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Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Visiting Professorship,  Metropolitan State University of Denver honors the legacy of activism, advocacy, and community service embodied by Professor Noel since 1981 through the Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Visiting Professorship.

Past Visiting Professors

Over the years, MSU Denver has been honored to host a wide range of professors to embody the legacy of Rachel B. Noel. Each professor brought something different to the campus community. The professorship changes each year to accommodate the campus and community needs. 


Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Aishah Simmons, an African American woman resting her chin in her hand and smiling.Aishah Shahidah Simmons is an award-winning Black feminist lesbian documentary filmmaker, activist, cultural worker, writer and international lecturer. An incest and rape survivor, her internationally acclaimed shorts videos, Silence…Broken and In My Father’s House explore issues of race, gender, homophobia, rape, and misogyny. She is the creator of the 2006-released JustFilms Ford Foundation-funded, internationally acclaimed and award-winning feature length film NO! The Rape Documentary. Subtitled in Spanish, French, and Portuguese, NO! explores the international atrocity of heterosexual rape and other forms of sexual violence through the first person testimonies, scholarship, spirituality, activism and cultural work of African American women and men. NO! also explores how rape is used as a weapon of homophobia. Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple, says, “If the Black community in the Americas and in the world would save itself, it must complete the work that [NO!] begins.” Simmons is a 2016-2018 Just Beginnings Collaborative Fellow where she is developing her multimedia project #LoveWITHAccountability, which examines how accountability is a powerful and necessary form of love needed to address child sexual abuse (CSA). #LoveWITHAccountability also examines how the silence around child sexual abuse in the familial institution plays a direct role in creating a culture of sexual violence in all other institutions—religious, academic, activist, political and professional. Previously, she was the 2015-2016 Sterling Brown Professor of Africana Studies at Williams College, an Adjunct Professor in the Women’s and LGBT Studies Program at Temple University, an O’Brien Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department at Scripps College, an Artist-in-Residence at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture and a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, and an Artist-in-Residence at Spelman College’s Digital Moving Image Salon. Simmons is an Associate Editor of the online publication The Feminist Wire (TFW) where her published, curated, and edited articles focus on archiving and documenting Black women’s herstories and contemporary realities. Her essays and articles have also been published in several anthologies including the recently released Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Sexual Violence Movement anthology edited by Jennifer Patterson (Riverdale Avenue Books 2016) and Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence anthology edited by Lisa Factora-Borchers (AK Press 2014).Simmons’ cultural work and activism have been documented extensively in a wide range of media outlets including Ms., ColorLines, The Root.com, Forbes, Crisis, Alternet, Racialicious, Left of Black, The Philadelphia Weekly, In These Times, Peace X Peace, The Chronicle of Higher Education, HuffPost Black Voices, National Public Radio (NPR), Imagine Otherwise, Pacifica Radio Network and Black Entertainment Television (BET). Simmons has screened her work, guest lectured, and facilitated workshops and dialogues to racially and ethnically diverse audiences at colleges and universities, high schools, conferences, international film festivals, rape crisis centers, battered women shelters, community centers, juvenile correctional facilities, and government sponsored events across the United States and Canada, throughout Italy, in South Africa, France, England, Croatia, Hungary, The Netherlands, Mexico, Kenya, Malaysia, India, Switzerland, St. Croix U.S.V.I, Germany, and Cuba. 

Wilma J. Webb

Wilma Webb, an African American woman with a black suit.The Honorable Wilma J. Webb, who served Colorado and the nation as Denver’s first active First Lady and first African American woman to be Denver’s First Lady, the U.S. Labor Department’s first woman to be Regional Administrator for Region VIII, and District 8’s first woman to be elected to the Colorado House of Representatives, is a public servant and leader who has, without question,  served with distinction.  She is the first and only Colorado African American woman who has served on all three levels of our government.

She has been successful in initiating and delivering laws and programs which improve the lives of all people.  Her accomplishments are numerous and substantive and include:  (1) The establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, (2) Adoption of Anti-Drug Abuse Treatment Programs, (3) A law to allow Subpoena Power to the Colorado Civil Rights Division, (4) Assistance to Those in Need, (5) Job and Business Opportunities, and (6) Education Improvement.  She was the first Member of the House in recent memory to initiate state bills to provide for Compulsory Full-Day Kindergarten and Mandatory K-12 Education to Prevent School Dropout occurrence which affects all of us in a regressive way.  She, along with many other national leaders, carried legislation to provide for Sanctions Against South Africa in order to abolish Apartheid and to release political prisoner Nelson Mandela, who fought for freedom of everyone in his native South Africa, and later would become the first Black President of the newly established democratic government of South Africa.  She also introduced legislation to prevent discrimination based upon sexual orientation.

As a Presidential Appointee of President William Jefferson Clinton, she was responsible for the administration and enforcement of federal statutes which govern workplace activities. 

She, as a patron of the Arts, in her role as First Lady of Denver, led the effort in developing Denver’s Vision for the Arts and created and developed Denver’s Process for the Procurement and Accessing of Public Art.  Additions to the People’s Art Collection include Ed Dwight’s I Have A Dream, Borovsky’s The Dancers, Colorado’s Portrait of President Barack Obama, and Irving Watts’ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Colorado Portrait.  She is the founder of the Denver Art, Culture, and Film Foundation.  She envisioned Denver’s Centennial Park and Denver’s Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library.  She and her husband’s life stories were portrayed on stage at Denver’s Curious Theatre.  Historical documentation of her and her husband’s life’s work is to be permanently exhibited in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, D.C.

