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AEP retiree presides over final EXCEL celebration

by on August 12, 2013
Cofer’s smile shines as she joins in the whirl of an African dance.Photos by: Barry Schumann

(Story by Barry Schumann)

The emotions rolled over and through Mary Cofer much like the beat of the African drums on stage as she led the final ceremony of EXCEL, a non-profit organization for at-risk youth she founded in 2001.  

“This is bittersweet for me. This is my legacy,” Cofer said as she presided over the 13th and last Celebration of Achievement for high school students who completed EXCEL, which stands for Excellence through Cultural Education and Leadership. Its purpose is to help minority students build self-awareness and self-esteem through a greater understanding and appreciation of their cultural heritage.

Cofer was sad to close this chapter of her life in central Ohio as she and her husband, Leonard, prepare to relocate to Georgia to be near daughter Ayana Monet Cofer, a dance instructor at a college-prep school in Atlanta and a writer, dancer and choreographer.

But she was justifiably proud to introduce 10 more high school students completing the program, bringing to 220 the number of minority youth who went through the program and received scholarships to support their dreams of getting a college education.

Of those who completed EXCEL between 2001 and 2009, 65 percent earned college degrees, and 20 have earned advanced degrees – well above national averages for minority students at large. Of those who went through EXCEL between 2010 and 2012, 89.5 percent are still in school.

Mary Cofer (right) and her daughter, Ayana.

“The EXCEL experience gives credence to the adage – You can’t know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’ve been,” Cofer said. “Not only do (these graduates) know where we’ve been, they are on the road to their destiny with dignity, confidence, style, grace and intelligence.”

AEP was a leading supporter of the program since its inception, providing funding each year for programming and scholarships ranging from $500 to $2,500. Cofer served as president of EXCEL. She retired from AEP as director of diversity and culture in May 2010.

As part of the program, EXCEL students traveled to Detroit to visit the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Black Madonna Cultural Center. They also participated in cultural appreciation workshops and in forums with community leaders to address challenges facing inner-city youth. Cofer — known to EXCEL students and supporters by her African name, Ajani, or simply as Mama Cofer — shook off any sadness and radiated joy as she joined an African dance troupe, her daughter and others in a celebration of African music and dance near the end of the celebration at the King Arts Complex in Columbus.

Earlier, Velda Otey, retired AEP vice president and chief information officer, gave the keynote address, offering the graduates three lessons. “First, find your voice and be true to it. Second, hope is not a strategy. Intent has to be paired with action. And my favorite lesson – move forward but also reach back (to help those who come behind you).”

One Comment
  1. Mary Cofer was great, is great and will aways be great.

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