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Cook Society to Recognize Six for Community Leadership, Activism

Self-Help co-founder Martin Eakes to receive distinguished service award

Martin Eakes, co-founder of the Self-Help Credit Union that has financed housing and development for tens of thousands of local residents and small businesses, will join five members of the Duke community honored Feb. 24 at the university's annual Samuel Dubois Cook Society Dinner.

The society was founded in 1997 to honor the university's first African American faculty member as well as community members who follow Cook's example of social activism and leadership. The dinner was scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed because of inclement weather. It will be held at the Washington Duke Inn.

Eakes will receive the society's Distinguished Service Award. Since 1980, the credit union has provided $6.4 billion in financing to more than 87,000 homebuyers, small businesses and nonprofits and serves more than 100,000 mostly low-income families through 42 retail credit union branches. Self-Help reaches people who are underserved by conventional financial institutions -- particularly people of color, women, rural residents and low-wealth families.

Eakes is considered a national leader in addressing payday lending abuses and other financial institution practices that hurt the poor. He has won numerous awards for his leadership, including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the William C. Friday Award in Moral Leadership from Duke's Kenan Institute for Ethics. He received an honorary degree from Duke in 2006.

The society also will recognize members of the Duke community for their community and social service:

Sherilynn Black is an assistant professor of the practice in medical education in the Duke University School of Medicine. Her current research focuses on identifying the common variables associated with successful STEM student-development interventions in higher education, and in creating computational models that predict success in higher education intervention programs. She is the founding director of the Office of Biomedical Graduate Diversity for the School of Medicine and works to bring talented underrepresented graduate students to Duke and to enrich their experiences during their doctoral studies.

Natalie Hall is a Duke senior majoring in public policy. A member of the Duke University Chorale, she currently serves as its community outreach chair, planning special performances for underserved groups in the community. She is also president of The Girls’ Club, which matches female Duke students with at risk Durham middle school girls, many from minority backgrounds. The mentors create an environment that encourages self-respect, healthy lifestyle choices and the importance of education.

Barbara Lau is director of the Pauli Murray Project at the Duke Human Rights Center/Franklin Humanities Institute, named after the noted Durham native whose activism still resonates through a range of social movements. Lau has an overarching commitment to social justice and a long history of organizing for social change. She is also the lead developer of the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice, a non-profit organization focused on transforming Murray’s childhood home into a national center for history, education, the arts and social mobilization.

Marcus Rodriguez, a native of Mexico, is a third-year PhD student in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. He is pursuing a degree in clinical psychology; his research goal is to help develop culturally sensitive, web- and smartphone-based behavioral tools to help individuals with emotional issues. He co-leads a weekly emotion regulation skills training group at El Futuro, a non-profit agency that provides affordable, bilingual and culturally informed behavioral health treatment for underserved Spanish-speaking individuals and families in North Carolina.

Lee Willard serves as associate vice provost for undergraduate education and senior associate dean for academic planning in Arts & Sciences and has been involved in nearly every major undergraduate education initiative at Duke for more than three decades. She has worked under 10 deans in a variety of areas to make the university a more diverse, inclusive and responsive institution. Several of her efforts have boosted opportunities for women and underrepresented minority undergraduates in STEM disciplines, established the Research Fellows Program, which promotes student summer research in the biological and biomedical sciences, and funded a variety of courses focused on identity and race.

For more information and to find a list of past award recipients, visit