Cook Center Recognizes Three Individuals and Mentors Who Are “Just Getting Started”

The Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity awarded three Career Achievement Awards on Monday evening, April 1 in Washington D.C., celebrating a cohort of individuals who have demonstrated exceptional dedication and impact in advancing social equity, championed the cause of social justice, and inspired meaningful change in their communities.

The three recipients of the Award—Governor Lisa Cook, PhD; Peter Blair Henry, PhD; and Cecilia Rouse, PhD—were honored in recognition of their exemplary leadership in spearheading initiatives to drive the economic empowerment of marginalized communities on local, national, and global scales.

With each member of the trio receiving a medallion of Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook—the Center’s namesake and a revered political scientist, scholar, educator, author, teacher, administrator, civil and human rights activist and public servant—it was fitting that one of the most repeated pieces of advice throughout the evening came from Samuel DuBois Cook himself: the imploration to “have a vision of excellence, dream of success, and work like hell.”

In his opening remarks, William A. “Sandy” Darity Jr., the founding director of the Cook Center and the Samuel DuBois Cook professor of public policy, African and African American studies, and economics at Duke, noted that these recipients “are not only distinguished leaders in their respective fields, but also exemplary mentors who have shared their wisdom, guidance, and expertise to uplift aspiring scholars and changemakers. Their impact is measured not only in terms of statistical milestones but also in the numerous lives transformed, the communities uplifted, and the systemic changes actuated by their dedicated efforts.”

Indeed, mentorship emerged as a key theme of the evening. Governor Cook, who is a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors of the United States and the first Black American Woman and Woman of Color on the Board of Governors, and whose work on development policy, macroeconomic policy, and research on the effect of white violence on black patents Darity highlighted in his introduction, was the first to receive an award, and she was quick to pay tribute to the role that everyone in attendance had played in her success.

Governor Cook, who is in fact the niece of Samuel DuBois Cook, spoke of the lessons on mentorship he imparted from a young age. “Mentors help convert hope and promise into action, enabling those who come after us to build a better future,” she said. “As I learned from ‘Uncle Sam,’ there is no higher calling."

Up next was Peter Blair Henry, Class of 1984 Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, as well as Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and Dean Emeritus of New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business. He recalled, as a member of the football team, taking a class in undergrad with Darity at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, referring to Darity as “the best head coach I ever played for.”

Henry credited his initial encounters with Darity as having “really changed the trajectory of my life.” He recounted how, during a “boring” summer internship in New York City, Darity sent him an envelope filled with economics articles to show him the power and intrigue of the field, at which point Henry became hooked.

Ever since, his journey has been “one of trying to figure out how to build bridges.” In keeping with the theme of the evening, he went on to encourage the audience to “find yourself a mentor who will back you…[even when] they have a different read of the facts that you do.”

The final awardee was Cecilia Rouse, President of the Brookings Institution, as well as the Former Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) from 2021-2023 (the first Black American to serve as Chair), the Katzman-Ernst Professor in the Economics of Education at Princeton University, and Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University. As Darity said in his introductory remarks, it is “easy to argue that she is one of the architects of the field of the economics of education.”

Rouse, in noting how the evening’s honorees “all stand on the shoulders of those before us,” paid her respects to William E. Spriggs, last year’s posthumous recipient of the Cook Center Career Achievement Award. “It took 3 of us to fill the shoes of Bill Spriggs,” Rouse said, in stating her appreciation for the man whom Darity earlier called a “dynamic economist” who translated scholarship to policy as did Samuel DuBois Cook.

The last person to take the microphone was Samuel DuBois Cook, Jr. He described the many forms that mentors can take, recounting how his dad, when he arrived at Duke as the first Black faculty member in the 1960s, ended up mentoring hourly staff workers at the university, coaching them to advocate for their rights (which ended up in them eventually forming a union).

He concluded the evening by speaking passionately of the continued legacy of his father, and the research that is being done in his name.“What is coming out of the Cook Center is going far behind what he would’ve imagined,” said the younger Cook. “Please continue the good work.”

The forward-looking words echoed something Governor Lisa Cook said earlier. Noting that she was “profoundly moved” to receive the award, Governor Cook dismissed any insinuations that the “Career Achievement” portion meant she was winding down.

“I accept it,” Governor Cook said, “with the conviction that I am just getting started.”

Complete biographies of the three 2024 honorees, along with their affiliations, can be found on the awards page here.