She is the honoree of several hundred commendations, including the National Humanitarian Award, The National Human Rights Award, The National Education Association Carter G. Woodson Award for Human and Civil Rights, the Association for Retarded Citizen’s Legislator of the Year Award, Induction into the Women’s Hall of Fame, and Blacks in Colorado Hall of Fame, and the Colorado Banking Association’s Political Award. ‌

Wilma J. Webb is happily married to former Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb, is the mother to four adult children, Keith (deceased), Anthony, Stephanie, and Allen.  She is also a grandmother.  Her education includes the University of Colorado Denver,  Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, an Honorary Doctoral Degree of Humane Letters from the University of Northern Colorado, and an Honorary Doctoral Degree from the Art Institute of Colorado.  She is a devout and proud 38-year member of the Zion Baptist Church, and a member of the beloved professional organizations of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and The Links, Incorporated.

 

Wellington E. Webb

Wellington Webb, an African American man wearing a suit, standing and smiling.Wellington Webb spent 12 years as the leader of Denver's Mile High City and helped drag it out of the economic doldrums of 1991 to an investment of $7 billion in infrastructure when he left office in 2003. Webb is the only mayor in U.S. history to serve as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Conference of Democratic Mayors and National Conference of Black Mayors.

In October 2003, he founded Webb Group International. The firm works with businesses and cities on economic development projects, public relations, and other consulting areas. His clients include Parsons Transportation; the American Beverage Association; Hudson News; and American Petroleum Institute to name only a few.  

Wellington Webb serves on the board of directors of the Maximus Corporation, MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense Fund), The Denver Health Foundation, trustee for the Colorado Symphony and is the chairman of the board of the Urban Leadership Foundation of Colorado. He was appointed by President Obama and Secretary Clinton to the First Responders Network Authority (First Net) and as a United States Representative to the United Nations in 2009. He is a member of the Denver Rotary, a 33rd Degree Mason and a member of Kappa Alpha Psi and Sigma Pi Phi fraternities.

He is an advocate for arts and culture, sports, historic preservation and downtowns.

As mayor, he oversaw the completion of $4 billion Denver International Airport, completing 85 percent of the construction and opening airport concession bids to all Colorado-owned businesses, including women and minorities.

He oversaw the redevelopment of the former Stapleton Airport into a thriving residential and business area. He also helped convince voters to approve a $300 million addition to the Colorado Convention Center, which opened in December 2004, and pushed through difficult negotiations for a nearby privately-publicly funded Hyatt Convention Center hotel opened in 2005.

Among his goals was the redevelopment of the industrial Central Platte Valley near downtown Denver. The area once littered by abandoned rail lines now boasts a privately-funded Pepsi Center (professional basketball, hockey and entertainment venue), relocation of Six Flags Elitch Gardens (amusement park), community gardens and acres of city parks along the South Platte River.

He also pushed for the successful transformation of Lower Downtown into a vital business and residential area anchored by the professional baseball ballpark, Coors Field. In addition, he made sure that Denver's professional athletic teams - the Denver Broncos, the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche - signed agreements to play in the city for at least 25 years.

His social agenda included convincing the city to create Denver Health Medical Authority in 1997, which eliminated a cash deficit of $39 million and has been rated one of the top public hospitals in the U.S. The mayor led the campaign for nearly $290 million in voter-approved bonds for improvements to the hospital and property. He also added more than 2,000 acres of new parks and open space to the city - the largest addition of parkland by any mayor in Denver's history. Voters also approved $96 million for neighborhood and park improvements; and $125 million for a major expansion of the Denver Art Museum and improvements to the Denver Zoo.

The city also took advantage of good economic times to invest in a new $200 million city office building, which citizens pushed to be named after the mayor; and a $16 million African American research library - the only such facility west of the Mississippi River.

His negotiating skills included getting four new airline routes to serve Denver: British Airways, Lufthansa German Airlines, Mexicana Airlines, and Korean Air. He looked to stimulate Denver's economy by opening foreign trade offices in London, England and Shanghai, China, and leading U.S. Conference of Mayors missions to Africa, United Kingdom and Germany. He also led trade missions to China and Japan.

Denver is the only city to be cited for five consecutive years as "One of the Top American Cities" in Fortune Magazine's annual "Best Cities" survey. The city also was named "One of the Top Three Cities for Sound Fiscal Management" by City and State Magazine; "One of the Top American Cities" by Money Magazine; and ''Top city for Entrepreneurs'' by Entrepreneur Magazine.

As a statesman, Webb hosted Pope John Paul II and nearly 200,000 people worldwide for World Youth Day in 1993. Four years later, he welcomed President Clinton and eight world leaders at the Denver Summit of the Eight, the annual local economic summit.  He also hosted visits of the Emperor and Empress of Japan, Prime minister of China and president of Ghana and Mozambique. 

His numerous recognitions include, the U.S. Conference of Mayors highest honor, the Distinguished Public Service award in; The Americans for the Arts Government Leadership in the Arts; The National Wildlife Federation's Achievement Award; The National Trust for Historic Preservation's ''Outstanding Achievement in Public Policy'' award; and by the country of France the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur (Chevalier of the Legion Honor).

Prior to being elected mayor, he served in the Colorado State Legislature; was appointed a Regional Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Jimmy Carter; was appointed Executive Director of Colorado's Department of Regulatory Agencies under Governor Richard Lamm; and was elected Denver's city Auditor.  His first career was as a teacher and then faculty member for the University of Colorado and Colorado State University.

