Celebrating the Life of Former Congressman Louis Stokes by Dr. Elsie L. Scott

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I met Congressman Louis Stokes when l became President and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) in 2006. I had seen him at CBC events and on the Hill, but I had not interacted with him.  I was pleased to find that he was always responsive when I reached out to him for assistance. In a town of big egos, he came off as very humble and happy to praise others rather than draw attention to himself. He liked the fact that as CBCF President, I reached out to the CBC Founders and other former CBC Members to include them in CBCF events, and that I sought historical knowledge and context for our programs from them.

His legacy of service is rich, and the fact that there are many programs and buildings named for him demonstrates his impact. A number of buildings around Cleveland bear his name, including the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Administration Hospital, the Louis Stokes Annex of the Cleveland Public Library, and the Louis Stokes Health Sciences Center at Case Western Reserve University. His influence did not stop in Cleveland. He was not a Howard University alum, but a Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library was built on the campus in recognition of the role he played in advancing minority health issues and the health sciences. CBCF has the Louis Stokes Health Policy Fellowship and the Louis Stokes Health Scholarship, and the National Science Foundation has the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program.

Rep. Stokes was a founding member of the CBC, and the founding chair of the CBC Health Braintrust.  Over the years, the braintrust has addressed health policy issues and the problem of health disparities. The foundation he laid for the Health Braintrust was so strong that it has earned the reputation of being the strongest and most effective of the CBC braintrusts.

In 1999, after spending 30 years in Congress and having made his mark, Rep. Stokes decided to step down from his seat. He selected a woman prosecutor and former judge, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, to succeed him. He knew he left big shoes to fill, but he felt that she would be a great representative for the 11th District of Ohio–and she was.

In 2012, when CBCF published, The Conscience of the Congress, a retrospect for the 40th anniversary of the CBC, Rep. Stokes was asked to write the Foreword.  We were honored to have him accept, but he seemed more honored to have been asked to contribute to the book. In the Foreword, he explains that the 13 founding members of the CBC did not see themselves as civil rights leaders as some would have wanted them to. Instead, they recognized that they were legislators, and that their role was to spread themselves “out as far as we could within the committee system of the House….[M]ore importantly, we could begin to offer a black perspective on important legislation.”  He was proud of the accomplishments of the CBC and felt that the future of the CBC was bright.

Rep. Stokes lived a full life during his 90 years on this earth.  He leaves a rich legacy in his work and in the lives he touched.  Over the years, I have met members of the Stokes family, who are successful in their own right.  I see his influence in Shelley Stokes-Hammond, Eric Hammond, Lesli Foster and other family members. We know they and the rest of the Stokes family are feeling the pain of the loss of a loved one, but we know they will find plenty to smile about as they remember not just the times they had with him, but the positive impact of his living.

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Congress has more minorities than ever. Can they make a difference?

Reprinted from http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/congress-has-the-most-african-americans-ever-can-they-make-difference

Congress has more minorities than ever. Can they make a difference?
02/05/15 01:45 PM

By Elsie Scott

As the nation begins to celebrate Black History Month, it is a fitting time to note that the 114th Congress has convened with a record number of African American members. For the first time in history, the U.S. Congress has 48 persons of African descent: forty-six in the House (including two non-voting delegates), and two in the Senate. The 114th Congress is also historic because of the record 20 African American women serving in the House.

“The sense of urgency is well placed. The past year has been a stark reminder of the need for a renewed focus on issues that have prevented the nation’s economic recovery from reaching too many black households.”
Elsie Scott
Considering the makeup of the rest of Congress, will the record number of African Americans in Congress make any difference in the everyday lives of blacks and other minorities? The breakdown in the House is 246 Republicans and 188 Democrats; in the Senate there are 44 Democrats, 54 Republicans and 2 Independents. Since all the black members with seniority are Democrats, there will be no African Americans in leadership positions.

Yet, if the African American members of the 114th Congress embrace the founding ethos of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), to serve as the “Conscience of the Congress,” they can have a positive impact on the lives of many African Americans despite their minority status.

That’s true even though close to half of the black members of Congress represent districts that are not predominantly black – meaning their obligations to their constituents may sometimes conflict with their ability to promote an “African American” agenda. Furthermore few of the Republicans presently serving in Congress are cut from the same cloth as former lawmakers Connie Morella, Jacob Javits or Jack Kemp. In fact, a number are Tea Party conservatives who seem intent on thwarting any progressive legislation.

Nevertheless, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), the new CBC Chairman, made clear in his first speech that he and other CBC members did not come to the 114th Congress waving a white flag of surrender. “If anyone has any doubt that this Chairman and this CBC will have any reluctance to fight for our communities,” Butterfield said, “you are mistaken.” He went on to outline an agenda that includes restoring Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), targeted funding for poverty-stricken communities, and criminal justice reform.

Chairman Butterfield’s sense of urgency is well placed. The past year has been a stark reminder of the need for a renewed focus on issues, from the need for criminal justice reform in cases like the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, to a distressing increase in discriminatory voting laws and practices, to the persistent opportunity gaps that have prevented the nation’s economic recovery from reaching too many black households. Fifty years ago, when civil rights advocates fought to pass the Voting Rights Act, their hope was that greater representation in the halls of Congress would lead to greater opportunity, and greater justice.

So it is important to keep in mind that while black lawmakers are a minority in Congress, they make up 10% of the House of Representatives. When the CBC was founded, there were only 13 blacks in Congress, but by presenting a united front they commanded the attention of the president, their colleagues and the country. For example, a boycott of President Nixon’s State of the Union Address convinced Nixon to meet with the CBC.

“When the majority party is looking to pass legislation, or to pass veto-proof legislation, forty votes can form a critical bloc to obtain a majority.”
In the months ahead, black members of Congress can join forces to remove objectionable provisions from proposed legislation. They can add items to bills that are designed to serve and protect the interests of the country’s, poor and underserved citizens, especially its African American citizens. And when the majority party is looking to pass legislation, or to pass veto-proof legislation, forty votes can form a critical bloc that is needed to obtain a majority.

Black members of Congress can also maximize the power of their votes by forming coalitions with groups such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) on legislative issues such as voting rights and poverty. Finally, by championing an agenda that advances the causes of equity, protects the rights of low-income Americans, and serves as a voice for the voiceless in the halls of Congress, the black members of the 114th Congress can not only serve as champions for black America, they can be a powerful force for the good of the entire country.

Elsie L. Scott, Ph.D., is the founding Director of the Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center at Howard University, and the former president and chief executive of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation from 2006-2012.