Wisdom O. Cole received rave reviews for a presentation he put together in college for Black students across the state of California. The Afrikan Black Coalition Conference featured a host of prominent speakers and won Cole the Chancellor’s Achievement Award for Diversity. But more than compliments and commendations, the event and its success gave him a glimpse of the future.
“That was really the point in time where it took off for me,” Cole told his alma mater, University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), for an article last year. “I was like, ‘this is what I want to do with my life.’ ”
Now director of the NAACP Youth and College Division, he’s doing just that. The national role has Cole working with youth councils, and high-school and college chapters, across the country to empower young Black people in the fight for civil rights. His passion for growing young leaders to build political power will take centerstage when he delivers UMW’s Black History Month Celebration keynote address. The talk, set to take place in the Cedric Rucker University Center’s Chandler Ballroom at 7 p.m., is one of several events hosted by the James Farmer Multicultural Center (JFMC) and planned throughout February.
“We especially appreciate the breadth of his work to empower and equip young people with the knowledge, resources and strategies to enable them to become effective social agents of change,” JFMC Director Marion Sanford said of Cole. “I firmly believe his presence and message to our students and others will inspire them to strive further to make a positive difference in our democracy and beyond.”
Cole earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UCSC’s Oakes College, where he established a reputation as an inspiring student leader and role model. He then earned a master’s in education at the University of San Francisco, remaining in the city to teach math and science at a high school predominantly serving working-class communities of color.
That’s where, Cole told UCSC, he began connecting the dots between his identity as a Black scientist and mathematician and his history as a Black man. In 2018, he took on the role of national training and campaign manager for the NAACP Youth and College Division, working his way up to the division’s top post within three years.
Named among Complex Life’s 32 young activists who are changing the world in 2020, he’s been featured by NPR, VICE, NBC Washington News, the Brookings Institution and The Economist as an advocate for Black youth voter turnout through issue-based campaign organizing.
Other UMW Black History Month Celebration events include tonight’s Great Lives Series lecture on Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi sharecropper who faced down white supremacists and challenged President Lyndon Johnson to secure voting rights for all Americans in the 1960s. The talk, delivered by Kate Clifford Lawson, author of the Hamer biography Walk With Me, will take place in George Washington Hall’s Dodd Auditorium at 7:30 p.m.
The MLK Virtual Project rounds out the month, bringing the North Carolina State University initiative to the Hurley Convergence Center’s Digital Auditorium Feb. 22 and 23. Technology and re-creations allow viewers to experience Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “A Creative Protest” speech (also known as the “Fill Up the Jails” speech), of which no recording exists. A formal presentation will take place Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 6 p.m
For a complete list of UMW’s Black History Month events, visit the James Farmer Multicultural Center’s 2023 Black History Month Celebration page.