Spring 2022 Fellow
Ralph G. Neas began his civil rights career as chief legislative assistant to Senator Edward W. Brooke (R. Mass), the nation’s first Black senator elected by popular vote and a civil rights icon.
In 1981, he became the Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the “Lobbying Arm of the Civil Rights Movement.” During his 15 year tenure, he directed two dozen national campaigns that protected and strengthened the nation’s civil rights laws, including the 1982 Voting Rights Act Extension, the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988, and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. When Neas stepped down from the Leadership Conference, Senator Edward Kennedy (D. Mass), in a Senate floor statement, called him “the 101st Senator for Civil Rights.”
Neas subsequently served as President and CEO of People For the American Way, the National Coalition on Health Care, and the Association for Accessible Medicines, and is presently the senior counsel on Voting Rights for The Century Foundation.
During his career, Neas has received numerous awards, including from the NAACP, National Women’s Political Caucus, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Japanese American Citizens League, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and PFLAG (formerly known as Parents, Families, and Friends of Gays and Lesbians).
Neas has also served in the United States Army and was the Democratic nominee for the Eighth Congressional District seat in Montgomery County, Maryland.
His wife, Katy Beh Neas, a longtime advocate for children with disabilities, was recently appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.
Neas has taught undergraduate and law students courses on the legislative process, civil rights, and politics at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, the University of Chicago Law School, and Georgetown University Law Center. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago Law School.
Course: Democracy at Risk: What Happened in 2021 and Where Do We Go from Here?
Starting with the January 6th violent insurrection at the nation’s Capitol, the course examined key events, issues, and leading participants at the national and state levels, during the past year’s tumultuous debates over election fraud claims, disinformation campaigns, voter suppression initiatives, and voting rights legislation. And addressed how seriously American democracy has been undermined.
Given the extreme partisanship and political polarization that has characterized our politics for at least the past decade or two, the course explored how democracy reform, especially in the states, might restore over time bipartisanship and civility, recapture the public’s trust in our democratic institutions, and make government work at all levels.
Class lectures were augmented by special speakers with national and California experience who have backgrounds in politics, policy making, traditional and social media, and building coalitions.
Spring 2022 Semester Recap
Ara Yacoubian, a junior majoring in Political Science and International Relations, said this about his experience in Ralph’s course:
“The Fellows Program here at USC is incredibly important because it gives us an opportunity to hear from people and movers and shakers in all the different sections. This year was particularly interesting because we had people from journalism, we had people from the lobbying sector, we had people from social work. It really is an indication of how important all these different factors are and they have to come together at some point when you want to make meaningful change. We had the roundtable discussions, we had the Pizza and Politics events. We’re all young people. We want to get involved. That’s why we’re involved with the Center. That’s why we take these Fellows’ classes. To have someone come up there and crystallize where the issues are and show us how easy it is to get involved, show us that there are all these opportunities for young people to get involved in things we care about and make an impactful change. You know, this class was a call to action for us, and I think that that’s the most important thing you can get out of a class like this.”
See what Spring 2022 Fellow Ralph G. Neas said about his experience at USC’s Center for the Political Future in this video highlight.