January 25, 2011

Dorothy Cotton Institute Created To Honor Ithaca Civil Rights Activist

Print More

The Center of Transformative Action, which is affiliated with the University and housed in Anabel Taylor Hall, is honoring the legacy of Ithaca resident Dorothy Cotton, a former director of student activities at Cornell and civil rights leader, by creating the Dorothy Cotton Institute.  The DCI will include a fellowship and program for teaching communities and potential leaders about the civil rights movement and other successful social justice struggles. The center will also have a youth development program to educate children about human rights issues.A passionate activist during the civil rights movement, Cotton worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as a member of his executive staff.  “Cotton’s philosophy rests on individuals tapping into their personal power to make changes in the world,” CTA Executive Director Anke Wessels said. When Wessels first met Cotton a few years ago, she was inspired by the similarities between Cotton’s nonviolent philosophy and that of the CTA. Wessels’ initial inspiration has since evolved into the current DCI.Cotton’s message of reaching out and solving conflicts through dialogue instead of confrontation is key in today’s polarized world, according to Wessels. DCI channels this philosophy to empower members of the Ithaca community.“It is about how the marginalized and victimized can overcome being victims to become victors who transform society and structure,” Wessels said. “Everyone can win and be a part of the vision of a ‘beloved community.’”Kirby Edmonds, CTA senior fellow and program coordinator, explained that the fellowship will identify people who are doing work that is effective and incorporate their ideas into DCI’s future plans.  Among its many goals, the DCI is working to develop a kindergarten through twelfth grade human rights curriculum, Edmonds said. By February, all the principals and assistant principals of the district’s 13 schools will be trained in the human rights curriculum, originally created by University of Minnesota’s Human Rights center. The DCI is working with its local school district to implement the new program.In addition, the DCI hopes to host an annual conference and to build a visitors’ center to facilitate communication between activists.Edmonds plans to employ new means of communication and technology to achieve its goals.  Wessels said, however, that the DCI is still in the process of securing grants and does not have revenue stream yet.

Original Author: Tajwar Mazhar