“There is no one who is more knowledgeable and I’m prepared to say, more passionate, about the NVLP than Dr. Cosby,” said Johnnetta B. Cole, chair of the NVLP board of directors. Cole will also help moderate Thursday’s conversation.
“[Cosby] is the perfect person to facilitate this discussion,” added Cole. “This is an organization that Dr. Cosby founded; she carries in her heart, the mission of the NVLP.”
The NVLP was founded in 2001 by Cosby and Renee Poussaint. According to its website, the group is a nonprofit whose motto is to “create tomorrow’s leaders by recording, preserving and distributing through various media, the wisdom of extraordinary African American elders.”
Through its oral history interviews, NVLP board members and co-founders speak with nationally recognized African American leaders including poet Maya Angelou and music mogul Quincy Jones. The recorded interviews are archived and available to the general public on the NVLP website (http://www.visionaryproject.com/index.asp). Through its Visionary Heritage Program, the NVLP trains college students to record and document the oral histories of leaders in their own communities.
“There is a special spark, an unusual experience when our elders and our young folk are in conversation,” said Cole. Cole, an anthropologist, also serves as the director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.
“When I was growing up, we were often in conversation with our elders,” said Cole. “And these days, that doesn’t happen as much ... this is much too rare.”
“A Legacy of Change: Excellence Unleashed,” aims to bridge the gap between younger and older generations by creating a dialogue about issues facing both. Its panelists, who at Thursday’s discussion will include Clifford Alexander Jr., former secretary of the Army; David N. Dinkins, former mayor of New York City; Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders; former U.S. Surgeon General; Bonnie St. John, Paralympic medal winner; and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, actor, director and musician, will talk to students about how education has helped shape their lives.
Cole said the NVLP strives for diversity on its panel, aiming to have both men and women as a part of the program, as well as elders from varying lines of work.
Though this is the first time Prince George’s Community College will host the program, the NVLP has held the “Legacy” panel discussion at other universities, including Spelman College in Atlanta, where Cole served as president in the late 1980s and into the 1990s.
“We certainly learned how wonderful it is when there is an inter-generational conversation,” said Cole. “There were moments at Spelman when I just felt so intensely proud of my Spelman sisters and no less proud of our elders.”
While panelists will start by answering questions Cosby poses, Cole said she expects the program will naturally become more of a conversation than a Q&A session. She also added that it’s not just the college students attending the panel who are in the position to learn.
Cole said she hopes students will share “how they are managing in the particular times they are living,” and how issues of racism and sexism are matters that transcend generations.
“It’s a different twist on the same struggle,” said Cole.
“It’s an inter-generational conversation where there will be reciprocity,” she added. “While it’s obvious our young people will learn a great deal from our visionaries, visionaries can also learn from young people. And I don’t just mean how to use an iPad.”