Emorys first Kenneth Cole Forum for Community Building and
Social Change, held on campus Feb. 2021, got off to a rousing
start last Wednesday night and didnt slow down until the next
Former New York governor Mario Cuomo kicked things off with his
keynote address, Feb. 20 in Glenn Auditorium. Cuomofather-in-law
to Kenneth Cole, the 1976 Emory College graduate and benefactor
behind both the forum and the new Kenneth Cole Fellowship programdelivered
an energizing speech to a crowd of several hundred.
After just a little more than 200 years, weve grown
into the strongest, richest nation in the worlds 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 nations
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. Thats not the question. The question is,
can we be better than we are?
The Queens native gave Emorys 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
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 days three sessions made abundantly clear how crucial
a strong community is to Americas 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 ONeal, 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 forums final panel focused on the community
perspective. Rich moderated a panel that included Mark OConnell,
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 forums
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
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
dont take broad, stigmatizing descriptions as fact, but that
you get to know people you want to help.