Wellington Webb is married to former six-term State Representative Wilma J. Webb and they have four grown children; Keith (deceased), Stephanie, Anthony and Allen. Webb received his Master of Arts from the University of Northern Colorado and four Honorary Doctorate Degrees from: the University of Colorado at Denver, Metropolitan State College, University of Northern Colorado, and the American Baptist Seminary in Berkley, California.

Janet Mock

Janet Mock, an African American woman who is smiling.Janet Mock is a writer, TV host and advocate whose memoir, Redefining Realness, debuted on the New York Times bestsellers list in 2014. Her second book about her twenties will be released in June 2017 with Atria Books. She is a sought-after speaker, an advocate for trans women’s rights, and the founder of #GirlsLikeUs, a social media project that empowers trans women. A millennial media powerhouse, Janet began her career as a Staff Editor for People.com (People magazine’s website), where she worked for five years. She has since worked as a correspondent for Entertainment Tonight (interviewing Queen Latifah, Jeffrey Tambor), a contributing editor for Marie Claire magazine (for which she wrote the November 2016 cover story on Nicki Minaj), and a host for MSNBC, where she helmed the groundbreaking series — “So POPular!”— interviewing Lena Dunham, Salma Hayek, Issa Rae, and Amber Rose. She also hosted the Global Citizen Festival (2015) and will executive-produce and front the 2017 MSNBC original series, “Beyond My Body.” Janet also produced, conducted all interviews and introduced the HBO documentary, The Trans List, with photographer and director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Born in Hawaii, Janet’s story of growing up trans caught the nation’s attention in a 2011 Marie Claire article. Since then she’s become one of the most influential trans women and millennial leaders in media. TIME called her one of “12 new faces of black leadership” and one of “the most influential people on the Internet” while Fast Company named her one of 2015’s “most creative people in business.” When she released Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More in February 2014, feminist critic bell hooks called Janet’s memoir, “A life map for transformation,” while Melissa Harris-Perry said “Janet does what only great writers of autobiography accomplish—she tells a story of the self, which turns out to be a reflection of all humanity.” The book earned praise from Oprah Winfrey who interviewed her for “Super Soul Sunday.” Janet has been interviewed on “Real Time with Bill Maher” (February 2015), “The Colbert Report” (February 2014) and “The Nightly Show” (June 2015), and was featured in the HBO documentary The Out List (2013). Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Marie Claire, and The Advocate, where she wrote the 2015 cover story on Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson. She wrote the foreword for famed photographer Mark Seliger’s collection, On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories contributed to the anthology, The Feminist Utopia Project, and has appeared on the covers of C☆NDY, Top Rank, and ELIXIR magazines. The Ms. Foundation, Planned Parenthood, Feminist Press, GLSEN, Shorty Awards and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project have all honored Janet for her work, and she’s appeared on the Out 100, Root 100 and GOOD 100 lists. A native of Honolulu, Janet attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa, earned her MA in journalism from New York University, and serves on the board of the Arcus Foundation. She lives in New York City with her husband, photographer and filmmaker Aaron Tredwell, and their cockapoo Cleo.

Melissa Harris-Perry

Melissa Harris-Perry, an African American woman who is smiling while standing with her hands on her hips.Melissa Harris-Perry is the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University. There she is the Executive Director of the Pro Humanitate Institute and founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center. Melissa is Editor-in-Large at ELLE.com. She hosted the television show “Melissa Harris-Perry” from 2012-2016 on weekend mornings on MSNBC. She is the author of the award-winning Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought, and Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. Harris-Perry received her B.A. degree in English from Wake Forest University and her Ph.D. degree in political science from Duke University. She also studied theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Harris-Perry previously served on the faculty of the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and Tulane University.

Freeman A. Hrabowski, III

Freeman A. Hrabowski, an African American man wearing glasses and smiling.Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, has served as President of UMBC (The University of Maryland, Baltimore County) since 1992. His research and publications focus on science and math education, with special emphasis on minority participation and performance. He chaired the National Academies’ committee that produced the 2011 report, Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads. He also was named by President Obama to chair the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. In 2008, he was named one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Report, which ranked UMBC the nation’s #1 “Up and Coming” university for six years (2009-14). In 2015 and 2016, U.S. News ranked UMBC in the top five on a newly created list of the nation’s “most innovative” national universities. For the past eight years, U.S. News also consistently ranked UMBC among the nation’s leading institutions for “Best Undergraduate Teaching.”   TIME magazine named him one of America’s 10 Best College Presidents in 2009, and one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2012.  In 2011, he received both the TIAA-CREF Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence and the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Academic Leadership Award, recognized by many as the nation’s highest awards among higher education leaders.  Also in 2011, he was named one of seven Top American Leaders by The Washington Post and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership.  In 2012, he received the Heinz Award for his contributions to improving the “Human Condition” and was among the inaugural inductees into the U.S. News & World Report STEM Solutions Leadership Hall of Fame. He serves as a consultant to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Academies, and universities and school systems nationally. He also serves on the boards of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, France-Merrick Foundation, Marguerite Casey Foundation (Chair), T. Rowe Price Group, The Urban Institute, McCormick & Company, and the Baltimore Equitable Society.  He served previously on the boards of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Maryland Humanities Council (member and Chair). Examples of other honors include election to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the American Philosophical Society; receiving the prestigious McGraw Prize in Education, the U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring, the Columbia University Teachers College Medal for Distinguished Service, the GE African American Forum ICON Lifetime Achievement Award, the American Educational Research Association’s Distinguished Public Service Award, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) William D. Carey Award; being named a Fellow of the AAAS, Black Engineer of the Year (BEYA) by the BEYA STEM Global Competitiveness Conference, Educator of the Year by the World Affairs Council of Washington, DC, and Marylander of the Year by the editors of the Baltimore Sun; and being listed among Fast Company magazine’s first Fast 50 Champions of Innovation in business and technology, and receiving the Technology Council of Maryland’s Lifetime Achievement Award.  He also holds honorary degrees from more than 20 institutions – from Harvard, Princeton, and Duke to the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University, Haverford College, and Harvey Mudd College. With philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff, he co-founded the Meyerhoff Scholars Program in 1988. The program is open to all high-achieving students committed to pursuing advanced degrees and research careers in science and engineering, and advancing underrepresented minorities in these fields. The program is recognized as a national model, and based on program outcomes, Hrabowski has authored numerous articles and co-authored two books, Beating the Odds and Overcoming the Odds (Oxford University Press), focusing on parenting and high-achieving African American males and females in science. His most recent book, Holding Fast to Dreams: Empowering Youth from the Civil Rights Crusade to STEM Achievement (Beacon Press, 2015), describes the events and experiences that played a central role in his development as an educator and leader. A child-leader in the Civil Rights Movement, Hrabowski was prominently featured in Spike Lee’s 1997 documentary, Four Little Girls, on the racially motivated bombing in 1963 of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Born in 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama, Hrabowski graduated from Hampton Institute with highest honors in mathematics. He received his M.A. (mathematics) and Ph.D. (higher education administration/statistics) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Brenda Palms Barber

