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IPR Welcomes Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook as our new Distinguised Visiting Fellow

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The Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies is pleased to announce that Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook is our newest Distinguished Visiting Fellow.  She was introduced at a press conference held at the National Press Club at 2:00pm on December 3rd.

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IPR Director, Dr. Stephen Schneck, introduced her at the Press Club press conference.  His remarks are below:

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you so very much for coming to this press conference.

My name is Stephen Schneck. I’m the director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies of The Catholic University of America.

The Institute is an academic think tank that is charged with the study and assessment of public policy from the perspectives of the university’s mission and the social teachings of the Church.

I’m pleased to announce today that Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, who has recently stepped down as United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, is joining the Institute as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow with a one-year appointment. We are tremendously excited and honored to have the ambassador be part of our work.

Appointed by President Barrack Obama as the United States Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook was the principal advisor to both the President of the United States and Secretary of State for Religious Freedom globally. She was the first African American and the first female to hold this position. As our ambassador for religious freedom, she represented our nation in more than 25 countries and more than 100 Diplomatic engagements and worked to further integrate an active promotion of Religious Freedom into our Foreign Policy and National Security Priorities.

Prior to joining the Department of State, Ambassador Johnson Cook was an author, activist, analyst and commentator, professional speaker and faith leader.  She has given more than 2,500 speeches and been featured on most major TV and radio shows, including:  THE TODAY SHOW, GOOD MORNING AMERICA, FOX MIDDAY and THE DAVE DINKINS SHOW.

She has had three Presidential appointments, two appointments from Cabinet Secretaries and a United States Senate confirmation. In 1993, Johnson Cook was a White House Fellow on the Domestic Policy Council. In that role, she advised President Bill Clinton on a range of issues including homelessness, violence, and community empowerment. She also worked with the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development on faith based initiatives from 1994 until 1997. President Clinton appointed her in 1997 to serve on his National President’s Initiative on Race, as his only faith advisor.

Ambassador Johnson Cook is the recipient of several awards, including the Woman of Conscience Award from the UN, the Martin Luther King Jr. Award, the Visionary Leader’s Award, the Judith Hollister Peace Award, and the Hellenic Award for Public Service, and has also authored ten books, three of them bestsellers: Too Blessed to be Stressed: Words of Wisdom for Women on the Move (Thomas Nelson) ; Sister to Sister: Volume One: Devotions for and from African American Women (Judson Press), and Becoming a Woman of Destiny:: Turning life’s Trials into Triumphs.

I might add, that ESSENCE Magazine named her one of the TOP 40 Power women, and MOVES Magazine recently named her as one of the TOP POWER MOVES women.

The ambassador completed her Master of Divinity at the prestigious Union Theological Seminary and received her Doctor of Ministry United Theological Seminary.  Previously, she was named a Sam Proctor Fellow and a Harvard University President’s Administrative Fellow.

What the ambassador brings to the Institute is her extraordinary activism and expertise on issues of international religious freedom – a focus that Cardinal Timothy Dolan named in his farewell address as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as a foremost concern in our times. As most of you know, the Institute recently announced the appointment of the Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng as Distinguished Visiting Fellow who has similar interests. Several of the Institute’s other Fellows are involved with parallel issues. We are excited to have the ambassador provide leadership in this area. We hope over the coming months to have the ambassador offer a major public lecture and to lend us her wise counsel in developing a conference in conjunction with her expertise.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am so very happy to give you Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook.

Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook’s response is below:

Dec 3, 2013 Press Club, Washington DC

To your excellencies, Rev. Clergy, The Catholic University of America (CUA) President, Provost, Dr. Stephen Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies (or IPR). Dr Cusimano Love, administration, faculty and members of the Press…Thank you for coming out today, and sharing this most important moment with me.

In the past two decades, I have been privileged to work with two presidents of the United States and three members of the Cabinet. For the past four and half of those years, I had one of the most important and honorable assignments afforded any public servant—that was to serve in the role as the third Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. I want to thank President Barack Obama for appointing me, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her important role in my nomination process. I am grateful to the US Senate for unanimously confirming me, and Congress for creating this post under the l998 IRF ACT. I appreciate the trust placed in me to serve our nation in advancing the right to freedom of religion abroad.

