Community Spotlight with Julius E. Coles
Promoting the Global Community
By Sabrina Cherry
There are moments when I think “wow, I’ve done a lot in my short life.” And then I encounter people like Mr. Coles and receive a reality check. It’s during these encounters that I vacillate between feeling like I have sooo much more to do, to see, to experience and that I’ve been asleep for most of my life.
I entered the office and was greeted by his assistant. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Coles approached me from a hallway to my right and extended his hand. A distinguished gentleman wearing a kind smile, I instantly felt like I was in good company. The first fifteen or twenty minutes were spent chatting back and forth about our lives and in that time I realized that I would have done myself a great injustice by conducting a phone interview (an initial consideration due to schedule limitations). As our conversation continued, I realized that I should be taking notes.
I took out my pen and the words were flowing much too quickly for me to write. We went through some of the fascinating aspects of his career (most of which can be found in an interview posted at: http://littleblackvillage.wordpress.com/international-exposure/global-community-with-julius-e-coles). Some of the things we discussed that were not a part of his initial interview and are just as profound are that Mr. Coles is a native Atlantean! He was born here and remained in Atlanta – for the most part – until he left for graduate school at Princeton. His parents both attended college in Atlanta; his mom: Spelman College and his father: Morris Brown College. Raised in a house of educators, he always valued education.
Mr. Coles recalled attending a play at the Civic Center while he was in the 10th grade. The play included people – of all races and ethnicities – living in a global community. He left the auditorium thinking he wanted to be a part of that community, not the community he’d grown to know all too well in the segregated south. That was the beginning of what eventually lead to 28 years in the Foreign Service.
I asked Mr. Coles why return to Morehouse? After all that he has done – receiving some of the most prestigious awards in the nation and across the globe – why return to little ‘ole Atlanta? What followed was an extensive conversation about why he came back … why Morehouse and why after such an extensive international career. Mr. Coles explained that this was his second time returning to Atlanta. The first was to take care of his aging parents. He remained here for 5 years before taking a position at Africare in Washington, D.C. After doubling Africare’s budget, Mr. Coles returned to Atlanta to serve as the Director of the Andrew Young Center for International Affairs.
This second return was partially sparked by his commitment to expose students to other options and career alternatives. In his current position, he encourages students to get out of their comfort zone … away from what they consider “safe” and “move to a level of risks and rewards.” One of the ways he does this is by securing funds and facilitating trips abroad. He has taken students on study abroad trips to Haiti and will be taking his first group to South Africa.
Mr. Coles stated that international travel and exposure are necessities in order to compete in what has become a global community. He also describes international service as an experience that will “pays dividends for the rest of your life” and considers Peace Corps as one of these rare opportunities where students can learn another language extensively, experience another culture, develop a sound networking circle and gain financial resources. In adding to his long list of achievements, one of his goals is to relinquish Morehouse’s position as the number 2 supplier of minority Peace Corps Volunteer and take Howard University’s current place as #1.
I could go on recanting the inscriptions in my notes – the pages and pages and pages of scribbles from my interview with Mr. Julius Coles. But I’d like to detour here and recollect how the interview personally touched and inspired me. If one were to read Mr. Coles’s write-up on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_E._Coles), it wouldn’t be a shock as to why I was so inspired by my time with him. But what was even more inspiring is his commitment to mentoring young men, his commitment to international development and his passion to inspire others. In addition to his extensive travel log, Mr. Coles is also a husband and proud father of two young women – one who is studying in Europe to become a vet and another who is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and is working in the international health arena. I felt connected to him – being the son of a Morris Brown College graduate and a proud member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. I felt invigorated by him – a man who has done so much, but still has so much more he’d like to do. These things, my friend, cannot be found in Wikipedia.
I hope the young men at Morehouse know what a gem they have in Mr. Julius Coles. Under his leadership, Morehouse currently sends about 10% of their students abroad. I anticipate this number increasing drastically very soon. What a pleasure and an honor to have spent time with such a man.