African American Forum

“United We Stand, Divided We Fall” is the motto of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It’s also a phrase representing the beliefs Debbie and John Cole have lived by since launching their non-profit arts and cultural organization, The African American Forum Inc., in 1993.

This Lexington-based organization develops programs celebrating the African American experience, while at the same time being highly involved in the local community. Since the beginning, the Forum has participated in arts programming and outreach to inner-city and rural elementary schools, provided opportunity for volunteer service, recognized those whose significant accomplishments result in the betterment of our community, and focused on collaborative efforts to address the quality of life issues which impact the African American community as a whole.

Throughout its history, the Forum has marked numerous milestones. In l998, it was recognized as the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce Minority Business of the Year. In 1999, it was lauded for having established the first African American Endowment Fund within the Blue Grass Community Foundation. In addition, WLEX-TV (Channel l8) has re-broadcast highlights of the Forum’s 14th and 15th African American Ball events. The African American Ball has grown to be the largest of its kind in the state, attracting over 6,000 guests in its 22-year history.

For over two decades, the Forum has placed an emphasis on unity within the community by utilizing the word CommUnity. It’s committed to developing programs supporting and highlighting the artistic, cultural and educational achievements of African Americans. Net proceeds from all of the Forum’s events and programs are invested in an endowment fund. Through this fund, the organization’s charitable assets benefit the Arts Partnership Programs at inner city and rural elementary schools within the Lexington-Bluegrass Region.

If you were to ask the Coles if their organization’s accomplishments have been easy to achieve, the answer you’ll likely get from both would be “Not always, but God has a way to make good things happen!” Debbie noted that the late African American writer Maya Angelou often advised others that “ Where there is no struggle, there is no progress”, quoting the late abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass.

The Forum is involved in significant outreach to inner city and rural elementary schools, where cultural diversity and inclusion in numerous forms needs to be discussed, embraced, and openly encouraged. Both Coles firmly believe that “amongst these scholars are the visionaries and leaders of tomorrow—they’re the best hope for the future sustainability of our amazing Bluegrass Region.”

“Lex Do It!”- A Vision of Unity for Our Community

There is a shared vision within the Lexington-Bluegrass region for bringing about a better understanding of cultural diversity, but the Coles both realize that this goal cannot be fully achieved without lots of help. The Forum has created a number of approaches and opportunities designed to allow a vast number of individuals (African Americans and others) to interface: one of the primary unifying factors being a shared appreciation and love of music. Across many genres and styles there is a significant, innate joy experienced by many mesmerizing forms of sound—often the catalyst for achieving common ground—for African Americans and many others in our community. Music often serves to lessen (and in many cases, to dissolve) barriers existing between individuals and groups – locally, and far beyond.

In January, the Forum presented Ladies Night Out! Health and Wellness Expo, featuring Lexington’s own Miss Kentucky, Clark Janell Davis, and national speaker, author, coach and spokesperson Patrice C. Washington, “Your Money Maven” from the Steve Harvey Saturday Show. Also in January, the Forum held its incredibly popular annual African American Ball Black Tie Gala. It featured a focus on the health concerns of both men and women: Mind, Body & Spirit – with information on financial fitness (a top priority for 2016), and breast cancer awareness, heart disease and diabetes for women, and colon and prostate cancer for men.

The African American Forum Inc.

Its purposes: “To exemplify excellence by promoting awareness of the artistic, cultural, and educational achievements of African Americans; to develop and support programs which embrace cultural diversity, enhance community development and to broaden the opportunities for African Americans to make their highest and best contributions to life in the Lexington-Bluegrass Region, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and beyond.”

How Can I Help?

Like many other similar groups, the Forum, as a not-for-profit organization, has experienced financial challenges in recent years, but you can help.

Find out how you can play a part in promoting cultural diversity in Central Kentucky. If you are interested in being a corporate sponsor, donor, or a volunteer for the Forum, call 859-255-2653, or visit There are numerous opportunities for sharing camaraderie, service and goodwill, and all who embrace cultural diversity and inclusion are most welcome!

Save the Date

If you are a live/contemporary jazz enthusiast, mark your calendar for August 11th-13th, when the Forum will showcase the 9th annual Lexus Smooth Jazz Fest at various venues across Central Kentucky. Plan to “get your groove on” under the stars! Visit the African American Forum’s website: in April when the specifics will be announced for this year’s festival. Proceeds from these incredible jazz happenings will help further the vision of unity within our community.

By Mary Ellen Slone on 06/30/2021
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