Brenda Palms Barber, African American woman smiling.Brenda Palms Barber has been the NLEN Executive Director since its founding in 1999. She has a Master of Science degree in nonprofit management from the Spertus Institute. Under her leadership, NLEN has grown from two to 20 employees, launched the Sweet Beginnings social enterprise, generated an annual budget in excess of $2.4 million, and received numerous awards including one of the first MacArthur Foundation Awards for Creative and Effective Institutions in 2006 and the prestigious 2015 Bank of America Neighborhood Builders Award and 2012 Chicago Neighborhood Development Award - Special Recognition. Brenda is a 2008 Aspen Institute Ideas Fellow. In 2013, Seventh District Congressman Danny Davis awarded her with the Cardiss Collins Trailblazer Award. Brenda has raised the national profile of NLEN through national media including CNN, the NBC Today Show, CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, and a recent TEDWomen Documentary. In 2008, she attended the Harvard Business School’s Strategic Perspectives in Non-Profit Management program as a Roman Nomitch Fellow. Brenda is also a graduate of the Chicago Urban League’s nextOne program, an intensive business marketing entrepreneurial training program that included classes at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Brenda holds a Bachelor’s Degree in business management from the University of Phoenix.

Judi Hampton

Judi Hampton, an African American woman smiling wearing red.Judi Hampton's strength is connecting and communicating with a wide variety of audiences, from cross-generational to cross-functional. Workshop participants and coaching clients appreciate her energy, humor, and engaging teaching style. By focusing her passion and energy on the participants' development, Judi enriches their learning experience and motivation to use their new skills. This results in significant and lasting improvements in skills and productivity. Judi's experience as president of a successful documentary film company and public relations firm enhances her ability to understand complex leadership challenges. Her years as a senior manager in a major corporation are the foundation of her understanding of challenges in the corporate sector. And her background in civil rights gives her the perspective to connect with issues involving workplace diversity and cross-cultural communications on a highly informed level. These three aspects of professional experience, coupled with a talent for teaching, enable Judi Hampton to offer training and coaching programs that provide practical strategies and solutions for complex workplace issues. Judi Hampton has over thirty years of experience as a business skills seminar leader and coach, university professor, and public relations executive. She is president of her professional development firm, Judi Hampton Public Relations (JHPR), which provides training and coaching to a broad range of clients, including professionals with English as another language. Over the last decade, Judi Hampton has led hundreds of training programs for non-profit organizations, government agencies, and corporations. She has conducted seminars for Cornell University ILR School, Boston University Corporate Education Center, NeighborWorks, and the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services. Clients include the United Nations, MasterCard, Raytheon, W.J. Deutsch, Brigham & Women's Hospital, Weill Medical Center, and numerous universities. Judi Hampton also serves as President of the Board of Directors of Blackside Inc., which produced Eyes on the Prize, the Emmy Award-winning public television series on the civil rights movement. Ms. Hampton spearheaded a successful fundraising campaign that raised over $1 million to clear rights for the series and make it available to the public and the educational community again. This resulted in the series being rebroadcast in 2006 and 2008 on public television, a national outreach program, and a new DVD set. This effort is an extension of Judi's lifelong commitment to efforts that benefit minority communities. Ms. Hampton has over 25 years of experience in the public relations field. Her firm, Judi Hampton Public Relations, has conducted successful public relations programs for the Brooklyn Children's Museum, Panasonic, McDonald's, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA), the New York City Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, Literacy Volunteers, and many other clients. Before starting her company, she was a senior public affairs officer and spokesperson for the Mobil Corporation. Judi Hampton's experience managing her two companies and in a major corporation enables her to lead programs that provide real-life solutions. Ms. Hampton's programs feature accelerated learning techniques that allow participants to learn skills and apply them directly to enhance organization results.

