Growing up in Florida in the 1960s, Emery Cook had a tough childhood, marked by oppressive racism, poverty and bullying.
That could have created a hardened, cynical adult. Instead, Cook chose another path.
He made it his mission to educate and mentor countless students during his decades of teaching and coaching, particularly at Susquehanna Township High School.
“My parents treated people the way they wanted to be treated and always instilled that in us,” he said.
Cook’s parents also encouraged an education.
He received a basketball scholarship to West Chester University, outside of Philadelphia. After graduation, he channeled these experiences into his life, becoming an admired teacher, championship basketball coach, the first black head coach at Susquehanna Township, Central Dauphin and Carlisle high schools, a motivational speaker, and the recipient of countless awards.
Cook’s upbringing was a filter by which he taught and interacted with students and players.
“It gives me a frame of reference in understanding the various backgrounds that kids come from,” he said. “It helped me to know what kids needed—attention.”
Cook held his players to high standards, even earning the moniker, “Coach Hard Hat,” for the hat he wore when practices where going to be exceptionally tough. There were rules for behavior on and off the court, with an emphasis on respect for one another, for coaches and for opposing players.
A former student, Ellis Proctor, remembered Cook as a mentor and coach.
“He came at a really important time in my life,” Proctor said.
Moving from the Harrisburg school district to Susquehanna and away from all his friends, Proctor had a self-described attitude problem. Recalling his young self, he said, “I’m not playing [basketball] for Susquehanna. I’m a Cougar!”
At Cook’s urging, Proctor joined the lineup and was part of the 1997 PIAA AAA basketball championship team.
“They are still kids, no matter how big they are,” Cook said of his players.
What You Know
Eventually, Cook retired from teaching and coaching, falling into an unproductive routine.
“My first year in retirement, I was a lazy bum,” said. “I wouldn’t set an appointment before 11 a.m.”
But he got bored, which set the stage for the next part of his life—that of author. His 35-year habit of taking notes on daily happenings paid off by providing material for the novel he now planned.
So, he had inspiration—and content. Now he needed a way to get from here to there.
For instruction, he headed to YouTube for tutorials on writing, voice and narration. A chance meeting at a diner with a 70ish-year-old women and author yielded some key advice for writing his book.
“She said, ‘Whatever you write, make it believable. Write about what you know,’” Cook said.
With that in mind, he began chronicling the 1960s life of a middle-schooler, a boy named Joseph Graham, in a Southern town.
Much like in his own life, the boy is bullied because of his looks, needs to hide his intelligence to fit in and has to deal with poverty.
Graham’s trials send him down a dangerous path until he ricochets back, thanks to the influence of a teacher—a character named Mr. Thompson. The book deals with hard truths, but does so with the reader in mind.
“As an author, Emery cares about the reader—not the buyer,” said Nate Gadsden, a college classmate of Cook’s and eventually his book editor.
“He’s an engaging person,” Gadsden said. “Nothing seems to rattle him. He has an easy intensity about him.”
Gadsden found in Emery an astounding level of awareness of and care for his craft, especially for an author just starting out.
“He wanted to know what he was doing to the reader,” Gadsden said. “He wanted people to come to moments of truth.”
In 2017 Cook, under the pen name Cy Emery, self-published “Hiding in the Light: The Hunt,” the first book in a planned trilogy.
Cook said the book “edu-tains,” and he uses it as a part of his anti-bullying program.
Cook’s impact now extends into following generations, beyond those who he personally coached and taught.
Proctor, his former student, began Harrisburg-based Brothers and Sisters Making a Difference 11 years ago to provide the type of mentoring he received from Cook. Group members take students on college visits, to museums, provide homework checks and touch base with parents. Its mission is “to instill morals and cultivate high self-esteem” and “to provide a support system for kids who didn’t have it,” Proctor said.
Like Cook, Proctor aspires to bring light into his community and inspire those in challenging life experiences. He recognized that, without Cook’s influence, things could have turned out much differently for him
“I would have swayed,” he said.
“Hiding in the Light” is available at www.hidinginthelightthehunt.com. Watch for Cook’s second book, “Release the Light,” coming in November.