HRC to honor former Spelman prez at gala

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imageThe Human Rights Campaign’s signature event in Atlanta is coming soon and the organization announced late last week its pick for one of the event’s top awards.

Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, the first African-American woman to serve as president of Spelman College, will receive the Ally of Equality Award at the 22nd Annual Atlanta HRC Dinner & Silent Auction, which is set for May 2.

HRC cites Cole’s work as a national leader on diversity issues and her tenure at Spelman in their selection of her to receive the award.

Dr. Cole has had a long and distinguished career as an educator and humanitarian. After 20 years of service as a professor at three institutions of higher learning, Cole made history in 1987 by becoming the first African-American woman to serve as president of Spelman College in Atlanta. At her inauguration, as seventh President of Spelman College, Bill Cosby and his wife Camille made a gift of $20 million to the College, the largest single gift from individuals to any historically Black college or university. Dr. Cole then became the 14th president of Bennett College, the only other historically black college for women, in 2002. During her tenure, she raised an unprecedented $50 million for the College.

A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Anthropological Association, Cole has consistently addressed issues of racial and gender discrimination. Besides her work in higher education, Cole serves as a member of the board of directors for a number of organizations, including the Carter Center and the National Visionary Leadership Project. In addition to 50 honorary degrees, Cole has received numerous awards, including the TransAfrica Forum Global Public Service Award, the Dorothy I. Height Dreammaker Award and the Radcliffe Medal.

The HRC dinner comes as the country is mired in a recession and the unemployment rate in Georgia reaches double-digits. Organizers of the dinner are taking note, according to Southern Voice.

Change is also at the heart of the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Gala & Silent Auction, one of gay Atlanta’s largest spring events. Dinner Co-Chair Brad DiFiore said a number of changes are on tap for the banquet, which fits this year’s theme: “Evolve!”

For the first time, HRC is relaxing its black tie dress code to what DiFiore considers “formal festive or business attire.” The Atlanta dinner will also hand out its first national level award, when it honors Dr. Johnetta Cole as Ally for Equality.

“It’s a national level award that we’ve never given out in Atlanta as far as I’m aware,” DiFiore said. “They decided to honor her here because of her ties to Atlanta.”

DiFiore and his volunteers are changing the gala in other ways as well, tightening up the program and reducing the number of entertainers.

“We don’t plan on having a non-local entertainer this year, because one of the decisions we’ve made is that given the economy, and our resources this year, we want to have the most fundraising with the lowest cost,” he said.

HRC is still in negotiations with several potential speakers, and DiFiore said they would announce them at a later date.

HRC continued its series of community events on Saturday with Bowling for Equality, which drew nearly 300 people to Funtime Bowl on Buford Highway. View the Project Q Atlanta photo album from the event.

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