Ready to find out what MSU Denver can do for you? We’ve got you covered.
The Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Visiting Professorship was initiated in 1981 to foster multiculturalism, diversity, and academic excellence at Metropolitan State University of Denver. The professorship brings renowned scholars and artists of distinction to MSU Denver to conduct classes, seminars, performances, and lectures for students, faculty, and the larger Denver community.
Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Professors have included such luminaries as Princeton Professor Cornel West, pianist Billy Taylor, author Iyanla Vanzant, former president of Spelman College Johnetta Cole, jazz singer Diane Reeves, the late actor and civil rights activist Ossie Davis, and executive editor of Ebony magazine Lerone Bennett Jr.
March 10-12, 2024
Stay tuned for updated schedule!
Cleo Parker Robinson is founder, artistic director and choreographer of the 50-year-old Denver-based artistic institution, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance. She leads a professional dance Ensemble, Youth and Junior Youth Ensembles, a Dance Academy, an International Summer Dance Institute, a 240-seat theatre that bears her name, and a myriad of community outreach programs. She continues to be the recipient of honors and awards from civic, community, and artistic organizations around the world, and is called on by a myriad of organizations and performance venues to bring her Ensemble for performances, and to conduct workshops, master classes, and motivational seminars. Her philosophy of “One Spirit, Many Voices” is reflected in all she does, and is the vision she brings to everyone she meets, everywhere she goes.
A master teacher/choreographer and cultural ambassador she has taught and performed with her Ensemble in such diverse places as Iceland, Singapore, Hawaii, Nassau, Belize, Israel, Egypt, Turkey, throughout Europe, and throughout the African continent. People of all ages and backgrounds have participated in Ms. Parker Robinson’s workshops and master classes at conservatories, universities and neighborhood dance centers worldwide Ms. Parker Robinson’s awards include the Colorado’s Governor’s Award for Excellence (1974), Denver’s Mayor’s Award (1979), induction into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame (1989) and the Blacks in Colorado Hall of Fame (1994). Recognized in Who’s Who in America Colleges and Universities she holds Honorary Doctorate from Denver University (1991), an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Colorado College (2003), and an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service from Regis University in Denver (2008). Ms. Parker Robinson was a long-standing member of the Board of Directors for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and in 1998 Cleo Parker Robinson Dance became an affiliate of the Center.
In 1998, President Clinton named Ms. Parker Robinson as one of two artists to be appointed to the National Council on the Arts where she served until 2005 as one of the two appointed members of the fourteen-member council in Washington D.C. In 2005, Ms. Parker Robinson received a Kennedy Center Medal of Honor during the Center’s “Masters of African American Choreographers” series. Also in 2005, Ms. Parker Robinson received the King M. Trimble Community Award for service to the Denver community.
Ms. Robinson received the first-ever Peaceful Heart Award from Mile-Hi Church, and was honored by the Colorado Gospel Hall of Fame, and the Metro State College Plain & Fancy Ball. In 2006, she received the “Jill” Award from the South Suburban Denver Chapter of Jack & Jill of America, Inc., honoring her work with young people. Also in 2006, Ms. Parker Robinson was honored as a “Pioneer In Black Dance” by the Dynamic Dance Festival in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2007, she received the Huntington’s Disease of America Distinguished Leadership Award., the “Fairfax B. Holmes Community Award” from The Denver Links, Inc. and the “Unsung Heroes Mountain Award” from African American Leadership Institute. In 2008, she was awarded the President’s Award of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, the Civil Rights Award of the Anti-Defamation League, and the Civil Rights Medallion of the Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Visiting Professorship program.
In 2009, Ms. Robinson received the Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Award for Service to the Community, and the Dr. Martin King Jr. / William “Bill” Roberts Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award. Most recently, she was awarded the 2009 NEWSED Civil Rights Award, and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award from the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver (2010).
This film was sponsored by the MSU Denver Foundation’s Rachel Noel Endowment to share her story with the larger community. This film aired on PBS, channel 6, January 13, at 7:30 p.m.
This film was created by MSU Denver in the mid-2000s to celebrate the life and legacy of Rachel Noel.
A champion of the civil rights movement in Denver and in Colorado, Rachel Noel was the first African American woman elected to public office in Colorado, the first African American elected to the Denver Public Schools’ (DPS) Board of Education, the first African American to be a member and chair of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, and the first African American woman elected statewide in Colorado.
On April 25, 1968, she presented the DPS board with the Noel Resolution, recognizing that the “establishment of an integrated school population is desirable to achieve equality of educational opportunity.” It directed the superintendent to develop “a comprehensive plan for the integration of the Denver Public Schools.” Under a cloud of threats to Noel and her family, the resolution passed on May 17, 1968. The U.S. Supreme Court would eventually affirm Noel’s position in its landmark decision of 1973, Keyes v. Denver School District No. 1, making Denver the first city outside the American South to be instructed by the country’s highest court to address de facto segregation with school busing.
Noel also played a critical role in MSU Denver’s history. She came to MSU Denver as a teacher of sociology and African American Studies in 1969 and served as chair of the African American Studies Department from 1971 to 1980.
Noel died at the age of 90 in 2008. During her lifetime and after, Noel’s legacy has inspired the MSU Denver community and beyond. In 1981, the University created The Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Visiting Professorship to honor Noel. A recipient of many awards and distinctions, Noel also lived to see a Denver Public Schools middle school named in her honor. Although that middle school was closed, the building and campus is still called the Rachel B. Noel campus and is home to various charter programs. The Noel Community Arts School, housed in the former Montbello High School building, consists of both a high school and a middle school.
Noel was awarded honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Denver in 1993 and the University of Colorado in 2004 and an honorary degree from MSU Denver in 1981. She held a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University and a master’s degree from Fisk University. Noel’s other commendations and accomplishments were many, including: