Two state, national champions for justice, children pass away
By Gayle Channing Tenenbaum
Last week, the country lost two great men: Julian Bond of Atlanta (right) and Congressman Louis Stokes of Cleveland (left). Both were African American. Both were raised in poverty and never forgot from where they came, fighting their entire lives against the scourge of racism and the hopelessness of poverty in the lives of people of color and people in Appalachia. Both had a long list of being the first African American to hold many important offices.
I had the honor of spending time with both gentlemen through the years: Bond when he was in leadership at the Southern Poverty Law Center and Congressman Stokes the entire time he served in Congress and after he left Congress. One of my favorite stories concerns Congressman Stokes.
Several years ago we took a group of young people from the Youth Advisory Board to Washington, DC, to lobby on behalf of the Fostering Connections legislation (which passed in 2008). Each Thursday morning, when Congress is in session, Senator Sherrod Brown holds a coffee meet-and-greet that is open to the public, where folks can stop by and talk to the Senator or any of his staff. We took our group of eight amazing young people to this coffee, where former Congressman Stokes was in attendance. He was working for a law firm at that time in Cleveland that had an office in DC. Senator Brown spent a good 15 minutes talking to the youth and then took them over to meet Congressman Stokes. With a long line of others wanting to talk to him, Congressman Stokes spent the rest of the coffee – 40 minutes! – talking to and answering questions from our young people about things like the committee he chaired on the assassinations of President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, and chairing the House Ethics Committee and the section of the House Budget Committee responsible for housing and community action programs. Most of all, he shared his life story with them and let them know that they could do anything they wanted with their lives.
Congressman Stokes’ passion for improving the lives of all Americans, including foster youth, made him one of the most memorable and effective leaders not just in Ohio but throughout the country. May he and Julian Bond both rest in peace.