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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.

“Nearly 250 communities in all 50 states accepted the President’s My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge; more than $600 million in the private sector and philanthropic grants and in-kind resources and $1 billion in low-interest financing were committed in alignment with MBK."

Cole explains, "A couple of examples illustrate the direct impact MBK had in local communities during the Obama Administration. In Compton, the Gang Violence Intervention program resulted in a decrease in homicides of nearly 50% during a single year. Philadelphia’s Police School Diversion Program led to a 54% reduction in school-based arrests in a single year. The Police School Diversion Program prevented students, who are over 10 years old and who are involved in low-level offenses or misdemeanors for the first time, from being arrested. Rather than sending these children into the juvenile justice system, the School Diversion Program offered youth – and their parents and caregivers – a range of social services and counseling. One example of federal policy implemented during the Obama Administration is that the Department of Education and the Department of Justice initiated the “Second Chance Pell” pilot program that enabled incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants to finance the post-secondary education and training that is instrumental in securing employment, stability, and self-sufficiency," Cole’s pride for the initiative shows. That pride, that thoughtfulness, and being an example of all that we could do, has led him to his next role at AIG.

The newly appointed board member of the multinational complex insurance operation has opened the Black communities eyes to the importance of having insurance. In a statement, Cole says “it is a privilege to join AIG’s Board of Directors at a pivotal time in the company’s history, the steady progress AIG has made in recent years is evident and I look forward to working with the other AIG Directors in supporting the Executive Leadership Team, and the entire organization, as they pursue their vision for the future and accelerate their momentum to become a top-performing insurance franchise.”

AIG is a leading global insurance organization. AIG member companies provide a wide range of property-casualty insurance, life insurance, retirement solutions, and other financial services to customers in approximately 80 countries and jurisdictions. These diverse offerings include products and services that help businesses and individuals protect their assets, manage risks and provide for retirement security. “Everyone should consider and contemplate the risks in their lives and get the right protection in place. Protect yourself from the unknown and unexpected, whether you’re a large- or small-business owner or have a family or individual needs. You can go to to understand the coverage that’s right for you,” Cole shares about life insurance coverage, a conversation many do not discuss enough in our community.

Through all the accomplishments and firsts, James Cole Jr. never stopped realizing the importance of forging relationships and building on those relationships. It is how he continues to grow in his career. From mentors to search firms that helped him get into boardrooms, relationships are what he continues to lean into. “Every now and then I say wow, what happened to that little boy on the southside of Chicago, and I think about what life has turned out for me and it makes me very thankful and it puts me into a zone that makes me think about how I can help other people.”


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