Dr. Johnnetta Cole: 10 observations on anti-racism, building ally-ship and creating systems change

April 28, 2021

Participants in LGW’s Anti-Racist Leadership Series 201: Further Explorations into Creating Anti-Racist Organizations just finished their 4-month journey through the program in April. 645 cross-sector leaders have participated in LGW’s Anti-Racist leadership series to date. 92 of those participants have completed the 201 program to take their ally-ship from the individual to the systems level.

Pioneering educator and humanitarian Dr. Johnnetta Cole joined us as the featured speaker for the final session in our Anti-Racist Leadership Series 201. Dr. Cole’s life story is rooted in her beginnings in the civil rights movement in the South. Dr. Cole shaped the trajectory of Spelman College as the first Black woman to serve as its President. Last week, she was acknowledged in the acceptance speech for her work as cultural consultant for the Academy Award Winning animated film “Soul.”

Dr. Cole graciously shared her uplifting observations on anti-racism, ally-ship, power, and privilege. She encouraged participants to celebrate their progress, stay creative, and remain rigorous in their thinking about the present realities within our racial systems. Here are some of the most memorable quotes from Dr. Cole during the program day:

  1. “We have to lift up our victories. Otherwise, the defeats that others want us to experience will overpower us.” 
  2. “I think it is a mistake for us to look for a clean, absolute statement that ‘nothing is better, or ‘everything has changed.’ When we are dealing with racism, sexism, or heterosexism, it is really important for us to understand and respond to what is different now.”
  3. “Each of us has the ability to engage in empathy, because I have seen it. I have witnessed change, because I have seen my own fundamental change.”
  4. “My experience is that institutions do not sit outside of the society in which they exist. So much of what is going on now, and has gone on for 400 years, is a refusal to acknowledge the history and herstory of our nation.”
  5. “Ally-ship is very difficult to create in our current realities. It is hard to be an ally to someone you don’t even know. In the United States, we live so much of our lives in segregated spaces. We want to think segregated spaces are a thing of the past, but they aren’t. Building ally-ship is so important, and so difficult, because you can’t be my ally if you don’t know me. And it means we really have to get to know each other. But what a goal that is for us to have!”
  6. “When doing anti-racist work, it is important to be as creative as possible. We can’t begin a conversation with, ‘you’re a bigot’ or ‘it’s all your fault.’ No one wants to feel threatened when they begin a conversation.”
  7. “It is not a pretty picture when someone has succumbed to practicing racism. But it is an extraordinarily beautiful picture when someone who has been there decides to go through a transformation.”
  8. “It is really important that when we do anti-racist work that we use other systems of inequality to help each other better understand racism.”
  9. “I can’t expect people with white privilege and power to feel the same way that I do about the killing of George Floyd, but I refuse to act as if white Americans can’t feel something. There were more white people in the streets calling for racial justice than ever before. How can we not honor that?”
  10. “You can’t head where you won’t go. Using an African proverb, ‘she who teaches must learn, she who learns must teach.’ My hope is that every sister, brother, and sibling in this program is prepared to not be a proselytizer but to continue to learn and teach.”  

The third iteration of our Anti-Racist leadership 101 series begins in January of 2022 and goes through June. For leaders who have already completed a 101, we are offering an advanced 201 program that begins in January of 2022 and goes through March. For those who have completed the 201, our 301 program starts in April of 2022 and goes through June.

Participants in each series engage with dynamic guest speakers, our co-facilitators, and use multi-media learning tools, group exercises, and breakout sessions with fellow participants to develop action plans and advance their abilities as anti-racists.



Dr. Johnnetta Cole: 10 observations on anti-racism, building ally-ship and creating systems change