Arshay Cooper to be Featured as part of Jake McCandless ’51 PVC Speaker Series (Nov. 8)

The Princeton Varsity Club is excited to welcome Arshay Cooper, an activist and trailblazer in the sport of rowing, to campus on Wednesday, November 8th as the featured guest for the Jake McCandless ’51 PVC Speaker Series. The event will take place in McCosh Hall, Room 50 (see map) starting at 7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public (please note: the event will not be streamed online). Advanced registration is not required but encouraged for planning purposes.

Cooper grew up on the West Side of Chicago, which was filled with crime and overrun by gang violence. In 1997, he joined the country’s first All-Black rowing team at Manley High School, an experience that changed his entire life trajectory. Inspired by the power that the sport had on his own life, Cooper wrote the award-winning book A Most Beautiful Thing which tells the inspiring true story about the most unlikely band of brothers that form a family, and forever change a sport and their lives in the process. In 2020, his memoir was made into a powerful award-winning film A Most Beautiful Thing (trailer), that chronicles Cooper’s life and the story of the Manley Crew team.

As an activist and philanthropist, Cooper has created youth rowing programs across the country, and following the release of his recent book and film projects, he founded the A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund to introduce thousands of under-resourced youth to the sport of rowing. Since its inception two years ago, this fund has introduced rowing to more than 3,000 young people and provided more than $450,000 in equipment and grant funding. Cooper has built a relationship with Princeton rowing over the years, including partnership on an advanced screening of his film in 2020.

The Jake McCandless ’51 PVC Speaker Series was endowed in the name of J.L. “Jake” McCandless ’51, who coached Princeton to the 1969 Ivy League football championship during the Tigers’ centennial year of football. Since its inception, the Series has featured a variety of speakers including Professors, Olympians, Civil Rights Activists, Sports Professionals and Team Owners, and more. Click here for a feature on past McCandless series speakers.


Arshay Cooper is a Rower, Bestselling and Award-winning Author, a 2x Golden Oar recipient for his contributions to the sport of rowing, a motivational speaker, activist, and the protagonist of the film, A Most Beautiful Thing. Arshay grew up on the West Side of Chicago in a community surrounded by gangs and drugs. In 1997 he joined (and later became captain of) the country’s first All-Black high school rowing team at Manley High School, an experience that changed his life. He then dedicated two years of his life to AmeriCorps, focusing on DEI, and soon after that attended Le Cordon Bleu, becoming a personal chef for World Wrestling Entertainment, Warner Brothers film sets, and professional athletes. After years as an entrepreneur in the food service industry, Arshay returned to his true passion: working with young people. He founded the NY East Side Rowing Club and worked as the national youth program guidance counselor for Victory Outreach International. Arshay also helped start several rowing programs for low-income youth across the country, anywhere a puddle of water exists, so that other young people can experience the profound change that can happen on the water. Arshay is the founder of the National Award-Winning Non-Profit, The A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund, which introduces thousands of under-resourced youth to the sport of rowing. Arshay’s mission has sparked the MLK Day of Service ”DAY ON” for collegiate and high school sports teams across the country and community rowing events between local police and community members.

Arshay’s message has spread all across the world, speaking for the members of Congress, the NBA and WNBA, the NAACP, the Obama Foundation, the Congressional Black Caucus, and professional sports teams (including the Oakland A’s, the Atlanta Hawks, the Miami Dolphins,  the Atlanta Falcons, and the Chicago Bulls). The British, New Zealand, Australian, German, Dutch, Italian, French, Egyptian, Turkish, Canadian, and other Olympic teams are supporting Arshay and the film profoundly, including creating new charitable organizations and initiatives with underserved communities. Universities and athletic directors across the United States (from Morehouse and other HBCU institutions to the University of Washington to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton) are all hosting events with Arshay. Arshay has spoken at UPS, Bank of America, Target, JP Morgan, Delta Airlines, Starbucks, Microsoft, and many other companies hosting conversations around the film, digging into access and opportunity, and the importance of bringing people together.

The book was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and won the 2020 Nautilus Award. The film has won the 2021 Gracie Award, was nominated by the NAACP for an Image Award, was nominated by the Critics’ Choice Association for Best Sports Documentary, was nominated by the International Press Academy for Best Documentary and was named one of the best films of 2020 by Esquire. A MOST BEAUTIFUL THING (executive produced by Academy-Award and Grammy winner, Common, NBA stars Grant Hill and Dwyane Wade; and directed by Olympian Mary Mazzio) chronicles the first African American high school rowing team in the country, made up of young men, many of whom were in rival gangs from the West Side of Chicago, all coming together to row in the same boat. It is an amazing story based on the memoir by Arshay Cooper. The film is currently streaming on Peacock and Amazon Prime, and a scripted series is now being developed with Amazon Studios. Arshay and his work have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, LA Times, Today Show, NBC Nightly News, BBC, Men’s Health, Sports Illustrated, Hollywood Reporter, Chicago Tribune, BET, NPR, and many others.