Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Dillard's Cook Put Hearts and Minds to Work: "The Importance of Making a Contribution to the Betterment of the Human Condition"

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Dillard's Cook Put Hearts and Minds to Work: "The Importance of Making a Contribution to the Betterment of the Human Condition"

Article excerpt

Dillard's Cook Put Hearts and Minds to Work: "The Importance of Making a. Contribution to the Betterment of the Human Condition"

In September 1986, then-Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone shocked many Americans when he asserted that America was intellectually inferior to Japan "because of a considerable number of Blacks, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans."

Dillard University President Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook, with characteristic practicality, decided that something should be done to refute Nakasone's racist misconceptions.

Earlier that year Cook had traveled to Japan for a university presidents conference sponsored by the United Methodist Church and Japanese universities, the only Black university president in the twenty-member group. There he had been impressed with a Japanese academic, Dr. Makoto Fujita, who had been speaking at historically Black colleges and universities since 1954 and had a profound understanding of and appreciation for the Black American experience.

"I was impressed by Dr. Makoto Fujita, and we discussed the possibility of a Japanese study program," Cook later explained.

Fujita proposed that Dillard host Japanese junior high school students on the campus for a three-week English program. Cook implemented the proposal and in 1991, Dillard began a Japanese language studies program headed by Fujita.

"No other university is conducting such intense study," Fujita brags.

That kind of institutional and academic bridge building between cultures is Cook's way of fighting the tragedy and tyranny of racism.

"I'm against all forms of racism. I believe we all belong to each other -- Blacks, whites, orientals. We need to understand each other as members of the human family," Cook says.

Cook applied that same combination to the tensions between Blacks and Jews in the United States. The first Dillard University National Conference on Black-Jewish Relations was held in 1989, and shortly afterward the institution established its Center for Black-Jewish Relations, the only center of its kind in the world. Among other things, it sponsors an annual conference that focuses on the political, religious and even musical ties between Jews and African Americans. "When Blacks and Jews fight, God cries," Cook has been known to say.

"Dr. Cook vowed during the civil rights movement, when the Black-Jewish coalition started to fall apart in the 1970s, that one day he would help put the coalition back together," said Alan Katz, head of the Center for Black-Jewish Relations. "Dr. Cook feels that Blacks and Jews have a history of common oppression and they are allies."

Remembering the alliance between Jews and Blacks during the civil rights movement, Cook says, "Every time we have a national conference on Black-Jewish relations, I want to see that spirit reestablished."

Finding Inspiration

Cook grew up in Griffin, Georgia, one of six children born to the late Rev. and Mrs. M.E. Cook. Both his father and grandfather were ministers, and Cook had planned to follow in their footsteps. Attending Baptist conventions, Cook became friends with another minister's son, Martin Luther King Jr.

"M.L. and I became friends in junior high school," Cook remembers.

At Morehouse College, they were part of a special class of fifteen-year-olds recruited during World War II, when most college-age students were in the armed services. Other members of their class included: the late Robert Johnson, who was editor of Jet magazine, and Vernon Jordan, who later headed the National Urban League. Lerone Bennett, who later edited Ebony magazine, was in the following class. Morehouse College President Dr. Benjamin E. Mays became a surrogate father to Cook and the other students.

"He just inspired all of us. He believed in us," Cook says. "And that's the genius of our colleges. We believe in our students. And because Dr. Mays and others believed in us, we didn't have any better sense than to believe in ourselves. …

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