Johnnetta B. Cole Explains the Power of the Noah Principles

Age-old story inspires mantra for success

During her talk at the Summit, Cole spoke about seven aspects of the Noah Principle that she elaborates on for Black Enterprise. “I remember hearing a sister develop them. She gave a talk at Spelman and I was so impressed that I adopted them,” says Cole. “Make sure you say that in case she reads this or something. I didn’t come up with these. I’ve embellished them and have given them my own voice, but these are some lessons that we can learn from Noah and the Ark.”

1. Build some arks. If we are to have far more women of color in the tops ranks of America, we’ve got to not only give voice to this problem, we have to figure out how to fix it. Rather than simply calling out that there is a flood, we’ve got to start building some arks.

2. Get on board. Insist that we’re going to get on board at least two by two. If you are in a position of power in a corporation, then it is your responsibility, my sister, to do all that you can to bring other sisters on board. And once that new sister of color is on board, don’t you dare leave her by herself. Be her mentor, her sponsor, or help her find one.

3. Show up on time and be prepared. Don’t miss the boat. The flood is rising, the boat is built and is about to pull out. You’d better be on time if you don’t want to be left behind. Showing up on time and being well prepared is half the battle. Given the intensity of racism and sexism in our nation, our folk told us that, as women and as people of color, we have to show up extra early and be doubly prepared. You’ve got to be twice as good to get half as far.

4. Stay fit and nurture yourself. There are rough waters out there. In the corporate world, if you are not physically, mentally, and spiritually fit, you simply won’t make it. We already know that the corporate world is stress-producing and can be an unhealthy environment. We’d better start nurturing ourselves.

5. Have faith. Go up to one of our sheros and ask her, ‘How did you make it? How did you get to the top wrung of the corporate ladder?’ Few, if any, will say she got there all by her bad self. Our sisters will tell you about their mentors. They’re going to say, ‘We’ve come this far by faith,’ and many are going to add, ‘Leaning on the Lord, trusting in his holy word. He’s never failed me yet.’

6. Build confidence. We need to have confidence in our own abilities. The Ark was built by an amateur, the Titanic was built by experts. Having confidence in oneself is not as easy as you might think because all around the corporate world there are messages being put out that you can’t do it, that you’re not qualified, that you’re only there because of some affirmative action or diversity program, that you’ve gone as far as you deserve to go. We have to have confidence in ourselves if indeed we are prepared, if the drive is there. We have to have confidence in ourselves and claim the power.

7. Diversity is essential. If the world is truly to go on then there’s got to be diversity. Remember, the animals on the ark weren’t all one kind. Diversity is what really matters in having the world go well. We gain power in the corporate world when we can articulate not only the moral case for our presence. That is the right thing for corporations to do–not only hire but promote women of color. We gain power when we can articulate well the diversity of inclusion, when we present the business case that the more diverse people there are in a corporation, the better the chance that ideas will come forth that have not come forth before, that there will be tremendous innovation. And we all know that innovation can have an effect on the bottom line.

Johnnetta B. Cole is director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. She was previously the president of Bennett College and was the first African American female president of Spelman College.

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