James Cooper was the first out LGBTQ person elected to the Oklahoma City Council

I’m a teacher and writer, loves of mine since I was six. I went to film school to study storytelling, media violence, its effects on society, and root causes of real-life violence and crime. This research guides my values, civic engagement, and work in our classrooms.

I was born in Midwest City—where my mother lives as a retired registered nurse—and I’ve lived in OKC’s historic Paseo neighborhood since 2010, serving in Oklahoma City Public Schools at Jefferson Middle School as an AVID college preparation teacher, where I helped students strengthen their reading, writing, group work, organization, and critical thinking skills. The same year I started teaching with OKCPS in 2015, Mayor Mick Cornett appointed me to serve on OKC’s Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (COTPA) Board of Trustees.

As a transit trustee, I learned 79 percent of OKC’s roads ranked as “poor or mediocre condition.” Two years after my appointment, I wrote an editorial for NonDoc, asking my OKC neighbors to vote “yes” on our 2017 general obligation (GO) bond package and MAPS 3 penny sales tax extension. GO bond votes occur only every 10 years, offering a rare opportunity for residents to invest our property taxes into city infrastructure—including rebuilding crumbling streets—so students, workers, and seniors can move safely around our neighborhoods and city. This investment is important because, otherwise, OKC relies on sales tax as our primary funding source. Together with the extension of MAPS 3’s 2009 temporary penny sales tax, we called this election Better Streets, Safer City.

With the NonDoc editorial, I argued Better Streets would put our people to work, investing in critical infrastructure improvements for our streets, sidewalks, bridges, bike lanes, libraries, drainage system, public transportation system, parks and recreational facilities, our civic center, our downtown arena, our fire and police-training facilities, our traffic control system, and our city maintenance facilities. These investments, I wrote, strengthen our city, improving our residents’ quality of life.

Voters agreed, approving nearly $800 million in historic street improvements and other infrastructure projects, including our upcoming Bus Rapid Transit service.

Starting Fall 2023, Northwest Rapid will provide public transportation from covered bus stations every 15-20 minutes—7 days a week—for the first time in OKC’s history. This service builds on OKC’s past, running from downtown along our old streetcar route on Classen Boulevard, travelling west on NW Expressway, and turning around at Expressway and Meridian at a new park-and-ride near Lake Hefner.

2017’s Better Streets, Safer City also includes revitalization of Ward 2’s historic Belle Isle Library, $10 million in attainable, affordable, median-income housing for our city’s workforce, and streetscape improvements for historic commercial corridors such as Paseo, Uptown 23rd District, 39th Street District.

The next year in 2018, I fought for and worked with my transit board to provide Sunday bus service from our annual budget for the first time since the 1964 Voting Rights and 1965 Civil Rights Acts. On five bus routes, we added our city’s first night service til midnight.