In more than 25 Diplomatic stops and more than 100 Diplomatic engagements, roundtables, discussions, dialogues and events, I traveled the world, monitoring and promoting religious freedom, as outlined in both the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I had all l99 countries as my portfolio, serving as the chief advisor (or what I call the “Ambassador-in-Chief”) to the President and to the Secretary of State. I stayed for 29 months, serving–and transitioning with–two Secretaries, both Secretary Clinton and Secretary Kerry.

Just as I was when I began my tenure, I remain convinced in my heart, mind and soul, that religious freedom is the birthright of all people everywhere and is fundamental and foundational for a civil society; it is a key to national security; and it must always be a pillar of US foreign policy.

I was the lead diplomat for international religious freedom, meeting with leaders in government, civil society, and in many faiths. We were able to have some progress, and see some bright lights, as with the release of Pastor Nardarkhani in Iran, as well as others whose names we cannot announce out of concern for their personal safety. We bridged many divides between races, ethnicities, cultures, and political parties; and we found common ground as members of a worldwide community of faith, yet there is still more work to be done.

Two of my many highlights were: spending a day with the Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, and Catholic Church leaders, both at the Vatican and in Assisi for the International Religious Freedom Day of Prayer, and starting my tenure as an Ambassador, spending the first day in my first week in the Basilica with members of Legatus, the Catholic business organization, on the campus of CUA. So, it is fitting that today, with great joy and pride, that I accept the invitation to join with The Catholic University of America to be a Distinguished Visiting Fellow, to continue my work, with a well respected and distinguished platform. Yes, to continue my advocacy, research, and dialogue–and sometimes activism–on behalf of those who need it most.

As I traveled both domestically and globally, one of the obvious absences at the table of international religious, was the voice of females—women of faith. It is my passion to continue to press for what Dr. Cusimano Love and I spoke about when I was in office—the inclusion of –“Female Faces of Faith”—to see us, hear us, protect us, recognize us, include us in discussions, dialogues, solutions, peace building efforts, and decision making around religious freedom issues and in diplomatic engagement.

I think it was not by accident nor coincidence, but Providence, that during these past years I was at the diplomatic forefront as a leader of faith. I was able to add to the democracy, development and diplomacy discussions the important role that DIVINITY plays. Religion is at the center of most cultures, and therefore you must involve religious interlocutors as actors. When I was a child growing up on these shores, it was said that Reading, Writing and “Rithmetic” were the 3R’s every American student needed to advance in the world. I have the new 3 R’s that will be a part of strengthening and advancement of America: Race, Religion, and Respect for Women. So, you will hear me speak of these new 3 R’s and write about them. (Remember, you heard it here first) as well as the 3 C’s around which I now frame my life: My Companies (Wisdom Women Worldwide, a center for female women of faith, and Charisma Speakers, a global communications company, concentrating on Preparation, Presentation, and Protocol for the world stage; 2) My Cause: Helping females of faith, both emerging and established, to enter the world stage (through Wisdom Women Worldwide) and, 3) the third—my CALL—God’s hand is upon my life. I want to live, move and have my very being in the will of God, so I ask God for direction, protection, to guard me and to guide me, while I do the work God has given me to do. Rick Warren calls it a “purpose driven life.” I call it “life by design and assignment.”

So I have returned home to our shores, to Catholic University for this season, to have what Christians call a “Selah,” a word unspoken in the writings of the Psalmists, but which means a pause, to reflect on that which we’ve just experienced.

As I begin this next chapter, I am looking forward to the work ahead. I hope to sit now with Dr. Cusimano Love, Sister Simone of the Catholic Church, Gyemah Bowee, Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of female faith leaders in Liberia, West Africa, Daisy Khan, who leads Islamic women, and the pastors and advocates from every faith from throughout the US and around the globe, exploring, advancing, celebrating the lives of women of faith.

I really wish to again thank Dr. Schneck, and Catholic University, for allowing me to join with others and to help amplify other voices, who may have been silenced, muffled, or excluded, and I look forward to partnering and hearing about the lives of the other extraordinary Fellows with whom I join.

And, of course, I look forward to engaging with faculty and students, and government colleagues and leaders, and presenting at least one public lecture during my tenure.

It is interesting that on my first week in office, Rev. Robert Schenck and the members of Legatus, invited me to start my journey for religious freedom in the Basilica on CUA’s campus; now, at the end of my government tenure, and at the beginning of my next chapter, I stand with CUA again.

I am honored to be here, and welcome your comments and questions. Thank you.