By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor,

Renowned educator, leader and former president of Spellman College and Bennett College, Dr. Johnetta Cole, is enthusiastic to take on her new role as chair and seventh president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).  Her appointment was announced during the closing session of the organization’s 58th Biennial National Convention in Washington, D.C.

“With great humility and with huge excitement I accept this incredible responsibility and honor,” Cole told the AFRO.

Dr. Johnetta Cole delivering her acceptance remarks after taking her oath of office as the National Council of Negro Women’s new board chair and seventh president at the 58th Biennial National Convention.

Despite having led several organizations, including most recently as the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art, Cole said there is something particularly special about this role.

“While I have been fortunate, I’d even dare to say blessed, to have leadership roles in my professional life, there’s something different about this and it has to do really with a sense of calling – that I am really called to do this,” Cole said.

One of the reasons Cole feels called to this position is because, in a sense, leaders to whom she looked up to and knew, are indirectly passing a torch.  Cole knew NCNW founder, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and its longstanding president and chair Dr. Dorothy Irene Height.

“So I’m called to do this because I have been privileged to know those two incomparable leaders.”

In addition, Cole feels this role is even more important in 2018 America.

“I’ve accepted this role because of the times that we are in.  I can certainly say as a Black woman, and I know many of us can say, we have known worse than this, but we’ve never known the specificity of this,” Cole told the AFRO.  “I think we’ve never experienced the kind of divisiveness in our country.  The sense in which some folk feel emboldened to deny the humanity of others.”

Cole said NCNW, founded in 1935, is still important in light of today’s social justice issues.

“At a time such as this, there is a particularly, special, important, one might even say, elite role for women of African descent,” she told the AFRO.  “And the National Council of Negro Women is an organization that is centered in the reality, the dream, the possibility, the responsibility of women of African descent.”

According to Cole, not all of Bethune’s dreams have been met.

“I think what we are charged with is to honestly ask ourselves why all of that work has not been done and to be open to different ways of doing that work,” she said.

Intergenerational work and an openness to all kinds of Black women is what Cole believes is key to the future of the organization.

“This is a time where we are called to work intergenerationally, more than any other time in my lifetime,” she said.  “This is a time, and I say this respectfully, where different lifestyles have become more accepted than they were during the era of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and so we at NCNW must be open, more open, to the diversity among women of African descent.”

The new president of NCNW hopes to ensure the organization is involved in important social justice conversations.

“Now that the organization is so solvent internally, we want to be more active externally.  And so whenever there is a convening about the issues, the critical issues of social justice, NCNW will be at the table, will be at the convening, needs to be a part of that convening.”

Quoting the organization’s sixth president Ingrid Saunders Jones, Cole told the AFRO, “NCNW is alive. NCNW is well. NCNW is solvent. And added as she turned over the mantle of leadership to me, NCNW is ready for the future.”

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor