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Spellman College kente strip Presenting Kente
(Johnnetta B. Cole (Spelman President Emerita and Presidential Distinguished Professor, Emory University) at Kente in Atlanta Day at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, 11 February 2001)

I want to tell you my favorite story about kente, though it will require something of a confession. The confession is simply this: I am convinced that it is kente -- in its extraordinary diversity, in the richness of what it says -- that really is the secret to having raised all that money at Spelman College. Let me tell you the story:

Strips of kente are very, very popular now among graduating classes. I have one that says "Spelman College" and one that says "Class of '91." Well during those ten years at Spelman, there was a lot of kente floating around. And so students began to wear the strips at their graduations and I would often wear kente because it felt good to put on a piece of kente -- in part out of my own very, very deep feelings of attachment to the west coast of Africa but certainly also through an attachment to all that kente says and tickles our hearts to feel.

On one particular occasion when we were working very, very hard indeed to solicit some major money -- a million dollars -- from a particular American corporation, we had an idea. The idea was very simply to acknowledge the way in which kente is so entangled in the history of a part of the world now called Ghana. But we realized that one will never understand kente if it is viewed in exclusive ways, as if it can only belong to the Asante people, or to the people of Ghana, as if it can only be worn by folk of African decent. And so our idea was to indeed present the program we thought would present Spelman in its most glorious way and then, at the end of the program, I would take strips of kente and I would place them on the shoulders of these very, very distinguished white men of corporate America.

We did it. Not only did we get the million dollars, I want you to know that it became a tradition. Whenever a gift was presented to Spelman, this became our way of saying "Thank You. Ashe." Presenting kente became our way of expressing community, our way of acknowledging the extraordinary power of kente to wrap people not only in pride but in a relationship.

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