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.