Julius E. Coles

Julius E. Coles, an African American man speaking while using his hands in a professional meeting setting.Julius E. Coles is the former President of Africare and since 2009 has served as Director of Morehouse College's Andrew Young Center for International Affairs, a position he previously held from 1997-2002. He served as the Director of Howard University’s Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center from 1994-1997. Most of Mr. Coles’ career of some 28 years in the foreign service has been spent as a senior official with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). While with USAID, Mr. Coles was Mission Director in Swaziland and Senegal and served in Vietnam, Morocco, Liberia, Nepal, and Washington, DC. He received a B.A. from Morehouse College (1964) and a Master’s of Public Affairs from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (1966). He has also studied at the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Switzerland, the U.S. Department of State Foreign Institute’s Senior Seminar, the Federal Executive Institute, and Institut de Francais. Mr. Coles retired from the U.S. Government Foreign Service in 1994 with the rank of Career Minister.

Al Young

Al Young, an African American man standing in front of a bush of red flowers. From 1957-1960, Al Young attended the University of Michigan, where he co-edited Generation, the campus literary magazine. In 1961 he emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area. Settling at first in Berkeley, he held a variety of colorful jobs (folksinger, lab aide, disk jockey, medical photographer, clerk typist, employment counselor) before graduating with honors from U.C. Berkeley with a degree in Spanish. In the Y2K year 2000, he returned to Berkeley, where he continues to freelance. Young has taught poetry, fiction writing and American literature at Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Santa Cruz, U.C. Davis, Bowling Green State University, Foothill College, the Colorado College, Rice University, the University of Washington, the University of Michigan, the University of Arkansas, San José State University, where he was appointed the 2002 Lurie Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing, and Charles University in the Czech Republic under the auspices of the Prague Summer Programs. In the spring of 2003, he taught poetry at Davidson College (Davidson, NC), where he was McGee Professor in Writing. In the fall of 2003, as the first Coffey Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, he taught a poetry workshop. From 2003-2006 he served on the faculty of Cave Canem‘s summer workshop retreats for African American poets. His honors include Wallace Stegner, Guggenheim, Fulbright, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, the PEN-Library of Congress Award for Short Fiction, the PEN-USA Award for Non-Fiction, two American Book Awards, two Pushcart Prizes, two New York Times Notable Book of the year citations, an Arts Council Silicon Valley Fellowship, the Stephen Henderson Achievement Award for Poetry, Radio Pacifica’s KPFA Peace Prize, the Glenna Luschei Distinguished Poetry Fellowship, and the Richard Wright Award for Excellence in Literature. At its May 2009 commencement, Whittier College conferred on him its highest honor: the Doctor of  Humane Letters degree. On October 4, 2011, at the University of North Carolina’s Historic Players Theatre, Al Young received the 2011 Thomas Wolfe Prize. Young’s many books include novels, collections of poetry, essays, memoirs, and anthologies. His work has appeared in Paris Review, Ploughshares, Essence, the New York Times, Chicago Review, Seattle Review, Brilliant Corners: A Journal of Jazz & Literature, Chelsea, Rolling Stone, Gathering of the Tribes, the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, and the Oxford Anthology of African American Literature. In the 1970’s he wrote film scripts for producer Joseph Strick, Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, and Richard Pryor. In the 1980’s and 90’s, as a cultural ambassador for the United States Information Agency, he traveled throughout South Asia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. In 2001 he traveled to the Persian Gulf to lecture on American and African American literature and culture in Kuwait and in Bahrain for the U.S. Department of State. Subsequent lecture tours have taken him to Southern Italy in 2004, and back to India in 2005. Blending story, recitation, and song, Young often performs with musicians. In 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him Poet Laureate of California.

Faith Adiele

Faith Adiele, an African American woman sitting in a chair smiling.Author, speaker and teacher Faith Adiele—the original Obama—has appeared on National Public Radio; in a television ad for a national insurance company; on the Tavis Smiley show; in “A Day in the Life of Faith Adiele” (a 2-page center spread in Pink Magazine); and as the subject of a PBS documentary. Her writings on spirituality, travel, and culture have been published in periodicals like Yes!, Essence and O: The Oprah Magazine. Named as one of Marie Claire magazine’s “5 Women to Learn From,” Faith has been the keynote or featured speaker at universities, churches and community centers around the world. The daughter of a Nordic-American mother and Nigerian father, Faith was raised as the sole Black girl in a small farming community in Washington State and attended Harvard University on scholarship. After flunking out of college, she shaved her head and moved into the forests of Southeast Asia, becoming the first black Buddhist nun of Thailand. Her memoir about this experience, Meeting Faith (W.W. Norton & Co.), received the PEN Beyond Margins Award for Best Memoir. After returning to and graduating from Harvard, Faith traveled to Nigeria to meet her father and siblings for the first time, a trip that inspired the PBS documentary, My Journey Home, as well as the ebook, The Nigerian-Nordic Girl’s Guide To Lady Problems, a witty, tricultural look at black women and fibroids. A graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Nonfiction Writing Program, Faith is co-editor Coming of Age Around the World: A Multicultural Anthology (The New Press). She has been honored by a UNESCO International Artists Bursary (Italy); Best American Essays shortlist; the Banff Centre for the Arts (Canada); the Sacatar Foundation (Brasil); the Yaddo Corporation; the MacDowell Colony; the Millennium Award from Creative Nonfiction; the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation; and PEN New England. Faith teaches at VONA: Summer Workshops for Writers of Color and The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, and is Associate Professor in Creative Nonfiction at California College of the Arts in the Bay Area, where is completing Twins, an epic memoir about her heritage that will complete the story begun in the PBS film. Visit her at http://adiele.com.

