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February 25, 2002

First Cole forum features Cuomo, Carter, Laney

By Michael Terrazas


Emory’s first Kenneth Cole Forum for Community Building and Social Change, held on campus Feb. 20–21, got off to a rousing start last Wednesday night and didn’t slow down until the next afternoon.

Former New York governor Mario Cuomo kicked things off with his keynote address, Feb. 20 in Glenn Auditorium. Cuomo—father-in-law to Kenneth Cole, the 1976 Emory College graduate and benefactor behind both the forum and the new Kenneth Cole Fellowship program—delivered an energizing speech to a crowd of several hundred.

“After just a little more than 200 years, we’ve grown into the strongest, richest nation in the world’s history,” said Cuomo, who stepped down as New York governor in 1995 and now is a partner in the Manhattan law firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher. “We have a right to be proud. But it would be a mistake to let our rightful pride tempt us into short-sightedness. We are nowhere near the more perfect union our founders talked about.”

Cuomo, the son of first-generation Italian immigrants, spent much of his address discussing the greatness of American potential and how much work is to be done in bringing that potential to the nation’s poor and undereducated. He listed a number of sobering statistics about the plight of the American worker in regard to health care, job skills and other parameters.

“But nothing about all these unpleasant realities suggests that the United States is not the greatest nation in the world,” Cuomo said. “That’s not the question. The question is, can we be better than we are?”

The Queens native gave Emory’s inaugural group of 21 Cole fellows plenty of grist for their social-consciousness mills, and the next day they and other forum attendees listened to more detailed information on a tragically timely subject: terrorism and homeland security.

Michael Rich, director of the Office of University-Community Partnerships, wondered aloud during the Feb. 21 morning session whether people would see the connection between terrorism and community building, but the nine panelists and three moderators (Rich included) for the day’s three sessions made abundantly clear how crucial a strong community is to America’s efforts to remain vigilant against terror in the wake of Sept. 11.

In the first session, “Terrorism and Homeland Security: A National Perspective,” former Emory president and ambassador to South Korea James Laney moderated a panel that included Wyche Fowler, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and chair of the Middle East Institute; Frances Fragos-Townsend, director of intelligence for the U.S. Coast Guard; and Julie Gerberding, acting deputy director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The next session focused on the same topic, but from a local and state perspective. Rollins School of Public Health Dean James Curran moderated the panel of James O’Neal, emergency medical services director for the state of Georgia; Scott Wetterhall, medical epidemiologist for the CDC; and Moses Ector, newly appointed director of Homeland Security for DeKalb County and former deputy assistant director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

That afternoon, the forum’s final panel focused on the community perspective. Rich moderated a panel that included Mark O’Connell, president of the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta; Bill Bolling, executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank; and Aisha Jumaan, vice president of the Islamic Society of Atlanta.

Finally, former President Jimmy Carter delivered the forum’s concluding remarks. Making time in the middle of a major international conference being held at the Carter Center, the former president spoke of the increasing “chasm” between rich and poor, both globally and within the United States, “though even the poor people in this country are rich compared to others around the world.”

In keeping with the terrorism theme, Carter cautioned against labeling people as “terrorists” without attempting to understand them. This, in fact, was his primary lesson to the Cole fellows.

“I would hope one of the outcomes of this forum is that you don’t take broad, stigmatizing descriptions as fact, but that you get to know people you want to help.”