Suzan Johnson Cook (1957)
There are some stories and words that for some reason strikes a chord in a place deep within our hearts. Dr. Cook’s words in the last paragraph of this entry had that effect on me.
Suzan Johnson Cook was born January 28, 1957, in New York City. Her mother was a schoolteacher and her father, a trolley car driver and together they founded a security guard business that moved the family from Harlem, New York, to a home in the Gunn Hill section of the Bronx, New York. Cook was one of the few African American children to attend the Riverdale Country Day School in the Bronx, and her parents helped to organize an African American Parent Teachers Association. Cook studied acting and singing at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, where she received her B.S. degree. She received her M.A. degree in education from Columbia University, her M.Div. degree from Union Theological Seminary and her D.Min. Degree from Ohio’s United Theological Seminary. She is also a graduate of Harvard University’s President’s Administrative Fellows Program.
In 1983, Cook was appointed pastor of the Mariner’s Temple Baptist Church in lower Manhattan, becoming the first African American woman to be named pastor of an American Baptist Church. At Mariner’s Temple, she inaugurated the Wednesday Lunch Hour of Power. After thirteen years of service, during which the membership increased from 15 to 500, in 1996, she became the founder and senior pastor of the Bronx Fellowship Christian Church. In 1990, David Dinkins appointed Cook as the first woman chaplain to the New York Police Department. She was also the first woman to be elected president of the Hampton University Minister’s Conference, the largest gathering of African American Clergy in the country.
Cook served on the Domestic Policy Council in the White House in 1993, and with HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros as a consultant on Faith Initiatives from 1994 to 1997. She then became the co-founder and chief operating officer of JONCO Productions, Inc., a sales, management, and diversity firm which hosts a speaker’s bureau and media/book distributions. She is the author of several books including the best seller, Too Blessed To Be Stressed, released in 2002. In 1997, Ebony magazine named Cook one of the top fifteen women in ministry in the nation, and in 2000, she was named one of New York’s top five preachers.
In 2010 President Barack Obama appointed Cook to be the U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, a position created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. After being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she was sworn in on May 16, 2011, making her the first woman and first African American to hold this position. Her main responsibility was advancing the president’s agenda on promotion of the right to freedom of religion as a universal human right across the globe.
Ambassador Johnson Cook left her post in October 2013, returning to private life as a minister and motivational speaker. Cook is married to Ronald Cook and they have two sons, Samuel David and Christopher Daniel.
Cook was greatly influenced in her decision to pursue a career in ministry by Rev. Dr. Katie Cannon (our Wednesday entry), a Presbyterian minister and theologian. Cook speaks eloquently and forcefully about her call: “I make no apologies for being a woman. And I make no apologies for being a woman in ministry. If God didn’t want me to be in the ministry, he would not have called me. If he didn’t want me to preach, he would not have shut up the fire in my bones. If I couldn’t preach, I believe I would spontaneously combust. I even preach in my dreams. That’s one of the ways I knew God was calling me into the ministry in my early twenties; I would be sound asleep and wake up preaching.”
An Encyclopedia of African American Christian Heritage by Marvin McMickle