By Craig Meyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
February 19, 2015 – Admittedly, Swin Cash once had no clue who Charles “Chuck” Cooper was or what he represented.
She grew up in the same region and played the same sport, but as someone born nearly 25 years after Cooper played his final professional basketball game, the name of the first African-American player drafted into the NBA didn’t resonate.
So last year, when Cash was told that she was going to be honored with an award named after Cooper, she did some research. What she found was a legacy that she works to this day to strengthen and uphold.
Wednesday, Cash – a McKeesport native and WNBA player – was presented with the Chuck Cooper Leadership, Diversity & Community Service Award meant to recognize an accomplished athlete whose success on the court has been surpassed only by their work off it.
“You can be the first to do something, but what he stood for and his commitment to education and his community … those things tell a lot about a man’s character,” Cash said. “Some people you can Google and all you see is that they won and had success in things like business, but you don’t really see the other elements of it. I think that’s what impressed me the most.”
Much of Cash’s life has been defined by the game she plays. At Connecticut, she helped lead the Huskies to national championships in 2000 and 2002. She has been a six-time All-Star at the WNBA level, has played on three championship teams and was a part of two Olympic gold-medal squads.
Perhaps her greatest mark has come with her philanthropic efforts. Cash is the founder of Cash Building Blocks, an urban development company that renovates and offers affordable housing for low-income families, as well as Cash for Kids, whose mission is to educate and empower children with a focus on fitness.
When Chuck Cooper III, Cooper’s son and founder and president of the Chuck Cooper Foundation, looks at Cash, he sees an embodiment of his father’s spirit and legacy, someone who was able to carve out a path in life because of the elder Cooper’s groundbreaking career.
“She’s compassionate about her community and her family, and she utilized her education to accomplish great things,” Cooper said. “What she has done in the community is extraordinary. She exemplifies my father and what he was about in every possible way.”
The Cooper Foundation was established in 2011 and works to raise money for postgraduate scholarships for minority students. On Wednesday, it awarded scholarships to six individuals, including Rondell Jordan, who made it to Pitt Law School after a trying childhood in a Brooklyn housing project.
The very people the foundation aims to help are the same ones whose lives Cash strives to improve. After all, she was once in a similar position. Though she had a mother who had to work multiple jobs to help provide for her and her family, Cash had few female, African-American role models in McKeesport who could show her what was possible.
Through her charity work, Cash hopes to do that for a new generation – becoming the type of figure Cooper was for so many before her.
“You have to find your way,” Cash said. “My mom said that she couldn’t pay for school, but somebody was going to give me a scholarship and you better believe I’m was out there working on my basketball game so I could get that scholarship.
“What are your opportunities? Finding your gift or your voice at a young age can help you. That’s not going to be the same for all kids, but if we start teaching our kids to figure out what’s best for them and be able to use that, they’ll always look for the opportunity.”
From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 19, 2015. Article: http://www.post-gazette.com/local/south/2015/02/19/Swin-Cash/stories/201502190129