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Johnnetta Cole    

Former Director, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

One of the most powerful and well-regarded African American women in the US, Johnnetta B. Cole has a way with making history. She was the first female African American president of Spelman College, the first woman ever elected to the board of Coca-Cola Enterprises, and the first African American woman to serve as chair of the board of United Way of America. In over 30 years in education, she has also served two US Presidents in leadership roles.

Cole served as the director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, overseeing a collection of over 10,000 objects of various media and art forms representing nearly every area of the African continent. As a scholar, author, and activist for social and economic justice, Cole has spearheaded breakthrough thinking about diversity, leadership, and women's issues. As the chair of the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity & Inclusion Institute at Bennett College, she infused diversity into academic institutions, businesses, corporations, civic and community organizations, and government and global thought leaders.

An inspiring force, Cole rallies everyone to embrace diversity as not only a moral and social value, but as a compelling case for business. She encourages audiences to move beyond the status quo to fully take advantage of the innovative and profitable ideas that stem from a more diverse workforce, membership, and student body. As she notes, "How much better our world would be if each of us respected difference until difference doesn't make any more difference?"

Speech Topics

Growing Up With Duality

Johnnetta Cole came from a family of means, one that was deeply involved in notions of faith and community service. But she lived in a society where she couldn't swim in the pool reserved for whites or visit the main library that bore her great grandfather's name in one of the branches, the A.L. Lewis Colored Branch. Despite her family's accolades, Cole lived in a society that challenged her very self-worth because of the color of her skin.

The Business Case for Diversity & Inclusion

The Case for Diversity & Inclusion in American Higher Education

Race, Gender, & Class in the Run for the American Presidency

Women & Leadership

Everybody Can Be a Philanthropist


What Made Me: Johnnetta Cole of the National Museum of African Art

Photograph by Douglas Sonders. The teacher: I went to segregated schools until middle school, when my parents put me in a school run by the Methodist ...

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