Callie Crossley

Callie Crossley, an African American woman, smiling, and wearing glasses.Callie Crossley is the host of Under the Radar with Callie Crossley, which airs on Sunday evenings from 6:00 to 7 p.m. on WGBH, 89.7 FM. Her weekly commentaries air Mondays during WGBH’s Morning Edition. Crossley is also a public speaker and television and radio commentator for national and local programs, including CNN’s Reliable Sources, the PBS NewsHour and PRI’s The Takeaway. She also appears weekly on WGBH-TV’s Beat the Press, examining local and national media coverage, Basic Black, focusing on current events concerning communities of color, and Fox 25 Boston’s Morning Show. A former producer for ABC News 20/20, Ms. Crossley is a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, guest-lecturing at colleges and universities about media literacy, media, and politics and the intersection of race, gender, and media. She has two Harvard Fellowships--from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism and the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Crossley was a producer for Blackside Inc.’s “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years,” which earned her an Oscar® nomination, a National Emmy, and the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Award (Gold Baton). For Boston Public Radio, Crossley has earned the AP, Edward R. Murrow and Clarion awards. For Boston Public Radio, Crossley has earned the 2014 Associated Press, Edward R. Murrow, and Clarion awards for writing, producing and co-hosting the hour radio documentary, “Witness to History: WGBH’s 1963 Coverage of the March on Washington.”

Mannie Jackson

Mannie Jackson, an African American man standing at a podium with a mic, making a speech.Mannie Jackson is the chairman and owner of the Harlem Globetrotters, for whom he played from 1962 to 1964. He was the first African-American with controlling ownership in an entertainment organization and international sports. Jackson has been heavily recognized throughout his career including an acknowledgment as one of the nation's 30 most powerful and influential black corporate executives, one of the nation's top 50 corporate strategists, and one of the 20 African-American high-net-worth entrepreneurs.

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves, an African American woman smiling.Dianne Reeves is a Grammy-winning jazz singer. Commentator Scott Yanow said of her, "A logical successor to Dinah Washington and Carmen McRae (although even she cannot reach the impossible heights of Ella and Sarah Vaughan), Reeves is a superior interpreter of lyrics and a skilled scat singer." Reeves in April 2011. Dianne Elizabeth Reeves was born into a musical family. Her father sang, her mother played trumpet; her uncle is bassist Charles Burrell, and her cousin is George Duke. Although she was born in Detroit, she was raised in Denver. In 1971 she started singing and playing the piano. She was a member of her high school band, and while performing at a convention in Chicago was noticed by trumpeter Clark Terry. She sang with Terry's groups, went to college for a year, then moved to Los Angeles, where she sang with Stanley Turrentine and Lenny White. She became a member of the jazz fusion group Caldera, then founded another fusion group, Night Flight, with Billy Childs, with whom she would collaborate again in the 1990s. She moved to New York City and from 1983–1986 toured with Harry Belafonte.

Randall Robinson

Randall Robinson, an African American man standing with his arms crossed and wearing a suit.Randall Robinson is an African-American lawyer, author, and activist noted as the founder of TransAfrica. He is known particularly for his impassioned opposition to apartheid, and for his advocacy on behalf of Haitian immigrants and Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Robinson was born in Richmond, Virginia to Maxie Cleveland Robinson and Doris Robinson Griffin, both teachers. The late ABC News anchorman, Max Robinson, was his elder brother. Randall Robinson graduated from Virginia Union University and earned a law degree at Harvard Law School. He also has an older sister, actress Jewel Robinson, and a younger sister, Pastor Jean Robinson. Both sisters live and work in the Washington, D.C. area. He and his former wife had a daughter, Anike Robinson, and a son, Jabari Robinson. He is married to Hazel Ross-Robinson, and they have one daughter, Khalea Ross Robinson. Robinson was a civil rights attorney in Boston (1971–75) before he worked for U.S. Congressman Bill Clay (1975) and as administrative assistant to Congressman Charles Diggs (1976). He was a Ford fellow. Robinson founded the TransAfrica Forum in 1977, yet according to its mission statement serves as a "major research, educational and organizing institution for the African-American community, offering constructive analysis concerning U.S. policy as it affects Africa and the African Diaspora (African-Americans and West Indians who can trace their heritage back to the dispersion of Africans that occurred as a result of the Transatlantic slave trade) in the Caribbean and Latin America." He served in the capacity as TransAfrica's president until 2001. During that period he gained visibility for his political activism, organizing sits-in at the South African embassy in order to protest the Afrikaner government's racial policy of discrimination against black South Africans, a personal hunger strike aimed at pressuring the United States government into restoring Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after the short-lived coup by General Raoul Cédras, and dumping crates filled with bananas onto the steps of the United States Trade Representative in order to protest what he views as discriminatory trade policies aimed at Caribbean nations, such as protective tariffs and import quotas. In 2001 he authored a book "The Debt: What America Owes To Blacks," which presented an in-depth outline regarding his belief that wide-scale preparations should be offered to African-Americans as a means of redressing what he perceives as centuries of discrimination and oppression directed at the group. The book argues for the enactment of race-based preparation programs as restitution for the continued social and economic issues in the African-American community, such as a high proportion of incarcerated black citizens and the differential in cumulative wealth between white and black Americans. Although some reviewers praised Robinson for delving into a controversial topic that had not been addressed in the mainstream media, others criticized him for reverse racism and asserted that his personal success contradicted the dire portrait he portrayed of the conditions faced by African-Americans living in the United States. In 2003 Robinson turned down an honorary degree from Georgetown University Law Center. Robinson began teaching at The Pennsylvania State University — Dickinson School of Law in the fall of 2008.

