Akbar Cook continues to exemplify leadership by example as the principal of West Side High School in Newark, New Jersey.
The beloved administrator launched “The Lights On” program four years ago. The program is an intentional effort to protect students in his community. On Friday nights from 6-11 p.m., Principal Cook opens the school so teens can have a safe place to enjoy themselves. The school is also opened three nights out of the week during the summer.
During the summer, the program supports 2,000 kids.
“I haven’t lost any more kids to gun violence since the start of the school year,” he proudly mentioned.
“Lights On” has definitely been a joint endeavor by the people in the district as funding for the program comes from the community and former students.
Even his students are speaking about the impact the event has had in their lives.
“Anything that keeps me off the streets I’ll do,” one student said. “Selling drugs and stuff, I’m not into that.”
Another student explained why he came with one word, “Security.”
The goal, again, is to have a good time. Students play pool, basketball, video games or practice their dances. There’s even a recording studio inside the school so the teens can explore their musical talents. Meals are also provided to the students.
“It’s fun, safe too. It’s better than being out on the streets,” one student said.
Nadia Camacho, an alumna of West Side High School who graduated in 2008, wonders what life would have been like for if the program existed while she was in school.
“If it was around back then, I think that we wouldn’t have lost so many of my classmates. If we had a class reunion right now a lot of my classmates wouldn’t be here due to gun violence,” she said.
What a heartbreaking sentiment! But with Akbar Cook’s ongoing efforts to make his students’ world a better, safer place — hopefully things will continue to change for the better.