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Philanthropists Comer and Isabell Cottrell donated $5,000 to the Black Community Services Center last week and pledged to quadruple their gift next year. This year's gift by the Cottrell Foundation was used to honor students, staff and faculty for academic excellence and community service at the annual Black Community Awards Ceremony last week. Comer Cottrell is chairman and president of Pro-Line, a hair products company for African American consumers. His wife, Isabell, is president of the Cottrell Foundation and of Ethnic Gold Cosmetics.
Harry Elam, associate professor of drama, and Jan Barker Alexander, associate director of undergraduate admissions, received awards for mentoring. Jeanette Smith-Laws, meeting and conference services coordinator, received a staff leadership award. Other awards were named in honor of former faculty and administrators. Sharon Holland, assistant professor of English, received the St. Clair Drake Award for teaching. Senior Wesley Watkins IV received the James L. Gibbs Jr. Award for academic excellence, and Lamar Baker, also a senior, received the Harold Boyd Award for leadership.
"I try to emphasize to students that we all stand on the shoulders of those who come before us," said Morris Graves, director of the Black Community Services Center. The late St. Clair Drake was a professor of sociology and anthropology, and Gibbs is professor emeritus of anthropology. Boyd, who came to Stanford in 1969 as assistant dean for student affairs, retired as director of the office of medical development in 1994. In addition to those awards, more than 100 other students were recognized for academic achievement, community service and leadership during the ceremony.
The Cottrells have no formal ties to Stanford; however, their relationship with the university dates back to 1992, when Michael Britt, associate provost for foundation relations, began courting them as possible donors. "We haven't spent enough time cultivating black businesses," said Britt, who added that most African American entrepreneurs give to historically black colleges and universities. "What they don't realize is that 70 percent of African American students attend predominantly white institutions."
Once convinced that many African American students at Stanford had a demonstrated commitment to community service, the Cottrells gave $2,000 in 1992, and $2,000 in 1993. In addition, Britt, a former resident fellow in Ujamaa, recalled that the Cottrells sent free samples of cosmetics and hair care products to the dorm for students who might not have access to them in Palo Alto. Britt said the Cottrells' gifts have great symbolic significance. "I think there are people who might have as much capacity as the Cottrells, but few have stepped to the plate." Britt hopes this gift will encourage other minority individuals, corporations and foundations to support Stanford and its students.
Isabell Cottrell praised Graves for bringing more than 200 students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni and others together for the awards program. "There was just so much there," she said during the couple's visit to the Farm last week. "Empowering each other is the most important thing."
Comer Cottrell was so impressed with the spirit of the awards program that he pledged to add $15,000 from Pro-Line to the $5,000 the Black Community Services Center will receive from the Cottrell Foundation for next year's awards cermony.
Mr. Cottrell started Pro-Line in 1970 with $600, a borrowed typewriter and a 700-square-foot office and warehouse in Los Angeles. He built his company into a multimillion-dollar enterprise, which is now based in Dallas and run by his daughter. Mr. Cottrell, who grew up in the segregated South, has a long-standing commitment to the education of African American students. In 1990 Pro-Line purchased the financially troubled Bishop College, a historically black institution in Dallas, Texas, which is now named Paul Quinn College. The Cottrell Foundation regularly gives financial help to students and minority businesses.
By Elaine Ray