Ashford & Simpson

Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, an African American man hugging a woman, both wearing all white and smiling.Ashford & Simpson were a husband-and-wife songwriting-production team and recording artists: Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. Ashford was born in Fairfield, South Carolina, and Simpson in the Bronx, New York. Afterward, his family relocated to Ypsilanti, Michigan, where he became a member of Christ Temple Baptist Church. While there, he sang with a group called The Hammond Singers (named after the founding minister, James Hammond). Later, Nickolas attended and graduated from Willow Run High School in Ypsilanti, Michigan, before pursuing his professional career, where he would ultimately meet his wife, Valerie. They met at Harlem's White Rock Baptist Church in 1964. After having recorded unsuccessfully as a duo, they joined an aspiring solo artist and former member of the Ikettes, Joshie Jo Armstead, at the Scepter/Wand label, where their compositions were recorded by Ronnie Milsap ("Never Had It So Good"), Maxine Brown ("One Step at a Time"), as well as the Shirelles and Chuck Jackson. Another of the trio's songs, "Let's Go Get Stoned," gave Ray Charles a number one U.S. R&B hit in 1966. That same year, Ashford & Simpson joined Motown, where their best-known songs included "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "You're All I Need to Get By," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," and "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)." Ashford and Simpson wrote many other hit songs, including Chaka Khan's "I'm Every Woman" (1978) and Teddy Pendergrass's "Is It Still Good to You?". As performers, Ashford & Simpson's best-known duets are "Solid" and "Found a Cure" (1979). The duo was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002. Ashford and Simpson were also recipients of The Rhythm & Blues Foundation's Pioneer Award in 1999, and ASCAP's highest honor, the Founder's Award, which they received on March 18, 1996.

Ossie Davis

Ossie Davis, an African American man wearing white.Ossie Davis was an American film, television and Broadway actor, director, poet, playwright, author, and civil rights activist. He was married to Ruby Dee, with whom he frequently performed, until his death in 2005. He and his wife were named to the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame; were awarded the National Medal of Arts and were recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors. He was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame, in 1994. Following the wishes of his parents, he attended Howard University but dropped out in 1939 to fulfill his desire for an acting career in New York; he later attended Columbia University School of General Studies. His acting career, which spanned eight decades, began in 1939 with the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem. During World War II, Davis served in the United States Army in the Medical Corps. In addition to acting, Davis, along with Melvin Van Peebles and Gordon Parks, was one of the notable African-American directors of his generation: he directed movies like Gordon's War, Black Girl and Cotton Comes to Harlem. As a playwright, Davis wrote Paul Robeson: All-American, which is frequently performed in theater programs for young audiences. Ossie Davis at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. For many years, he hosted the annual National Memorial Day Concert from Washington, DC. His distinguished bearing made him a perfect choice for the concert. In 1989, Ossie Davis and his wife, actress/activist Ruby Dee, were named to the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame. In 1995, they were awarded the National Medal of Arts, the nation's highest honor conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the country and presented in a White House ceremony by the President of the United States. And in 2004, they were recipients of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors. In 1994, Davis was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. Davis and Dee's deep involvement in the movement were characterized by how instrumental they were in organizing the 1963 civil rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, even to the point of serving as emcee. Davis, alongside Ahmed Osman, delivered the eulogy at the funeral of Malcolm X. He also delivered a stirring tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, at a memorial in New York's Central Park the day after King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Davis died in a Miami, Florida on February 4, 2005.

*Sping Semester of 1998

Lerone Bennett Jr. 

Lerone Bennette Jr., an African American man wearing a suit and smiling.Lerone Bennett Jr. is an African-American scholar, author and social historian, known for his analysis of race relations in the United States. His best-known works included Before the Mayflower (1962) and Forced into Glory (2000), a book about U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Bennett was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi on October 17, 1928, the son of Lerone Bennett Sr. and Alma Reed. When he was young, his family moved to Jackson, Mississippi, the capital. He attended segregated schools as a child under the state system. Bennett graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. He has noted this time was integral to his intellectual development. He also joined the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. After graduate studies, Bennett became a journalist for the Atlanta Daily World in 1949, continuing until 1953. In 1953, Bennett became an associate editor for Ebony Magazine, serving as executive editor beginning in 1958. He served for decades as editors of this prominent magazine. It has served as his base for the publication of a steady stream of articles on African-American history, with some collected and published as books. He was noted in 1954 in his article, "Thomas Jefferson's Negro Grandchildren, “about the 20th-century lives of individuals claiming descent from Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. It brought black oral history into the public world of journalism and published histories. This relationship was long denied by Jefferson's daughter and two of her children, and mainline historians relied on their account. But new works published in the 1970s and 1990s challenged that position. Since a 1998 DNA study demonstrated a match between an Eston Hemings descendant and the Jefferson male line, the historic consensus has shifted (including the position of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello) to acknowledging that Jefferson likely had a 38-year relationship with Hemings and was the father of all her six children of record, four of whom survived to adulthood. Also, Bennett has written several books, including numerous histories of the African-American experience. His most recent book is Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream (2000).  Bennett is credited with the phrase: "Image Sees, Image Feels, Image Acts," meaning the images that people see influence how they feel, and ultimately how they act.

*Fall Semester of 1997

Alvin Poussaint

Alvin Poussaint, an African American man smiling.Alvin Poussaint is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the author of numerous books on child psychiatry, with a particular focus on the raising of African-American children. Poussaint is an African-American psychiatrist, born in New York City's East Harlem neighborhood. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1952. As a youth, he took ill with rheumatic fever, which left him unable to engage in the physical activities of his peers. He graduated from Columbia University in 1956 and earned an M.D. from Cornell University in 1960. Poussaint completed postgraduate training at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he studied psychopharmacology and served as chief resident in psychiatry. After his initial academic accomplishments, Poussaint took part in the civil rights movement, which solidified his notion that racism resides at the core of mental health problems in the black community. Later in life, Poussaint served as a consultant for The Cosby Show and currently combines an advocacy for responsible media programming with his academic work.

