Posts Tagged ‘out gay man’

An Outstanding Millennial Community Leader

Jackson Cooper, Executive Director, Chamber Music Raleigh. Photo courtesy of Curtis Brown Photography

As a diversity and career development consultant, one of the most interesting areas is generational diversity in the workplace. So often, older generations stereotype millennials (generally now in their 20s) as entitled and spoiled, unwilling to work hard. But instead, millennials should be seen as creative, looking for purpose and personal growth in their work, and for hand-on managers who act as coaches. (see my recent blog “What Millennials REALLY want in the workplace.”) And we even saw in the recent season of one of my favorite TV reality shows, Survivor – GenX vs Millennials, that the Millenials held their own and were creative and determined in winning many of their challenges.

Locally I know an outstanding young millennial, Jackson Cooper, who at age 22 is believed to be the youngest executive director of a performing arts organization in the country. I recent sat down for a discussion with Jackson.

STAN: You are currently the Executive Director of Chamber Music Raleigh. Can you tell me a little more about this group and your responsibilities?

JACKSON: Chamber Music Raleigh is a 75 year old presenting organization, meaning that we invite groups from all over the state and world to come and perform on our concert series. We have two concert series: the ‘Guild” series that features artists from all over the country and world (groups like the Harlem Quartet, Juilliard, Chamber Society of Lincoln Center) and our “Sights and Sounds” series which highlights emerging and established North Carolina artists.

One of the first things I have done in my job is to establish the North Carolina Museum of Art as our permanent home for presenting these concerts. This further deepens our relationship with the Raleigh community by presenting our series at a central, public space like the museum. It also allows for exciting collaborations which we have plans for in coming seasons!

As ED, I am responsible for maintaining the day-to-day operations of the organization. I am a staff of one, with the help of volunteers and my dedicated board. I maintain donor relations, write grants, help facilitate decisions about the coming seasons, prepare contracts, and a slew of other responsibilities.

Jackson mingles with constituents at a Museum of Arts gala, sharing about Chamber Music Raleigh future plans and their move to the museum. Photo courtesy of : Joseph Rafferty

STAN: How did you get interested in this type of work?

JACKSON: I grew up in Raleigh arts, working in internships since I was 13 years old, specifically in arts administration. I used to go to school until 3pm, drive to an internship and work till 6, eat dinner, then sometimes go rehearse a show. I was lucky enough to have several mentors early on (still do) who pushed me to work hard and translate this passion and excitement I had for working in the arts into results.

However, the stereotypical gypsy / freelance lifestyle of an artist never appealed to me. I still keep up with my various crafts and have been lucky to always be working on projects, but I like stability too much to be a freelancer my entire life. I still do believe an arts manager should also be an artist (though, I’ve learned recently from example that the opposite isn’t always true). But you should practice an art if you are a manager. It grounds you and solidifies your work on a deeper level.

I love making connections, connecting artists and people, communities and works of art, etc. I’m still growing and acknowledge that, and every day feels like a new adventure.

STAN: What essential skills do you bring to your job that you believe will help you succeed?

JACKSON: Early on, I recognized that initiative and passion go a long way. I have encountered quite a bit of push back about how young I am. People didn’t think it was possible for someone so young and enthusiastic about the field he was working in to do a good job.

So, I began to hone my skills so that I could prepare myself for leading effectively. I wanted to show people that I had learned the importance of Big Picture Thinking and Day-To-Day Thinking, Planning for Long-Term Success and Last Minute Disasters, and the power of the grace note. By that I mean, the power of following up with your audience, community members, and others who are important to you or your organization. In this age of hyper-behavior, people like it when you remember their birthday, send a Christmas card, or just say thank you. Kindness goes a long way. And no matter how busy you are, you always have time to tell someone “I hope you’re having a good day.”

STAN: Where do you see yourself career wise 10 or 15 years down the road? What are your aspirations?

JACKSON: I hope to hold an upper level artistic position at an arts organization. I am currently looking into graduate programs and Executive Leadership programs at Harvard Business School and Duke University for furthering my education. Eventually, I would like to open my own arts consulting firm or work for one.

I plan to continue giving back to my community by serving on community boards, volunteering, and donating. In my (little) spare time I write so I am hoping to publish more. I have a book coming out early next year, and hopefully it’s the first of many!

STAN: In addition to being the youngest ED of a performing arts group in the country, you are also an out gay man. What encouragement would you provide to your LGBT peers in terms of their future or career?

JACKSON: Don’t ever stop being yourself and put yourself in everything you do. Every day you make a decision about coming out. To do that, you have to be confident in yourself and stand up for you. You are all you have in this life so why waste it pretending to be something you’re not?

There will always be people better than you, there will always be better jobs out there that you can’t have at this moment–but if you let things that aren’t in your control get you down, nothing will ever make you happy. And always listen to that little voice in the back of your head. It knows things better than you do.

STAN: Is there anything else you would like to share with my blog readers?

JACKSON: Chamber Music Raleigh is now at the Museum of Art so come by and pick up a brochure or subscribe to our mailing list at We are about to announce our exciting 2017-2018 season.

STAN: Thank you, Jackson! I look forward to building our friendship, following your career and reading your first book when it comes out.

8 Lessons in my Journey as an Out Gay Man

A more personal blog as we near the end of LGBT Pride Month, June, 2014. See last’s month’s blog about being an ally that also includes links to half a dozen other LGBT Pride blogs.

Blog author Stan Kimer (on the left) with his partner of 23 years Rich Roark on a recent vacation in Morocco.

Blog author Stan Kimer (on the left) with his partner of 23 years Rich Roark on a recent vacation in Morocco.

In April, I was invited by our local PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) to share my life journey as an out gay man. Made up of parents, families, friends, and straight allies united with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT), PFLAG is committed to advancing equality and societal acceptance of LGBT people through its threefold mission of support, education and advocacy. PFLAG now has over 350 chapters and 200,000 members and supporters crossing multiple generations of American families in major urban centers, small cities and rural areas in all 50 states.

As I prepared my presentation, I ended up coming up with 8 key lessons to share during my almost 25 year journey as an out gay man:

1. It is great to be true to myself, and others will respect that. Life has been so much better living fully and honestly into who I really am!

2. Being super nice works a lot better than being super nasty. When my father was initially cool to the idea of me being gay and having a boyfriend, my boyfriend won him over by going over and doing my parent’s yard work after my father broke his ankle.

A later newspaper article in the Durham Herald Sun about out LGBT employees in the work place featured blog author Stan Kimer while at IBM.

A later newspaper article in the Durham Herald Sun about out LGBT employees in the work place featured blog author Stan Kimer while at IBM.

3. Sometimes the optimal time to come out simply appears. Grab it and run! I had not initially planned to publicly come out when I did, but an opportunity to participate in a newspaper story when IBM announced domestic partner benefits provided an excellent platform for me to share some of my story.

4. You never know who is watching and what good may come of it. After coming out, I spoke on a number of diversity panels at IBM as an out gay employee, not realizing that IBM’s VP of Diversity Ted Childs was listening. He liked what he heard and offered me the position of IBM’s global corporate LGBT Diversity Manager, which was the most fun job I ever had!

5. Building allies and not having a “single issue focus” is important. I served many years on the Governing Board of the North Carolina Council of Churches advocating for racial justice, education improvements, economic justice, health issues, etc., and even as an out gay man was elected President.

6. As a visible gay man in a leadership role (President of the NC Council of Churches), I knew I had the added responsibility of being a good representative of the LGBT community.

7. Take the hate with a grain of salt and chuckle at the absurdness of it all. When I was elected President of the NC Council of Churches, 98% of the publicity was positive (example – link to Associated Press story), but one over-the-top negative article asserted that my hidden agenda was to visit junior high Sunday School classes to seduce young boys. How ridiculous!

8. It’s now time to enjoy my remaining years! As I approach 60 years old, I am going to do the things I like the most and walk away from any aggravating or demeaning environments.

I really enjoyed sharing my journey and these lessons at that April PFLAG meeting, and am very open to speaking or sharing at similar venues – you can email me at

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