New President’s Ambassador brings public service, Civil Rights experience

Photo courtesy of Kent State University.

Photo courtesy of Kent State University.

Carley Hull

Former Ohio congressman Louis Stokes discussed his plans to help inspire students and the university as Kent State’s new President’s Ambassador during his visit to campus Monday.

After meeting with President Lester Lefton, Stokes was all smiles while he talked with Kent State administrators and the media outside the executive offices in the library.

“I just had a lovely lunch with both Dr. Lefton and Mrs. Lefton,” Stokes said with a warm vibrato. “And I found them a very charming couple.“

At 88 years old, Stokes has continued an extensive résumé for civil service. Stokes practiced law for 14 years working on landmark Civil Rights cases before he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1968, where he became the first African-American member to represent Ohio, according to his biography supplied by Alfreda Brown, vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

In the House, Stokes served for 30 consecutive years and was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus as well as a member of other notable committees. After leaving Congress, Stokes continued practicing law and worked to better the Cleveland area as a chairman for multiple committees.

“He is such a kind man,” Brown said. “He really has a passion for people.”

Stokes is the fourth recipient of the one-year, part-time appointment that was created in 2010 to help the university gain insight and knowledge from diverse business and community leaders and share that knowledge with students, faculty and staff, Brown said.

“Firstly, I want to say I am very proud to be a recipient of Dr. Lefton’s ambassadorship,” Stokes said. “And what I hope is to be able to speak with all the students at the university and speak to them from a background of someone who has served in the United States Congress for 30 years, who had been a lawyer for roughly another 30 years.”

As the President’s Ambassador, Stokes will have the opportunity to share his professional knowledge and experience with students and faculty, Brown said in a previous interview.

“So I think I bring angles to experiences, some very unique, historic accomplishments that I’d very much like to share with them,” Stokes said. “And I hope in some measure to be an inspiration to (students) as a minority who came out of a very impoverished background and had an opportunity to achieve as an American.”

Stokes grew up in Cleveland, where his late brother Carl Stokes became the first African-American mayor for the city in 1967. Stokes attended Central High School before serving in the United States Army for three years and then attending Western Reserve University (now part of Case Western Reserve University). In 1953, he earned his Juris Doctor from Cleveland Marshall Law School.

Stokes has continued to work with Cleveland and northeast Ohio universities such as Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State and Ohio State, Brown said.

“(The president’s ambassadors) become friends of the university,” Brown said. “I think of their generosity and support at Kent State as a gift that keeps on giving.”

As one of his obligations as the President’s Ambassador, Stokes said the committee and president have decided he will give a speech at a Martin Luther King celebration in January.

“I am looking forward to doing that,” Stokes said. “I’d love to do it at this campus, and we still have not come upon what the second thing is. I’ll be doing two major events on the campus, so there is still time to consider what will be the most effective.”

Stokes will be able to foster Kent State’s diversity message and efforts both within the university community as well as externally, said Dana Lawless-Andric, executive director for diversity and inclusion. He will be a representative of interest in fostering a specific message or goal around diversity.

“(Stokes) has had a really long impactful career in really shaping civil rights and creating opportunities for several groups in his tenure as congressman,” Lawless-Andric said, “and some of the work he has done as an attorney and some of the work he has done in diversifying the STEM fields, opportunities for underrepresented groups in STEM fields. So to have him as our ambassador is really very fortunate.”

Stokes was selected by an ad hoc committee, which consisted of past President’s Ambassadors José Feliciano, 2012-2013, and Roxia Boykin, 2011-2012; Brown; The Rev. Ronald Fowler, special assistant to the office of the president for community engagement; and Charlene Reed, a vice president and university secretary.

“We are very excited because he is truly a modern civil-rights leader,” Lawless-Andric said.

Contact Carley Hull at [email protected].