In Clarkston, a town in DeKalb County where one in every three residents was born outside the United States, students meet at a local high school to discuss gang activity, drugs, pollution, and ethnic division in the community.

In Atlanta, low-income cancer patients receive free legal assistance as well as help applying for benefits, completing insurance paperwork, and dealing with employment concerns.

And across Georgia, Somali-speaking listeners tune in regularly to the Sangal Radio Service, a vital resource for connecting these East African refugees and providing the information they need.

These efforts, and dozens more, have benefitted from the assistance of fellows and alumni from Emory’s Kenneth Cole Fellowship Program in Community Building and Social Change, now in its third year.

“The program is really taking off. We’ve gotten a record number of proposals from the community for this summer. It’s going to be difficult to choose,” says Sam Marie Engle ’90C, director of the program. “What we’re really proud of is that many of our students have continued their relationships with their community partners through internships.”

The fellowship program was launched in 2001 with a grant from New York designer Kenneth Cole ’76C, who also presides over an annual conference on community building at Emory each year.

“In fashion, you write your own rules. The further it is from anything anyone else has done before, the better. That’s how it is in community building–it’s not what’s there, it’s what’s not there,” says Cole, long known for spiking his advertising with edgy social statements. “We are so often unable to see beyond each other’s race, religion, and sexual orientation. Amazingly, we are still living under a cloud of hate, prejudice, and fear. These are the weapons of mass destruction.”

January’s conference centered around the theme, “Many Faces in One Place: Building the Diverse Community,” and featured actor, producer, and musician Harry Belafonte, a social activist who organized the 1985 recording of “We are the World” to raise money for famine relief in Africa. He now spends much of his time working inside prisons and with youth who are disenfranchised.

“I’ve been afforded the opportunity to spend a life in social and political activism and to serve causes that have enhanced humanity,” Belafonte said at the forum’s keynote session in Glenn Memorial Church. “I was born in poverty, grew up in it. Poverty was my mother’s midwife. She was an immigrant woman who came from the Caribbean. . . . Her strength set a standard that propelled me into life. I could not spend one day when I was not in battle with oppression. I’ve found this to be far more exciting than perfecting my tennis game.”

Democracy is a social experiment “eternally in demand of attention,” Belafonte said. “If we do not protect and guide it, we will lose it–and lose it swiftly.”

During the forum, fellows gave presentations of their community service projects, through which they worked with immigrant groups and community leaders on city streets and inside high schools.

“I’ve been given a new set of eyes with which to view the world,” said Juno Lawrence ’05C, who worked with the Metro Atlanta Women of Color Initiative to reach out to African American and Latino women with information about HIV/AIDS.

Fellows also helped the Sagal Radio Service, which is heard by fifteen thousand East African refugees across the state, to become an independent nonprofit organization and facilitated discussions with four groups of teens from Clarkston High School, just east of Atlanta, challenging them to discuss community issues and come up with positive solutions regarding housing, health, and violence.

Christopher Richardson ’03C, a member of the inaugural class of Cole fellows, turned down a prestigious Bobby Jones scholarship to take a job helping fellow cancer survivors through the Atlanta Legal Aid Society.

“I remember what it was like,” says Richardson, who was diagnosed with bone cancer at age fifteen. “Not only fighting cancer, but struggling to pay rent, and bill collectors. . . . Low-income people with cancer face multiple battles.”

Newly selected Cole fellow Tori Gordon ’06C, a sophomore from Carmel, Indiana, listened intently to the presentations. “I always wanted to make my impact on the world,” Gordon says. “This program is the perfect way to figure out how to do that.”

The other 2004 Cole fellows are: Carina Alberelli ’05C, from Miami; Allison Cohen ’05C, from New York City; Jenny Cooner ’05C, from Grinnell, Iowa; Ansley Dillehay ’05C, from Lawrenceville; Christian Idiodi ’05C, from Decatur; Shijuade Kadree ’05C, from Fairburn; Judith Kaine ’05C, from Sarasota; Kathryn Roberts ’06C, from Concord, Massachusetts; Melissa Roudi ’05C, from Winter Springs, Florida; Alicia Sanchez ’05C, from Metairie, Louisiana; and Salim Vagh ’05C, from Albuquerque.–M.J.L.



© 2004 Emory University