Black-led community spotlight: Brian Cook of Central Catholic High School

click to enlarge Black-led community spotlight: Brian Cook of Central Catholic High School
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Brian Cook
In Pittsburgh, a city notorious for its lack of representation in many fields, Brian Cook has been a leader in trying to improve racial diversity both in front of and behind the scenes. As president of the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation, he’s worked to bring more positive and affirming stories of the Black community, and now, a new role is giving him the opportunity to serve as a role model for a new generation.

Three weeks after graduating from Central Catholic High School in 1998, Cook landed a job through American Urban Radio Networks, which led to him working in national radio for 14 years. After that, he spent 10 years working in television. And while Cook’s resume is impressive, his story is even more inspiring.

“It started when I was 10 years old,” Cook says. “I used to look into the mirror and talk to myself, working on projecting my voice. I would try to stand with poise and I would hold a wooden spoon that we would use to stir and mix up the Kool-Aid, and I would act like I was doing a report in the living room.”

Cook has worn many hats over the course of his career, but his early curiosity cemented his success, from shooting photographs on the sidelines at Pittsburgh Steelers games to recently being appointed the director of communications at his alma mater, Central Catholic.

Seeing someone in the media who looked like him was instrumental in his pathway to journalism. He cites the work of 60 Minutes reporter Ed Bradley, who Cook says could “turn a phrase like no other,” and who he had the honor of corresponding with before Bradley passed in 2006.

Cook says that the most rewarding thing about his career has been the ability to tell “robust” stories.

“I came up with an urban radio, where a lot of times there will be negative stories about the urban community,” Cook says. “I would always try to flip that and find a positive to reverse the negative rhetoric.”

It’s always rewarding to hear back from story subjects who have had negative experiences with media, he adds, such as journalists who have taken their words out of context, or editorialized a little too much, only to have Cook tell their story in a more fair and honest way.

He has attended and covered seven Super Bowls since 2006 when he first photographed the Steelers playing the Seattle Seahawks in Detroit. Cook says covering these games have been some of the highlights of his career and jokes that he was born wrapped in a Terrible Towel. Now, Cook works full-time at Central Catholic High School and says it feels like coming home. He speaks highly of his time as a student at the school, emphasizing that it provided a strong base for his work in media and journalism. “Central Catholic has a rich history of having a rigorous and challenging academic curriculum under an umbrella of teaching Lasallian principles,” he says, referring to the teachings of St. Jean Baptiste de La Salle, a Roman Catholic religious leader.

Before settling down at Central Catholic, Cook says he worked roughly seven media jobs at a time, including serving as president of the Black Media Federation, and says his time management has gotten much better since starting a full-time job. He says he puts 100% of himself into this role for the benefit of the students and the community, but also still likes to go out on shoots for the Steelers.
click to enlarge Black-led community spotlight: Brian Cook of Central Catholic High School
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Brian Cook
His father was a photographer who shot natural landscapes in black and white, and he credits his mother with his love of history, especially Black history. Cook says those two passions combine a lot in his work, and he tries to instill them in the students he works with, and also his son, Brian Cook Jr.

“Every time I do an interview, I always talk about him, he's my lifeblood,” says Cook. “I love him more than I love myself. That's my man. He’s nine years old now, you know, full of life and very intelligent, and I'm trying to teach him those same principles, learning your history and learning how to matriculate through life in a positive way.”

Cook says many of the students he works with are interested in getting involved in media, and he has some words of advice for other young Black people looking to step into the field.

“First thing I’ll say is, make sure that this is something that you want to do,” he says. “If this is something that you want to do, know that sometimes you have to be twice as good in this industry because there are so few people of color. And lastly, have fun. This is a fun industry. There are opportunities to cover the red carpet at the Grammys or the Oscars. There are so many different areas that you can cover.”