Suzan Johnson Cook

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Suzan Johnson Cook
Suzan Johnson Cook at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, June 14, 2011

Dr. Suzan Denise Johnson Cook (born 1957) is a presidential advisor, pastor, theologian, author, activist, and academic who served as the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom from April, 2011 to October 2013.[1] Cook has had a wide-ranging career in a number of fields, serving as a policy advisor to President Bill Clinton and later to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros, a dean and professor of communications at Harvard University, a professor of theology at New York Theological Seminary, a pastor at a number of churches, a television producer, a sought-after speaker and the author of nearly a dozen books, before being named Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom by President Barack Obama. She was also the first female senior pastor in the 200-year history of the American Baptist Churches USA and a close friend of Coretta Scott King.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Johnson Cook was raised in Bronx, New York the second of two children. Her father was one of the first black trolley drivers in New York City before opening a security agency and her mother was a public school teacher in Harlem for twenty-two years. Her family was deeply religious and pushed towards excellence in academics, with both she and her older brother, who went on to attend Dartmouth College, skipping grades during their school years. Johnson also attended the elite Riverdale Country Day School. Johnson graduated high school at sixteen, attending Fisk University before transferring to Emerson College, graduating in 1976 with a degree in speech. She then earned a master's degree in educational technology from Columbia University. She also received early experience in politics, helping her brother win a seat in the New York State Assembly.[3] She later earned another master's degree from Union Theological Seminary in 1983 and a Doctor of Ministry from United Theological Seminary in 1990, where she was taught by Samuel DeWitt Proctor and graduated with figures such as Otis Moss Jr. and Jeremiah Wright. She is also a graduate of the Minority Business Executive Program at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.[4]

Early career[edit]

After college Johnson began a career in television, serving as a producer for several news affiliates in Boston, Washington, and Miami before deciding to enter ministry. A major inspiration for her decision was a childhood friend who later became the first black woman to earn a doctorate from Union Seminary. Johnson earned her Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary after being ordained in 1982. She then went on to become the senior pastor at the Mariners Temple Baptist Church from 1983 to 1996.[5] She also became the first senior pastor in the 200-year history of the American Baptist Churches USA and the first woman to elected president of the Hampton University Ministers' Conference, a conference which represents all of the major historically-black denominations. Johnson also became the official chaplain of the New York City Police Department, a position which she would hold for twenty-one years, becoming the first and only woman to hold the position.[5] Johnson Cook founded the Bronx Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in 1996, which she pastored until 2010. She also founded several non-profit and advocacy organization, such as the Multi-Ethnic Center Inc.[6] She also founded Moving Up Productions, a communications, leadership, and consulting firm.[7] Johnson Cook also taught at New York Theological Seminary from 1996 to 1998. She also spent time on the faculty at Harvard University, serving as a dean and a professor teaching in the areas of speech and communications.[4] Johnson Cook was the goddaughter of Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King Jr. She became a close friend of Scott King, officiating her funeral.[8][9] On July 13, 2013 she was initiated into Delta Sigma Theta sorority as an honorary member, during their Centennial Celebration in Washington, DC.

Political career[edit]

In 1993 Johnson Cook was selected to become a White House Fellow. She then became an advisor to President Bill Clinton, serving as a domestic policy advisor on several issues as a member of the Domestic Policy Council. She was also on the advisory team for President Clinton's One America Initiative. Following her service as a policy advisor to the president she became a consultant to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros from 1994 to 1997.

Diplomatic career[edit]

On June 15, 2010 she was nominated by president Barack Obama for the post of United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom in the State Department.[10] However, her nomination was put on hold in the Senate and therefore expired without a vote at the end of the 111th session of Congress on January 3, 2011.[11]

She was renominated and confirmed on April 14, 2011.[12] She was sworn in and began work on May 16, 2011.[13] She is the first woman and first African-American to hold the post.[14]

According to a report in the Washington Post, Chinese officials refused to meet with her to discuss issues of religious freedom.[15]

She resigned in October 2013 in order to earn more money in the private sector so she can give her sons the gift of a “debt-free college education.”[16]

Personal life[edit]

When not in Washington or traveling, Johnson Cook lives in New York with her husband, Ronald, and their two sons.[17]

Selected books[edit]

  • Live Like You're Blessed: Simple Steps for Making Balance, Love, Energy, Spirit, Success, Encouragement and Devotion Part of Your Life, Doubleday, 2006. ISBN 978-0-385-51719-5
  • Moving Up: Ten Steps to Turning Your Life Around and Getting to the Top!, Doubleday, 2008. ISBN 978-0-385-52492-2

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Religious liberty ambassador's resignation raises concerns. 22 Oct. 2013". http://www.catholicnewsagency.com. October 22, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Dr. Suzan Johnson-Cook, Bronx Christian Fellowship – PreachingWoman.com Online Community for Women in Ministry". Preachingwoman.com. 
  3. ^ "The Gospel According to Sujay". Nymag.com. May 15, 2000. 
  4. ^ a b "Johnson Cook, Suzan". State.gov. May 16, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "First Baptist Church". Fbcsomerset.com. February 20, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Bronx Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook is Obama's ambassador for religious freedom". Daily News (New York). May 7, 2011. 
  7. ^ "Suzan Johnson Cook | Speaker Profile and Speaking Topics". Apbspeakers.com. 
  8. ^ "Living the Blessed Life". Kdar.com. September 11, 2001. 
  9. ^ "Suzan Johnson Cook Traveling the Globe to Promote International Religious Freedom". Urban Christian News. March 30, 2012. 
  10. ^ "President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts. 15 Jun. 2010". Whitehouse.gov. June 15, 2010. 
  11. ^ Freedman, Samuel G. (January 14, 2011). "An Obama Nominee Is Stymied by Congress". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ "Johnson Cook Confirmed As Ambassador-At-Large For International Religious Freedom". American Baptist Churches USA. April 21, 2011. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook sworn in as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom". State.gov. May 16, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Bronx Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook is Obama's ambassador for religious freedom". Daily News (New York). May 17, 2011. 
  15. ^ Wan, William; Boorstein, Michelle. "Chinese blocked visit by U.S. religious freedom envoy, advocates say". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 24, 2011. 
  16. ^ "Suzan Johnson Cook defends her work on religious freedom and explains why she left". Religion News Service. Oct 28, 2013. 
  17. ^ "About Our Pastor: Rev. Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, M.Div. '83." Bronx Christian Fellowship. February 8, 2008. [1]