Leaders look to build on the legacy of Carl and Louis Stokes

Fifty years ago, Carl Stokes became the first African-American mayor of a major American city. Mayor Stokes and his brother, Congressman Louis Stokes, played key roles in the advancement of the city and the nation through the civil rights movement and beyond. In many ways, Cleveland’s current national and international recognition owes a debt of thanks for their accomplishments.

Yet their work is not complete.

For the next 50 years, how can we ensure that social and economic development continues throughout Greater Cleveland, and especially in our core communities? How can we empower young leaders to carry the Stokes vision forward and guide every neighborhood to a vibrant and prosperous future?

These questions and many more will force dialogue and action within our community this year. “Stokes: Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future” has brought together more than 75 community partners to build on the Stokes’ legacy of advocacy and action by inspiring a new generation of Northeast Ohio leaders.

A yearlong celebration
Dozens of community events are already underway as part of this yearlong commemoration marking the anniversary of the historic 1967 mayoral election with a focus on what lies ahead. The commemoration is addressing a wide spectrum of issues through various activities during the year.

In January, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson discussed how Mayor Stokes and Congressman Stokes set the framework for the city’s long-term viability and influenced his own journey, while reflecting on the erosion of many of the gains of the civil rights movement and the challenges of the future.

This month, a citywide “Day of Service” project will focus on local military veterans. Mayor Stokes and Congressman Stokes both served in the U.S. Army.

A June performance at Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre will celebrate the achievements of Mayor Stokes using his speeches and a musical score. “Believe in Cleveland” will convey the aspirations of Stokes amidst the tempestuous backdrop of the time period.

The November opening of a permanent exhibit at the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Cleveland History Center will feature pictures, oral histories and interactive displays that examine the legacy of the Stokes brothers.

Plot the future
In addition, to honor the leadership legacy of Mayor Stokes and Congressman Stokes, policy forums will take place throughout the year to plot a future course in Cleveland that continues to address housing, education, health care, public safety and the economy. The effort will culminate with policy and leadership development recommendations unveiled in October during an event at The City Club of Cleveland.

Cuyahoga Community College’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Humanities Center will involve students in the gathering of oral histories as well as policy development. This project will provide Mandel Scholars with extensive opportunities to serve their communities and shape community dialogue, seeking to empower a new generation of civic-minded leaders to guide Cleveland into the future.
More information on the Stokes initiative, as well as an ever-expanding calendar of events can be found at www.stokes50cle.com.

Alex Johnson, Ph.D., is president at Cuyahoga Community College.