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Cook Society honors supporters of diversity

In a moving dinner and awards ceremony, selected Duke professors and students were recognized for their contributions to a more tolerant community.

About 150 people, including many faculty members and President Nan Keohane, attended the sixth annual Samuel DuBois Cook Society awards dinner at the Bryan Center Thursday.

The society was founded in 1997 to honor Cook, who was the first black faculty member at Duke. The society's aim is to "recognize, celebrate and affirm the presence of African-American students, faculty and staff at Duke University."

William Chafe, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, and Dr. Charles Johnson, professor emeritus of medicine, were the special honorees of the evening.

"As a superb dean, Bill has been a voice and a force for the things that Cook stands for," said Myrna Adams, former vice president for institutional equity, who presented Chafe with the award. "He carries a vision and a sense of higher historic mission in everything he does."

In addition to his role as a founder of the Center for Documentary Studies, Chafe's achievements include co-directing the Duke Oral History Program and its Center for the Study of Civil Rights and founding the Duke-UNC Center for Research on Women.

Johnson received the same award - the Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service, the University's most prestigious award. In his acceptance speech, he reflected on moving from Alabama to become the School of Medicine's only black professor.

"I was the first, so it was a very hard journey," Johnson said.

Charles Payne, director of the African and African-American Studies Program was recognized with the Pioneer Award, while two graduate students - Victoria DeFrancesco and David Edwards - and an undergraduate, Kesav Mohan, were also given awards.

A final award for "community betterment" went to Durham dentist and humanitarian Dr. Curtis Bowens, who expressed his gratitude to Cook for helping him through difficult times after his arrival in Durham.

"Dr. Cook came back there and said 'you are going to make it,'" Bowens recalled. "Dr. Cook, I thank you, I thank you, I thank you."

Bowens was not the only speaker to praise Cook - among others, Keohane also showed her appreciation of his work. "What has been done here, we attribute and trace back to the commitment of one man," she said.

Cook began his closing comments by discussing the importance of helping both the community and one another.

"No matter what you say or think, we belong to each other because we are all God's children," Cook said.

He praised those who received awards, mentioning Chafe and Johnson in particular, as well as Keohane.

"As always, I am very grateful to President Keohane for her continued support to the Cook society," he said.

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