Despite recent efforts to bridge America's digital divide, African-Americans and women are at a disadvantage.
Johnnetta Betsch Cole, President and Board Chair of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW)
, discusses her organization’s efforts to promote STEAM education within communities of color.
Anderson: The average woman´s un-adjusted annual salary has been cited at 78% to 82% of the average man´s, a gap that´s further widened by costs for medical care, where women pay 1/3 more than men. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Tetiana Anderson. The National Council of Negro Women is one organization working to bridge this financial gap. Joining me is NCNW´s National President as well as Board Chair Dr. Johnnetta Betch Cole. Dr. Cole, thank you for being here.
Cole: It´s a joy to be with you.
Anderson: So, NCNW has a pretty big portfolio. You work across many areas. Lay out the big focus points for you.
Cole: Mm-hmm. Well, as you know, NCNW started in 1935 by the legendary, legendary Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. And for 50 years, it was under the leadership of the iconic Dr. Dorothy Irene Height -- two of our sheroes. But let me use the words of another shero, the words of Sojourner Truth, that great abolitionist and feminist who said, "Ain´t I a woman?" The question for the National Council of Black Women to continue to ask is, "Aren´t we women?" Because the disparity between the healthcare, the education, the financial underpinning, and certainly, the overall well-being of women -- White women -- is substantially greater than that of Black women. Someone once said, "We, as Black women, are subject to issues that become thorns in our sides because of our race and our gender." And so NCNW, aware of all of that, says, "Let us move forward into the future with four foci. First, education, with a focus on STEM. And we put an "A" in for the art, making it STEAM. Secondly, economic empowerment and entrepreneurship. Thirdly, we look at health disparities. And then we say, "We, as Black women, must be responsible for moving forward our own issues of social justice. And so, our fourth focus is around public engagement. We believe in voting.
Anderson: So, you sort of hit us with history here, which I think is important because one of the things I want to ask you about is in the effort to move forward when it comes to ending disparities within the Black community, within the Black women´s community, how important do you think it is to understand what led to those disparities, what happened in the past?
Cole: I really like that question. And I´m going to go not back a little ways. I´m going all the way back to say that we came from a continent, which, by the way, everyone came from, but we came from cultures and societies and communities and villages and families that were healthy and thriving. And then we were enslaved. And so, I think you cannot understand disparities unless you understand enslavement. And then we have to understand that once we were "free," we have never been truly freed. And so that era of Jim Crow and of racial discrimination, all of which culminates in these disparities.
Anderson: So, fast-forward here to the future. You mention education. It´s a big area that you work in. We hear a lot about companies pushing towards something called "technological competency," but we also hear about this digital divide that really impacts the Black community. You talked about STEM. You talked about STEAM. What are some of the things that you´re doing specifically in that area that will close these gaps?
Cole: Let me say, as a former college president and professor, nothing tickles my heart quite as much as the way that NCNW is really right there working with our younguns, as I call them, going to college campuses, into communities, into high schools, encouraging our young folk, especially our young women and our girls, to understand that technology can be their friend, that science, technology, engineering, and math -- and don´t forget the arts -- are all necessary not only for making a good living, but for living a good life. And of course, we´ve got to begin with having ourselves and the world understand that women can do math. We can do science. "Hidden Figures," among other ways, tells us that we have the ability to do it all.
Anderson: You´re certainly right, and the work you´re doing to empower women, especially in this technological, science, math area is incredible. Dr. Johnnetta Betch Cole, thank you for being here.
Cole: Thank you.
Anderson: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, be sure to visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Tetiana Anderson.