From the Law Office to the White House, James Cole Jr. Continues to Lean in and Uplift Our Community
Being the first may come with its recognition and accolades, but it also comes with its share of burdens that are carried throughout one's career. This is especially true for Black people who in their line of work are celebrated and honored if they are the first to reach a specific level of success, which is usually caused by the lack of opportunity and finally being paid attention to. The story of being the first isn’t new to attorney and investor, James Cole Jr. The former acting United States Deputy Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama, was the first Black partner at his prior law firm, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. And now, Cole has become the first Black queer man to sit on the Board of Directors of a Fortune 500 company, American International Group, Inc (AIG).
“There are always two emotions,” the chairman and CEO of the Jasco Investment Group says about his history-making achievements. “The first is excitement that it is celebrated and that I can be an example for someone else to know that they can also do what I do. Then it is bittersweet. In 2021, time should be up for the first Black anything. I really try to work every day to ensure we don't have the first anymore. It is time to accept the fact that we have a diverse group of people who can do anything they want in life,” James explains. For the Chicago native, it is important to “show up and be an example for our community,” in order to ensure that he isn't the last Black person to attain the success he has achieved in his field. From the law office to the White House, Cole has held many titles and worked with some of the best minds in business, finance, and politics. But the father of one's mission remains the same, “lean in and uplift our community.”
Growing up on the southside of Chicago, education became a focal point in Cole’s life, understanding that through that medium he could work his way out of the environment that he grew up in. “It was around high school that I started to think that I really needed to focus on how I can better support my family and better support others. It was then that it became important to me to think about what life can look like,” James says about his early education days. The importance of education had a full-circle moment when he led the charge overseeing President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative. Launched in 2014, My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) was created to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensured that all young people can reach their full potential. "I'm excited about the impact we made on the lives of boys and young men of color during the Obama Administration,” Coles shares.