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Bridge the Economic, Racial Divide,
Advises Johnetta Cole
September 27, 1999

As we head into the next millennium, age-old divisions between racial and societal groups still exist, said Johnetta B. Cole, president emerita of Spelman College in Atlanta, in a lecture at Jorgensen Gallery September 17, and she urged people to take the necessary steps to bridge the gaps between themselves and those around them.

Despite society's increasing reliance on technology, a large number of poor people and ethnic minorities don't have access to it, Cole said. That lack of access may contribute to the low number of minorities who receive advanced degrees in growing fields, such as the sciences and engineering. For example, only one Native American received a Ph.D. in physics in 1996, she said.

With the recent announcement of a $1 billion donation to finance scholarships for 20,000 minority students mostly in math, the sciences, engineering and education over the next 20 years, Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman, has taken a critical step toward increasing the number of minorities in fields in which they are under- represented, Cole said.

Minorities who have benefited from the Civil Rights Movement - Cole's choice for the most influential act of the 20th century - and those who will benefit from the acts of people like Gates, must not forget their heritage, she said. It is up to those who have moved ahead to help those who are less fortunate by maintaining connections with their roots, she added.

In addition, minorities must strive to work together to overcome institutional racism. The combined efforts of different minorities must replace the homophobia, sexism and anti-Semitism that are tearing groups apart, she said.

Cole's talk was sponsored by the H. Fred Simons African American Cultural Center. Cole is the author of Higher Ground: Preparing African-American Children for College; Dream the Boldest Dreams: And Other Lessons of Life and Conversations; Straight Talk with America's Sister President.

She was the president of Spelman College, a historically black college for women, when U.S. News & World Report ranked it as the number one regional liberal arts college in the South. Cole is currently a professor at Emory University in Atlanta.

Allison Thompson