Longtime Knoxville social justice and civil rights pioneer Arnold Cohen was presented with the CCI Diversity Award at the 11th annual CCI Experience Diversity Banquet on February 22 at Bearden Banquet Hall.
The evening’s theme, “We Are the World, We Are the People,” was captured throughout the evening with dramatic performances, dance, music, and talks by both Cohen and keynote speaker Stan Bowie, associate professor from the College of Social Work.
The banquet was hosted by the CCI Diversity Student Leaders Society (DSLS), led by Communication Studies Lecturer and DSLS Director Alice Wirth. A total of $6,500 was raised to support DSLS networking trips and scholarships through table sponsorships and silent and live auctions.
Cohen, a practicing attorney in Knoxville since 1967, has been one of Knoxville’s leading voices for racial justice for decades and sees fighting discrimination as a moral obligation and strategic necessity.
His racial justice work over the years includes serving as: a member of the board of directors of the Race Relations Center of East Tennessee and participating in the Center's Undoing Racism workshops; a member of the Knoxville Jewish Alliance board of directors and chairing its Community Relations Committee; a member of the University of Tennessee Chancellor’s Task Force on Civility and Community; vice president and board of directors member of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center; past chair of the National Conference, Knoxville Roundtable of the National Conference of Christians and Jews; a member of Knoxville’s Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission; and chair of the board, president, treasurer and longtime member of the board of trustees of Heska Amuna Congregation. He has been a leading voice in fostering a stronger relationship between a variety of groups to fight discrimination in Knoxville. Knox County honored Cohen for his racial justice work when it named him as an East Tennessee Civil-Rights Pioneer as part of its Presidential Inauguration Celebration in 2009.
In addition to his racial justice and civil rights work, Cohen has served as an officer/leader/board member on a large number of Knoxville civic and community organizations including: City People, the Development Incentive Committee of Knoxville’s Central Business Improvement District, the Tanasi Counsel of the Girl Scouts of America, the East Tennessee Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, the UTK Chancellor’s Associates and the UT Department of Religious Studies.
Bowie, who delivered the keynote speech after Cohen accepted his award, has taught in the UT College of Social Work for 20 years and has served in numerous capacities in the Knoxville community. He has won many awards which include: the UTK Chancellor’s Citation for Excellence in Teaching; the UTK Chancellor’s Citation for Extraordinary Community Service; the UT National Alumni Outstanding Teacher Award; the UT Commission for Blacks Hardy Liston, Jr. Symbol of Hope Award; the Community Shares, Inc., “Gardener of Change” Excellence in Teaching Award; and the Council on Social Work Education Feminist Mentor Award.
He is an active member of the Knoxville Community and serves on many boards of directors including: the Knoxville Area Urban League, the United Way of Knox County, the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, and The State of Higher Education in Black America.
Entertainment for the evening included performances by the UT Ballroom Dancers, UT VOLT A Capella Team, UT Strange Fruit, and DSLS members Annie Ankamah-Asamoah and Taylor Moore. DSLS also performed dramatizations on issues focused on immigration, homelessness and Knoxville heroes.