Photo depicts a Two Day Forum on theatre preservation which was presented by the University of Minnesota Libraries Performing Arts Archives at the Elmer L. Andersen Library in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Ten African-American theatre professionals within over thirty leaders (eight pictured with guest speaker Lou Bellamy) from across the country were selected to participate in this “call for action.”
Left to Right: Gary Anderson, Lou Bellamy, Janette Cosley (Executive Director of Ensemble Theatre), Marshall Jones, Chantal Jean-Pierre, Eileen Morris (Artistic Director of Ensemble Theatre), Terrence Spivey, Ron Himes and Dominic Taylor.
By: Rebecca S. Jones
HOUSTON- An array of elegance, soft-spoken, beautiful inside and out, highly intelligent and warm spirited; are amidst only a few adjectives that describe one of The Ensemble Theatre’s most treasured jewels, Ms. Janette Lemmon Cosley. Ms. Cosley is the executive director of The Ensemble Theatre. The Ensemble Theatre is the largest African-American professional theatre company in the Southwest region of the United States that owns and operates its facility and premieres its own in-house productions. However, Cosley’s hierarchal entitlement was not achieved by minute perseverance. For her journey began many years ago, during an era of segregation.
Janette was born in 3rd Ward’s, Houston Negro Hospital (now known as Riverside General Hospital). Her birthright yields a placement of being the oldest of six daughters birthed to Ms. Ruby Lee. She was reared in Houston’s Sunnyside edition. Being raised of a hard-working single mother, Janette reverences her mother as her primary role model. She also acknowledged her aunt as a role model, Mrs. Delores Walters who has been very instrumental in her life. While conducting an interview, Ms. Cosley revealed that, “although I didn’t grow up with a father, I had outstanding uncles and grandfathers who were exemplary role models.” She stated that she believes, “It is important to have a balance in your life to help constitute a sense of family structure.” Thus she is appreciative of those in her life who taught her the value of hard work, including her very alert 92-year-old grandmother.
By the time that Janette reached high school, she relocated to Fort Worth, Texas where she attended high school. Accordingly, she graduated from I.M. Terrell in the year 1971. After graduating high school, Janette encountered a woman who was a resident of Ft. Worth, which had graduated from New York’s Keuka College. Undoubtedly, Janette’s pleasant attitude and demeanor warranted the Keuka alumni to suggest her for a scholarship. A scholarship that Cosley later became the recipient of which would afford the opportunity for her to journey to New York. She attended Keuka College, which was an all-women college during that time. After four years of much focus and determination, Janette Cosley earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English; she also maintained a concentration in Journalism.
Though Janette had originally set her sights on becoming a school teacher and even initiated a brief career as a student-teacher during college; she would soon find that her career path would lead her in a totally different direction. Upon returning back to Houston in 1976, Janette secured a position at Coca Cola Bottling as her first paying job. Deciding to put her journalism and communicative skills to work, she volunteered at KYOK, a local radio station, in the evenings. She began working as a newscaster and conducted interviews for the station. By volunteering, Janette discovered a deep passion in the field of media related services that would afford her the opportunity to launch a career in the industry that would extend for over a decade. It was through the talents demonstrated at KYOK, that another radio station took interest in Cosley’s new-found craft. Thus, she was offered a position at 96.5 FM another local radio station. She began working as a receptionist, but within months she was elevated from receptionist to newscaster.
While working at 96.5 FM, she would also volunteer at KPRC (950 AM). KPRC (950 AM) is a talk radio station in Houston, branded as “AM 950 KPRC”. It was started in 1925 and is the oldest surviving radio station in Houston. Equipped with the training received by local anchor Mike Barajas, Cosley began to serve in various capacities during her employment at KPRC. For over ten years she worked as a beat reporter, covered city and state court cases, general assignments, reported news and served as an editor for the television station. She received a lot of sales and marketing training in connection with her role at KPRC. This training would prove to be a very beneficial asset towards the next plateau in her professional career. In her spare time while working at the television station she would volunteer at the United Negro College Fund. The UNCF is a non-profit organization that was founded after the civil war in 1944 by Frederick H. Jordan. The organization upholds a strong commitment to education by raising funds that go toward 39 historically Black private universities and colleges. The UNCF subscribes to a familiar motto of, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”.
