Spicy Chicken Livers
- Favorite south African hotel- Hallmark Hotel in Maboneng
- Favorite thing about joburg- the people- they are creative, soulful and polite