Akbar Cook is the principal of West Side High School in Newark, New Jersey and he takes his job and responsibilities as an educator and administrator seriously.
In a school where 81% of the students come from low-income homes, it isn’t difficult for a student to become another statistic when societal and economic obstacles rear their ugly heads. The loving but firm principal recognized the effects of poverty on his pupils. When he was a vice principal at that same school, Cook noticed some students weren’t attending classes regularly because of bullying due to the condition of their clothes or hygiene. So he took action.
“I refuse to let a kid come to school smelling or dirty and I’m sitting on a shirt that says ‘West Side on it,'” Cook said, illustrating the fact that he gave his students unused school memorabilia, like t-shirts to wear.
“They were choosing to stay home rather than coming to school to be bullied or ridiculed,” he said. “We didn’t know until we started making calls.”
He realized this was only a band-aid on a larger issue. Cook wanted to have a bigger impact on his students’ lives, and at the same time; set them up for success academically.
Through dedication, hard work and research, a $20,000 grant given by the PSEG Foundation made purchasing these appliances possible. They were sent to the school and remain in the football locker room. A local UPS store donated laundry detergent and other cleaning supplies.
He received an outpouring and love from the community and he took to his social media to show his gratitude.
Cook said that he would “always fight for the students,” and that every school needed to have a program like this.