Juan Cofield’s civil rights advocacy began as a high school student when he was permitted, along with a few other high school students, to join Shaw University and St. Augustine College students to participate in demonstrations in downtown Raleigh, NC, to desegregate public accommodations in the city. After sit-ins, acts of non-violent civil disobedience and jailings, the protests ultimately proved successful and public accommodations were desegregated.
During Juan’s undergraduate days at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, his civil rights activism continued. He was Vice President of the UNC, NAACP Chapter and was a founding member of the Black Student Movement. He played a key role in assisting Black striking cafeteria workers in their demand for fair compensation. The claim ultimately resulted in a favorable decision from the Wage and Hour Administration of the US Labor Department. The decision required the University pay the workers several hundred thousand dollars in back overtime pay.
After finishing his undergraduate work at UNC, Juan earned a Master of Business Administration Degree in Corporate Finance from the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce of the University of Pennsylvania in 1971. While there, he joined others and founded the Black MBA Association and was elected its first president.
He began his professional career in New York City working at two highly regarded financial institutions. In 1975, he moved to Boston and became Chair, Investment Committee, Malmart Mortgage Company. Malmart included the Black community as part of its market at a time when red-lining by other mortgage lenders was rampant. In 1982, Juan founded the Boston Bank of Commerce (now One United Bank) and became its first president and CEO. He later started Boston Realty Associates, Inc. a full-service real estate development firm. He continues there as president and CEO.
Juan is serving his eighth term as President of the New England Area Conference (NEAC) of the NAACP. NEAC is the governing and coordinating entity for NAACP Branches in the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. Juan’s tenure has been focused on providing resources and assisting Branches to become more effective advocates for social and economic justice.
In 2008 and 2009, he led NEAC’s advocacy effort to increase awareness and affordable access of the life saving medication for African-Americans with heart failure, BiDil. He became the most vociferous advocate in all of the NAACP for the appropriate use of the medication. Juan led NEAC to establish the New England Civil Rights Hall of Fame in June 2008. It was established to provide a very special tribute to leaders throughout New England who have provided significant and indelible contributions in furthering the evolving democracy of our nation, through their civil rights advocacy. He has led NEAC to participate in a number of lawsuits during his tenure at NEAC to effect equal rights, protection and opportunity for people of color.
Juan has focused NEAC’s advocacy on closing the education gap and educational achievement for all students as an attainable goal. This activism led Juan and NEAC to become actively involved in the Save Our Public Schools Committee, the state-wide campaign to prevent the passage of the referendum question to expend charter schools in Massachusetts, on the November 8, 2016 ballot. He was voted Chair of the campaign committee. The campaign was enormously successful. The success is attributed to a broad based, ground roots coalition of parents, students, educators, education advocates, organized labor and civil rights organizations. Now, the educational activism is to improve the under-performing schools throughout the state where most of these schools are in Black communities or low-income communities.
Reflecting his background, Juan has also made economic development a primary advocacy issue for NEAC. Juan was elected to the NAACP Board of Director in February 2019, where he served as a Region II representative. He serves on the Education, Economic Development and Convention Planning Committees.