He’s been called a walking miracle and a testimony by his loving granddaughter and biggest fan Mekhi Cooks.
He’s Freddie B. Cooks, the inspiration behind Mekhi’s award-winning essay. The oration of her essay won first place at McNeel Middle School, third place at district and first in the state in a contest through Modern Woodmen of America Fraternal Financial. The essay had to be memorized and recited, with Mekhi’s essay being four minutes long.
Using the topic of the essay, “A person who has overcome,” Mekhi was able to tell the remarkable story of her grandfather who was born in the segregated south in 1948. After Freddie B’s birth his parents paid the midwives to register his birth with state officials for $5, but later no record of his birth could be found.
“This left this child in non-existence to the earth and isolated from the world,” Mekhi wrote in her essay.
Freddie’s parents, T.W and Marie Cooks, had a total of eight children and were too poor to send Freddie B. to school. He worked picking cotton from age 7 to 16, when he moved to Chicago to work in a chrome factory for $1.30 an hour.
Because of his inability to attend school, he was unable to read and write, a limitation that would challenge him the rest of his life. However, Mekhi said it only made him stronger as he found other ways to adapt.
Freddie’s daughter Mikal Cooks, Mehki’s mom, said she recalled going on car trips with her father and him asking her to read every sign they passed.
“I became his eyes and ears and would go to his appointments for him,” Mikal said.
Despite not getting a birth certificate, Freddie B. married, got a driver’s license, worked to support his family and was known for being able to take a car apart and put it back together.
Freddie went on to live 62 years before he ever got a birth certificate, getting it in 2008.
“His words to me were “you know … I finally feel, I finally feel like I am somebody,’” Mekhi said in her essay.
However, Freddie B’s struggles were far from over. Today he is battling stomach cancer. Although he had attended all Mekhi’s essay orations, at her taped oration for a competition on Thursday, he was undergoing chemotherapy.
Mekhi said her grandfather is her hero, role model and inspiration. Mom Mikal said her father Freddy B. encouraged her and Mekhi to pursue their education after it was denied to him.
Mikal obtained a bachelor of arts degree in organizational communication and a minor in race and ethnicity. She called her father a small man with a big heart who was highly motivated. Her daughter’s essay has inspired her to pursue writing a book about his life she’d title “Cooks Road.” She said his life has been a journey that needs to be told.
Mekhi said she and her grandfather have a special bond. The $100 she won in the essay contests she may use to get him a special gift as his birthday is coming up
“Life has knocked him down so many times, you wouldn’t believe how tall he is standing today. I am so proud to call him my grandfather and even prouder to be the one to tell his life’s journey,” Mekhi stated in her essay.
Jerome Beine, a financial representative with Modern Woodman Fraternal Financial said there are 100,000 essays circulating through the contest nationwide. He has listened to 80 of them and said he was moved by Mekhi’s story.