About Inauguration Speaker
Johnnetta B. Cole
Johnnetta B. Cole has a long and distinguished career as an educator and humanitarian. Her work as a college professor and president, her published works, her speeches and her community service consistently address issues of racial, gender and all other forms of discrimination. Much of her work in the interest of equality and social justice is now centered in her role as the Chair of the Board of the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity and Inclusion Institute, founded at Bennett College for Women.
Cole is President emerita of Bennett College for Women and Spelman College. She is the only individual to have served as the president of the two historically Black colleges for women in the United States. She is also Professor emerita of Emory University from which she retired as Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women’s Studies and African American Studies.
Cole began her college studies at Fisk University and completed her undergraduate studies at Oberlin College. She earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Northwestern University. Her career as a college and university professor and administrator spans four decades. Cole made history in 1987 when she became the first African American woman to serve as president of Spelman College. From 2004 to 2006, she was the first person of color to serve as the chair of the Board of United Way of America.
The author of numerous publications for scholarly and general audiences, Cole’s most recent publication is a book co-authored with Dr. Beverly Guy Sheftall: Gender Talk: the Struggle for Women’s Equality in African-American Communities. Cole is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Anthropological Association. She is on the Editorial Advisory Board of SOULS and The Black Scholar. She is on the Advisory Committee of America’s Promise and The National Museum of African History and Culture. She also serves on the Advisory Board of the Atlanta Falcons.
Cole is the Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Visionary Project. She serves on the board of Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe, TransAfrica Forum and the United Way of America. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Merck & Co., Inc. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, The Links, Inc. and the National Council of Negro Women.
In addition to 52 honorary degrees, Cole has received numerous awards, including, the TransAfrica Forum Global Public Service Award, the Radcliffe Medal, the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, the 2001 Alexis de Tocqueville Award for Community Service from United Way of America, The Joseph Prize for Human Rights presented by the Anti-Defamation League, The Uncommon Height Award from the National Council of Negro Women, The John W. Gardner Leadership Award from The Independent Sector, and the Lenore and George W. Romney Citizen Volunteer Award from the Points of Light Foundation.
Cole is married to James D. Staton, Jr. She is the mother of three sons and has two granddaughters. She is also a mentor to many young women and men.