Meet Lori Stokes, Distinguished Visiting Community Scholar

Lori Stokes headshot

Native Clevelander and longtime journalist and news anchor Lori Stokes was appointed a Mandel School Distinguished Visiting Community Scholar for a two-year term that began July 1, 2023.

With her new appointment, she will guest-lecture courses, offer student-focused events and workshops related to her areas of expertise, and work with small groups and individual students with relevant career interests.

Learn more about Stokes and her appointment below.

Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a native Clevelander. My father, the late Congressman Louis Stokes, was elected to the U.S. Congress when I was six years old—consequently, we moved to the nation’s capital. Growing up, most of my time was spent campaigning for my Uncle Carl, the first Black mayor of an American city, and for my father, a 15-term congressman. I attended Ohio State University and Howard University, and recently retired from a forty-year career as a journalist and news anchor. I began my career behind the scenes running the teleprompter and within a few short years I accepted my first on-air job as an anchor and reporter in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. My journey took me from Illinois to Charlotte to Baltimore to Washington, D.C. to New York. I worked for NBC, MSNBC, WABC and Fox 5, to name a few. But what has always been the driving force for me is the tremendous responsibility of telling the truth and being a great storyteller. I covered some of the biggest stories over four decades—I was on anchor desk for 9/11, the Columbine School Shooting, the Boston Marathon Bombing, Hurricane Hugo and Sandy. I have covered RNC and DNC conventions and Presidential Inaugurations, beginning with President Bill Clinton. I have interviewed newsmakers and celebrities from President Ford to Oprah to Ice-T to Derek Jeter to Madeline Albright to Spike Lee and RuPaul. But I’ve also interviewed thousands who reluctantly found themselves the center of a story not by choice, but by tragedy or crime. The one common thread that always prevailed was that everyone has a story—it is how you tell it that matters.

I am the proud mother of two daughters. My oldest daughter Alex is a graduate of George Washington University and works in financial public relations. My younger daughter is a graduate of Georgetown University and is building a career in private equity. After raising my children and caring for my parents, I decided to retire in Sept. 2022, returning to Cleveland and devoting much of my time to building my father’s legacy and distributing his memorabilia to various institutions here in Cleveland. I have the privilege of possessing documents from his years as an attorney, including his landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Terry vs. Ohio. Additionally, I am on the board of trustees at the Cleveland Clinic, Western Reserve Historical Society and SelfHelp, founded to help Holocaust survivors and refugees from all walks of life.

My connection to the Mandel School harkens back to when my father began teaching at the Mandel School after retiring from Congress. Not only was he a graduate of Case Western Reserve University, but he also had a deep adoration for individuals who devoted their lives to social work. When he passed away in 2015, I had the opportunity to go through mountains of notes from Mandel School students to my father. It touched my heart to see the adoration they had for him. I also became fast friends with then-Dean Cleve Gilmore. He and my father shared a bromance, and Dean Gilmore welcomed me into the Mandel School family with generosity and graciousness. That same welcoming now comes from Dean Dexter Voisin, whose leadership is extraordinary and vision is boundless. It is a blessing to be asked to be a Mandel School Distinguished Visiting Community Scholar and help widen the scope of social sciences and the role students hold which is integral to our society.   

What does being a Distinguished Visiting Community Scholar mean to you?

The name “Stokes” is synonymous with giving back. In other words, having a social responsibility to uplift and enlighten is a part of my DNA. I was raised to understand the plight my father faced as a child of a single mother growing up in poverty during the Great Depression. Throughout my career, I was given great opportunities to lend my voice to organizations I worked with that were dedicated to raising awareness about issues I believed in. I see my role as a Mandel School Visiting Community Scholar as an extension of what I have dedicated my whole life to. While we are still in the infancy of defining this new territory, it is my hope that I will inspire and empower students as a Black women in a business with challenges who was able to navigate the industry and channel her power. My lessons in front of the camera can be applied to every walk of life. My forty years as a journalist has a place in the classroom, particularly because many of those stories are at the core of what we as a society deal with on a daily basis. I am hopeful that both the students and I will benefit from an exchange of ideas and experiences.

What ideas do you have to help elevate the Mandel School?

I want to continue to elevate the Mandel School’s profile and increase enrollment nationally and internationally. Under the leadership of Dean Voisin, we are seeing phenomenal growth. We have discussed hosting a fireside chat with local officials to help raise awareness for our public leaders of various areas of expertise and build a partnership with our elected officials and students. I have offered to lend my journalistic skills to moderate/interview high profile officials and business leaders. We have also spoken about holding salons at my home to raise money for the Louis Stokes Fellowship in Community Development Scholars. These salons can offer an intimate and less inhibited atmosphere where people are more inclined to speak with openness and explore bolder ideas.

How do you envision leveraging your networks to enhance collaborations and partnerships for the school? 

As I mentioned earlier, I am on the board of trustees at the Cleveland Clinic. We are currently tackling the issues of minority maternal healthcare and infant mortality. The numbers of infant mortality in Cuyahoga County are alarming and the need to address Black women and provide proper healthcare is tantamount to success in combating this issue. The Mandel School has also made this issue a priority through its work with First Year Cleveland. Ideally, I would like to see a collaboration or partnership with the Cleveland Clinic and the Mandel School. Through the years, I have nurtured relationships with high-profile business people and celebrities who are using their power and means in the most fantastic ways. I would love to bring those people to Cleveland and the Mandel School. A little star power could go a long way!

How do you plan to integrate community perspectives into your work here?

There is no formula to integrating the community and the Mandel School. The goal begins with establishing a connection. The very studies in the Mandel School are a reflection of what the people in this community are dealing with. If you look at some of the issues... unemployment, lack of healthcare, substance abuse, lack of adequate housing, domestic violence... there is a common thread. There has to be an open door that allows students to be both teachers and learners of the community—in other words, the community needs to be heard. Perhaps that means having a "community hall night,” much like a town hall meeting in which students and members of the community are the audience and the panel.

How will you enhance the visibility and reputation of the school?

We live in an age of social media and that is probably one of our most guaranteed tools to raise the visibility and reputation of the Mandel School. I believe the more we partner with other organizations, the more awareness we build. There are so many foundations with branches fighting the same fight the school is imploring students to excel in. There needs to be research and outreach of these charities and agencies that can enhance our profile. The more we spread the word through other organizations, the more it is a win-win for all.

What advice do you have for students as they navigate the intersection of academia, community service and public policy in their work?

Social work is advocacy of the heart. By choosing a career in social sciences, students are making a commitment to social justice and the reality that we are all equal. What every student should hold onto is the fact that they are changing the course of someone’s life. It is a rather heavy thought, but it distinguishes those of us who intend to live an impactful life.

Learn more about Lori Stokes.