Since the passing of my beloved friend and Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) brother Ofield Dukes, I find myself thinking more than ever of what Ofield would do when confronted with the many challenges before us in Congress.
Ofield was that voice of reason, that bright idea in a dark room and a person who could get things done. Aside from being one of the best public relations minds in Washington, he had the kindest heart. When God gave us Ofield he must have broken the mold because Ofield was truly one of a kind.
As an unsung hero of the Black Press, it is fitting that the industry that Ofield had a significant impact on has been gracing their pages with his story as we mourn his passing. His story is one I believe everyone should know, especially our youth. Ofield was a hero far beyond the communications world: he was a Korean War veteran, a champion of Civil Rights, a key player in the founding of the CBC and the driving force behind getting out the black vote after the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And most of all, Ofield was a personal hero in my life, and a mentor for countless others.
Loyalty was deeply engrained in Ofield’s character. When Republicans assailed upon me with a smear campaign during my ethics trial, it was Ofield who was among the first to stand up for me and called for fairness and due process. Ofield rallied leaders across America to voice their support for me. He was a true friend no matter what.
Ofield was the soil from which the Congressional Black Caucus grew. As the organizer of the first CBC dinner, and member of the CBC Foundation Board for 14 years, he helped the CBC grow from its original 13 Members of Congress in 1971 — in which I am proud to be among — to 43 Members of Congress today. We have gone from a time when we had to boycott President Nixon’s State of the Union due to his failure to recognize the CBC, to today being an important body that President Obama and past Presidents have relied upon for our leadership.
You could write a book and than a sequel in trying to list Ofield’s resume of accomplishments. His contribution to the CBC and the CBC Foundation is just one example of Ofield’s legacy in the fight for racial equality. Ofield sat on the Board of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee for Non-Violent Social Change for 10 years. He also served on President Lyndon Johnson’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.
One of things that amazed me the most about Ofield was that during all of his service to so many causes, he remained committed to educating future generations of communicators and leaders.
For over two decades Ofield was a professor at Howard University and for eight years at American University. Ofield saw the crucial role education plays in the future of the American Dream. I find comfort in knowing that by sharing his knowledge and wisdom with so many, he laid the groundwork for young Americans to continue on his path of facilitating social and moral responsibility.
Far too often the great individuals behind great causes are kept out of the history books. But that didn’t matter to Ofield. What mattered to him was his family, friends and doing the right thing, for which he dedicated his brilliant life. I will miss him sincerely, but will never forget all that he represented and what I learned from his dearest friendship.