Iyanla Vanzant

Iyanla Vanzant, an African American woman wearing all white and smiling.From welfare mother to New York Times best-selling author, from the Brooklyn projects to Emmy Award winner, from broken pieces to peace, Iyanla Vanzant is one of the country’s most celebrated writers and public speakers, and she’s among the most influential, socially engaged, and acclaimed spiritual life coaches of our time. Dedicated to facilitating the growth and evolution of human consciousness, Iyanla’s body of work spans over three decades and includes 15 published books, six New York Times best-sellers (translated into 23 languages and with sales exceeding eight million copies), CDs, television, radio and stage performances. A woman of passion, vision, and purpose, Iyanla embodies a no-nonsense approach in her message and teaching style. Outspoken, fiery, transparent, truthful, and wise, she is living testament to the value in life’s valleys and the power of acts of faith. On stage, as she tours the country, Iyanla uses humor and straight talk to deliver her consistent message of love, forgiveness and living your best life. Today, Iyanla is the host and executive producer of the award-winning breakout hit “Iyanla: Fix My Life,” the No. 1 reality show on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. It is here that Iyanla goes behind closed doors and deep inside people’s lives to reveal emotionally riveting experiences where she applies spiritual principles to help people gain inner peace and healing by learning to “do the work.” There is no better arena in which to experience Iyanla’s dynamic presence as a teacher and spiritual guide than in one of her regular weekend retreats at Inner Visions Institute for Spiritual Development. As Founder of Inner Visions World Wide, Iyanla is actively engaged in personal development courses and on-going training programs for spiritual life coaches and ordained ministers.

Johnnetta Cole

Johnnetta Cole, an African American woman wearing red and smiling.Johnnetta Betsch Cole is an American anthropologist, educator and museum director. Cole was the first African-American female president of Spelman College, a historically black college, serving from 1987 to 1997. She was president of Bennett College from 2002 to 2007. Since 2009, she has been Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art, located in Washington, DC. In 2013, the Winston-Salem Chronicle described Cole as a distinguished educator, cultural anthropologist, and humanitarian. Cole taught briefly at UCLA (1964) and directed the Black Studies program at Washington State University at Pullman (1969–70). She started in 1970 in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she served until 1983. She also was provost of undergraduate education from 1981 to 1983. While at the University of Massachusetts, she played a pivotal role in the development of the university's W.E.B. Du Bois Department of African-American Studies. In 1983, Cole joined the faculty of Hunter College, where she directed the Latin American and Caribbean Studies program. Beginning in 1997, Cole also taught in the Anthropology Department of Emory University, where she is now Presidential Distinguished Professor Emerita. In 1987, Cole was selected as the first black female president of Spelman College, a prestigious historically black college for women. After teaching at Emory University, she was recruited as president of Bennett College for Women, also a historically black college for women. There she led another successful capital campaign. Also, she founded an art gallery to contribute to the college's culture. Cole is currently the Chair of the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity & Inclusion Institute founded at Bennett College for Women. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. In 2009 Cole was named as Director of the National Museum of African Art, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Cornel West

Cornell West, an African American man wearing a suit and glasses. He is sitting down with one hand in a fist under his chin and his other hand on his hip.Cornel West is a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual. He is a Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. He has also taught at Yale, Harvard, and the University of Paris. Cornel West graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard in three years and obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy at Princeton. He has written over 20 books and has edited 13. Though he is best known for his classics, Race Matters and Democracy Matters, and for his memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, his most recent releases, Black Prophetic Fire and Radical King, were received with critical acclaim. Dr. West is a frequent guest on the Bill Maher Show, Colbert Report, CNN, C-Span and Democracy Now. He made his film debut in the Matrix – and was the commentator (with Ken Wilbur) on the official trilogy released in 2004. He also has appeared in over 25 documentaries and films including Examined Life, Call & Response, Sidewalk, and Stand. Last but certainly not least, he has made three spoken word albums including Never Forget, collaborating with Prince, Jill Scott, Andre 3000, Talib Kweli, KRS-One and the late Gerald Levert. His spoken word interludes were featured on Terence Blanchard’s Choices (which won the Grand Prix in France for the best Jazz Album of the year of 2009), The Cornel West Theory’s Second Rome, Raheem DeVaughn’s Grammy-nominated Love & War: Masterpeace, and most recently on Bootsy Collins’ The Funk Capital of the World. In short, Cornel West has a passion to invite a variety of people from all walks of life into his world of ideas to keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. – a legacy of telling the truth and bearing witness to love and justice.

Billy Taylor

Billy Taylor, an African American man playing the piano and smiling.William "Billy" Taylor was an American jazz pianist, composer, broadcaster, and educator. He was the Robert L. Jones Distinguished Professor of Music at East Carolina University in Greenville, and from 1994 was the artistic director for jazz at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. A jazz activist, Taylor sat on the Honorary Founders Board of the Jazz Foundation of America, an organization he started in 1989, with Ann Ruckert, Herb Storfer and Phoebe Jacobs, to save the homes and the lives of America's elderly jazz and blues musicians, later including musicians who survived Hurricane Katrina. Taylor was also a jazz educator, who lectured in colleges, served on panels and traveled worldwide as a jazz ambassador. Critic Leonard Feather once said, "It is almost indisputable that Dr. Billy Taylor is the world's foremost spokesman for jazz."

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