'I wanted to inspire families to come together'

Catching Up With ... Harriette Cole

Baltimore writer, lifestyle guru has a clear vision of how life should be

November 09, 2003|By Donna M. Owens | Donna M. Owens,Special to the Sun

Anyone who's seen Harriette Cole in the flesh or photographs knows she is indeed lovely, yet hers is a deeper beauty -- a blend of warmth, class and panache. She exudes quiet confidence, and a palpable sense of optimism about her own life, and the lives of others.

"I'm happy because I am very clear about my mission in life," the Baltimore native, best-selling author, editor, nationally syndicated columnist, lifestyle guru and television personality says by phone from her base in New York City. "My mission is to help people discover how to be their best."

That may sound vaguely Oprah-esque, or a bit like style / media mavens Martha Stewart or B. Smith, but the 42-year-old entrepreneur is an original.

A prolific writer, she has five books to her credit, including two released this year. Choosing Truth: Living an Authentic Life hit bookshelves in February; now comes the newly published Coming Together: Celebrations for African American Families, done with photographer John Pinderhughes.

"I wanted to inspire families to come together," says Cole, who with Pinderhughes will discuss and sign the book tomorrow night at the Pratt Central Library. "Particularly in these times, it's important for families to choose to spend meaningful time together."

The spiky-haired Cole has long championed black culture, most notably during a lengthy and successful career at Essence magazine.

Over the years, she has also helped develop Savoy magazine, and is currently guest editor for American Legacy Woman. These days, though, she is appealing to a broader, multicultural and diverse demographic.

She is a panelist on the reality dating show Perfect Match: New York, which airs on the ABC Family channel, and regularly contributes to the CBS Early Show. She also dispenses wisdom on topics ranging from etiquette to race relations in her syndicated advice column, "Sense & Sensitivity."

Strict upbringing

For all her success, Cole seems deeply grounded in the lessons she absorbed while growing up as the second of three daughters in a close-knit family in Baltimore's well-to-do black enclave of Forest Park.

Her parents -- the late judge Harry A. Cole, the first African-American on the Maryland Court of Appeals, and Doris Freeland Cole, an educator and homemaker -- required sterling manners and good grades, along with reverence for history, elders and traditions.

"Harriette was always a creative little girl," Cole's mother says. "She wrote stories, drew pictures, made her own clothes and learned to crochet. The other children would even buy outfits from her."

That early flair for fashion, Cole says, was borne partly of her young daughter's gangly frame. In high school and college, though, friends began turning to her for what they dub her "individual" sense of style.

"Harriette has always been a trendsetter," says Lynne Bonner, who has known Cole since their days at Western High and Howard University. "It's no surprise to me that she is doing all the things we see now."

That's exactly what the folks at Essence thought when Cole arrived in the mid-'80s, armed with an English degree and fresh off a stint as a runway model.

Over 11 years at Essence, Cole traipsed the country and globe, helping create covers and stories that inspired and enlightened African-American women.

New wedding book

These days, Cole is still building on her multimedia success. Right now, she's developing a new television series. In early 2004, a revised edition of her 1993 best-selling manual, Jumping the Broom: The African-American Wedding Planner, will be published, followed by Vows, a new wedding book.

When she's not working, Cole manages to carve out time with her husband of 10 years, fashion and beauty photographer, George Chinsee. At present, they are readying their Harlem brownstone for a baby slated to arrive next month.

Cole says she is well aware that she leads an exceptional life. Yet, she continues to reach for new horizons.

"One thing meditation has taught me is to learn to control the mind, so that you listen to the heart. If you live by the wisdom of the heart, you will do your best."

Harriette Cole and John Pinderhughes will appear at Pratt Central Library (400 Cathedral St.) tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. For information, call 410-396-5494.

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