During an interview Ms. Cosley informed of how she felt that it was her obligation to give back to the community. “There are so many students whose families can’t afford college,” Ms. Janette Cosley, said. As the interview continued, she stressed the emphasis of ‘volunteering’ at various organizations and how it may serve to be advantageous to aspiring professionals. She stated that, “if it’s something that you have a desire to do, simply volunteer and it will give superiors the chance to get to know you”. As this was the case when she was offered a position at the UNCF, initially she served as the Assistant Director. Nevertheless, an illness that struck the director at the time and Cosley was promoted to Director of the United Negro College Fund. Throughout her employment at the UNCF she would devote a total of ten years service to the organization. At the conclusion of her term at the UNCF, Janette had decided that she would move to Los Angeles, Ca. Yet while speaking with a long-time friend, Gerald B. Smith (Chief Executive Officer of Smith, Graham & Co.) and discussing her tentative plans with him, the conversation led her to yet another local job offer. At the request of Mr. Smith, Cosley was offered a position at Smith, Graham & Co. Investment Advisors, L.P.. Smith, Graham & Co. Investment Advisors, is an independent employee-owned investment advisory firm that specializes in providing fixed income and equity portfolio strategies to institutional clients. The company’s main objective is to provide a broad range of high quality fixed income and equity investment products and strategies. Smith, Graham manages approximately $5 billion in fixed income and equity assets for institutional clients. In Cosley’s role at Smith, Graham & Co., she recalls the joy she experienced as a result of being privileged with the opportunity to travel abroad, while working for the firm. Cosley stated that she was responsible for “bringing in the business”.
In 2003, after the dawn of her employment at Smith, Graham & Co., she was encouraged by one of The Ensemble Theatre’s board members to submit her resume for an open position. Throughout the years, Cosley had remained a subscriber to The Ensemble Theatre and after submitting her resume to the board she was offered a position to serve as the Executive Director. Since that time, Ms. Janette Cosley has made significant strides for the theatre. During Ms. Janette Lemmon Cosley’s tenure as executive director of the Ensemble Theatre, the theatre has received several awards. In 2011, The Ensemble Theatre received the distinguished President’s Award from the NAACP in honor of 35 years of service to the Houston community. Additionally, The Ensemble has been named, “Best Theatre Company” and “Showcase for African-American Actors” by local publications. In her role as executive director, Ms. Janette Cosley oversees the theatre’s $1.8 million budget and is also responsible for theatre operations including: finance, accounting, fund development, ticket sales, production, public relations, administration, human resources and marketing. To date, she has dedicated ten years of service to the Ensemble Theatre as executive director.
Throughout the years, Ms. Janette Cosley has been honored by various entities and has been the recipient of many distinguished awards and accolades. She is a member of Class XXVIII of the American Leadership Forum, Houston/Gulf Coast Chapter and she currently serves on the board of the Fifth Ward Enrichment Program, Inc.. She has also served on the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Friends Advisory Board since 2009. Ms. Cosley was featured in the Houston Woman Magazine as being listed among the ’50 Most Influential Women of 2011; as well as being selected as one of Rolling Out Magazine’s Top 25 Women in 2008. Furthermore, during the administration of Mayor Bill White she was appointed to the city’s Miller Theatre Advisory Board. Through much hard work and success while serving at the United Negro College Fund, she was awarded the President’s Award. She has also been the recipient of a Youth Community Service Award from Top Ladies of Distinction, Inc.. Ms. Janette Cosley was also presented with a Service Award as past treasurer of the Houston Association of Black Journalists.
When asked of advice to aspiring professional women, the accomplished Janette stated that, “It is important to be a good person”. She continued, “You never know who’s connected to whom.” “In my experience as a working professional, every opportunity that I was privilege to take advantage of opened the door to another”, added Cosley.
Ms. Janette Cosley is a very health conscious individual, who encourages those whom she can to maintain a healthy lifestyle. She truly believes that, “we all need to take responsibility with our health”. “If you are healthy, stay healthy; if not start to exercise daily and each nutritious food as much as possible” she said. Another passion of hers is reading, she is a member of a wonderful book club. Janette also has a passion of collecting butterflies.
Though Ms. Cosley’s professional life has completed her with much success, she has had the difficult task of losing two sisters. Considering that she is a very family oriented individual, the deaths of her sisters has impacted her life in a major way. One of her sisters suffered from Scleroderma, a chronic systemic autoimmune disease (primarily of the skin) characterized by fibrosis, vascular alterations and auto-antibodies. Lung cancer overtook her other sister, causing her to lose two sisters in two years. In spite of the grievous task of burying two sisters, Cosley remains strong in her faith and has turned every stumbling-block into a stepping-stone to further advance her professional career.
African-American News & Issues is proud to highlight and honor Ms. Janette L. Cosley of The Ensemble Theatre. Furthermore, we would like to thank her continued efforts to advancing the Black community and onward.