Johnnetta Betsch Cole works for Cook Ross consulting firm, which specializes in helping organizations improve, among many areas, diversity and inclusion.
At 12:30 p.m. on July 14, Cole spoke at the Hall of Philosophy to launch the diversity and inclusion aspect of the Institution’s new strategic plan. She will be the Institution’s leading consultant in diversity and inclusion for two years, thanks to support from Chautauquans Karen and Sarah James.
“It’s our hope that with our gift, it demonstrates to the community that other people can get involved,” Sarah James said. “Hopefully it inspires others to take action, to give (and) to give their time and at the end of the day, just be a part of the conversation.”
The couple has been coming to Chautauqua Institution together for five years, and one thing that immediately inspired them was improving the lack of diversity.
“When we first came (to Chautauqua), we loved everything about it except everybody seemed to look just like us,” Karen James said. “So right away, the racial disparity was evident…. We felt like we wanted to do something, do our part, whatever that was.”
Their desire to improve diversity lined up with the Institution’s. The Jameses have since gotten involved with the LGBTQ and Friends Community, donated to the Chautauqua Fund and most recently have given money to support efforts to diversify the Institution, like their funding to engage Cook Ross consulting firm.
“We saw the importance of (improving diversity) because we know that Chautauqua’s committed to exploring the best in human values,” Karen James said. “So if that’s the case, then anything that speaks of discrimination is really contrary to Chautauqua’s mission.”
Sarah James said throughout their experiences outside of the Institution with work, family and their church, they have always kept diversity and inclusivity in their minds. She said they went to a Calvary Methodist church on the northside of Pittsburgh that made an effort to improve inclusion in the city.
“To echo Dr. Cole’s comments, how can we help provide equity, participation, accessibility and inclusion?” Sarah James said.
When the couple first came to the Institution, they were encouraged by efforts to incorporate different faiths into the community.
“It seemed like there was a lot of conversation around here about (diversity and inclusion),” Sarah James said. “Coming to Chautauqua and becoming part of the LGBTQ and Friends Community, a group that really struggled for equality, expression and rights, …(we saw the LGBTQ Friends) really breaking down some walls.”
On and off the grounds, Sarah and Karen James consider social justice a passion of theirs. They said that everyone in a community benefits from different cultures’ contribution and continue to ask the same question Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill has been asking: “How do we turn these gates into gateways?”
“Social justice, for us, has been one of our personal tenets for a long time,” Sarah James said. “And it was important for us to participate in the effort. … As we see our nation struggling with this polarization, I think Chautauqua can begin to model how we can all move forward together.”
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