Rebecca Cokley named 2020 Richman Fellow

Rebecca Cokley

Rebecca Cokley

Rebecca Cokley, a disabilities rights activist who has sought deeper connections across communities pursuing civil rights, has been named the 2020 Richman Distinguished Fellow in Public Life by Brandeis University.

“We are delighted to award the 2020 Richman Fellowship to Rebecca Cokley,” said Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz. “This prize recognizes her public service career, which has pressed our country’s democratic institutions to expand their accessibility to the disability community.”    

The Richman Fellowship recognizes individuals active in public life whose contributions have had a significant impact on improving American society, strengthening democratic institutions, advancing social justice or increasing opportunities for all citizens. The annual award includes a $25,000 prize. Cokley will visit campus March 30 - April 1, 2020 for a residency that will include an award ceremony and public presentation, and events that will engage the university community.

Cokley is director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress, which focuses on expanding opportunity for people with disabilities and building inclusive policies. She previously served four years as the executive director of the National Council on Disability, an independent agency charged with advising Congress and the White House on issues of national disability public policy.

She got her start in the advocacy field at the Institute for Educational Leadership, where she created a number of resources designed to empower and educate youth with disabilities and their adult allies. She also previously served in roles in the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services in the Obama administration.

Cokley serves on the board of directors for Common Cause, the Community Justice Reform Coalition, and the ACLU of the National Capital Region. In 2017, she and her family were featured as part of CNN’s #ToBeMe series. She has appeared in the Vox/Netflix series “Explained” and on “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver. In 2015, she was inducted into the inaugural class of the Susan M. Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame and was the recipient of the Frank Harkin Memorial Award by the National Council on Independent Living. She is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Equity Fellow and previously a Rockwood Leadership Institute National Leading from the Inside Out Fellow.

The Richman Fellowship was created by Dr. Carol Richman Saivetz '69, along with her children, Michael Saivetz '97 and Aliza Saivetz Glasser '01, in honor of her parents, Fred and Rita Richman. Recent winners include playwright, actor, and educator Anna Deavere Smith; human rights attorney Vanita Gupta; community activist Rev. Jeffrey Brown; and artist and social activist Theaster Gates.

Cokley was nominated for the fellowship by Monika Mitra, Nancy Lurie Marks Associate Professor of Disability Policy and Director of the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

“Rebecca Cokley has a deep commitment to breaking down the silos that have long separated disability rights from larger discussions of public life,” Mitra said. “Her leadership is cross-cutting and guided by her insight of those who are left out of the room. This has made her an effective champion of social justice within the disability community and beyond.”

Cokley’s public presentation and award ceremony will be held on campus March 31. The event is free and open to the public.

The Richman Fellowship is hosted by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life on behalf of the Office of the President.

Categories: Alumni, Humanities and Social Sciences

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