Remembering Congressman Louis Stokes and His Lasting Impact

The entire Mandel School community was deeply saddened by the death of civil rights icon Congressman Louis Stokes, who was a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the school after retiring from a 30-year career in Congress in 1998. He died August 18, 2015, at the age of 90 after being diagnosed in late June with an aggressive form of cancer.

“While I am very saddened by his passing, I rejoice in the accomplishments of his life. He truly has made a difference in our nation, our region, and in the lives of our students, faculty and staff. Each semester I read the wonderful teaching evaluations that he received. He brought advocacy and policy reform to life. He also was generous in giving his time and wisdom to everyone. He was a great man and leaves an indelible mark on our lives,” said Dean Grover “Cleve” Gilmore.

In the 1970s, then Dean M.C. “Terry” Hokenstad, PhD, worked with Stokes to establish the Washington Semester program for Mandel School students, offering the opportunity to do their second-year field placement in Washington, D.C.

“Congressman Stokes actively supported and participated in the educational programs of the Mandel School for more than 40 years,” said Dr. Hokenstad, Distinguished University Professor and Ralph S. and Dorothy P. Schmitt Professor. “He was a good friend and colleague who contributed expertise in the classroom and informal conversation. He will be missed personally and professionally.”


Once on faculty, Stokes made a significant impact. He and former Dean Arthur Naparstek designed the Louis Stokes Fellowship Program, which focuses on educating African-American and Hispanic professionals in community development to transform urban neighborhoods to improve the quality of life for residents through economic, housing and civic development. Since the initial cohort in 2001, more than 20 Stokes Fellows have graduated and continue Stokes’ legacy of service and advocacy.


Students also benefitted from Stokes’ guest lectures on social policy and civil rights. His message to students was powerful and clear, and he had a great appreciation for their dedication to social work. “There is nothing better than the opportunity to serve people,” he would say when teaching. “Continue to stand for and believe in justice, eliminate pediments to equal opportunity, use your education to help people and seek justice for those who don’t have it.” To see Stokes’ lecture “Social Workers and the Policy-Making Process” that he gave to the class SASS 478 Macro and Policy Practice Skills on April 2, 2013, visit


Stokes often told social work students, “I want to thank you [social workers]. You sure changed my life.” Stokes grew up poor in a low-income Cleveland neighborhood and was visited by social workers as a child—including the late Mandel School alumna, Ella Mae Cheeks Johnson, MSSA 1928, who made a lasting impression as someone who did her job with compassion. In 2005, she reconnected with him and they recalled each other fondly, as she wrote in her memoir, It Is Well With My Soul: The Extraordinary Life of a 106-Year-old Woman. He told her that he found it “incredibly rewarding to interact with students committed to helping build a more just society, working to eradicate the effects of injustice and discrimination.”


Intensive Weekend student William Kennedy wrote a moving tribute to Stokes that was on display at the Western Reserve Historical Society’s lobby during the museum’s memorial to him, recalling three times he was taught in class by Stokes and their subsequent conversations.

“I’ll always remember the first thing he said [in class]: ‘Anything you do is not too small and is more than was there before.’ For a weekend social work student in middle adulthood, it validated my presence in the classroom and confirmed that I still made a difference as a ‘change agent.’” To read his full remembrance—including how Congressman Stokes was related to funk pioneer Rick James—go to


To learn more about his life, watch a memorial video, see a photo gallery and read news coverage of Congressman Stokes’ passing:

To read Dean Gilmore’s remembrance in the university’s magazine:

To make a gift to the Mandel School in his memory, go to and note the gift is for the “Louis Stokes Fellowship Program Fund.”