Friends and Colleagues Launch ‘The Sandra Coke Fund’

sandra_coke_20130814Sandra Coke enriched the lives of countless people who were fortunate to have crossed personal, professional, and spiritual paths with her. An advocate, a leader, and a friend, Sandra helped us all see the world for what it is while working in pursuit of a brighter vision for what it ought to be. Calls and emails flooding in over the past week make it clear: Sandra inspired us all.

We lost Sandra in a senseless, devastating way. It’s a loss that has shaken hundreds of people who were touched by this smart, compassionate and dedicated woman.

“Sandra worked hard but she never forgot the importance of having fun. She had the joyful spirit of a child all her life, and she brought that joyful spirit into her parenting and into all her friendships. She was rich in her generosity to her friends, family and those in need,” said a longtime friend.

Today, we are launching The Sandra Coke Fund to provide for the education and care of her teenage daughter.

Donate here: http://www.crowdrise.com/helpsandracokesfamily

“We hope you will join us in celebrating Sandra’s courageous spirit and fierce commitment to her family, friends and community by continuing to support the most beautiful, most joyful part of her life — her equally courageous daughter,” said a colleague of 20 years.

We do not consider this a charity; we consider it:

• An opportunity to support a woman who inspired us.
• An opportunity to ensure Sandra’s daughter continues to benefit from the example her mom lived every day.
• An opportunity to live up to the example Sandra set for us.
• An opportunity to join with people nationwide and create a lasting benefit from the grief we all share.

“Sandra was the warmest, most good natured friend I had. She was one of the few friends that would truly sacrifice for me. I could call her when I was too proud to call anyone else, tell her what I needed, and she would help me out if she could. To me, she was the quintessential ‘good mother.’ She saw the good in everyone, even when you couldn’t see it in yourself,” added another longtime friend.

Please take a moment to think about Sandra, to smile and share your memories of her, finally to find your “inner Sandra” give as generously as you can to her daughter’s fund at http://sandracokefund.org.

Donate here: http://www.crowdrise.com/helpsandracokesfamily

The Sandra Coke Fund is fiscally sponsored by the Community Resource Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization so donations to the fund are tax-deductible to the extent provided by law.

Thank you,
Friends and Colleagues of Sandra Coke

Equal Justice Initiative Remembers Sandra

This is from Sandra’s former colleagues at the Equal Justice Initiative.

EJI_1995In 1995, an extraordinarily talented, generous, and gifted woman came to Alabama to join the staff of EJI. Sandra Coke was a mitigation specialist who moved to Montgomery to help EJI confront a serious problem in death penalty cases in Alabama, where scores of people had been unfairly condemned. Alabama was actively executing people who had received grossly inadequate legal assistance. There was no public defender system, appointed lawyers could only be paid $1000 for their out-of-court time at capital trials, the average length of a penalty phase hearing was less than three hours, and in many cases sentencers knew very little about the men, women, and juveniles who were sentenced to death.

Sandra joined our staff to investigate the life histories of death row prisoners and to uncover evidence to help condemned people win new trials or sentencing hearings. She was extremely effective. As our first mitigation specialist, she created protocols and approaches to mitigation investigation that we still use today. She collected records, talked to family members, met with clients on death row, and changed the picture of people sentenced to death by documenting their struggles, their poverty, their abuse, their disabilities, and their suffering. She met the challenge of talking to clients and families about difficult topics with compassion and sensitivity that drew people to her. It wasn’t long before people in need called our office constantly to talk to Sandra, who had a way of making people feel hopeful even in the face of very serious problems.

If you knew Sandra, you knew someone who was unforgettable. Her charm, charisma, joyfulness, and infectious laugh made any gathering, conversation, or meeting less overwhelming and difficult. We worked from morning until late at night, a small group of people trying to confront some very big problems. It would have been easy to become burdened and constantly distraught by the execution dates and tragic circumstances of clients that we dealt with daily but Sandra’s disposition, hopefulness, and enthusiasm made that impossible.

Sandra helped us win relief for several people on death row in just a little over a year that she spent with us. She investigated the background of children sentenced to death in Alabama and completed work that later became critical to our efforts to successfully prevent juveniles from being executed. Alabama had the largest juvenile death row population per capita in the United States. Notwithstanding the fact that the Supreme Court did not ban the execution of juveniles until 2005, none of the children sentenced to death in Alabama were ever executed, in part because of Sandra’s work, which helped us advocate for these kids for years until abolition of the juvenile death penalty was achieved.

Sandra uplifted everyone around her. She would hug you, encourage you, charm you, comfort you, or help you whenever it seemed like you needed it. She was a remarkable human being who inspired people in a way that is impossible to forget. When she returned to the Bay Area to work with defenders and continue her work there, we knew that she would continue to do amazing work to help the poor and disadvantaged, and she did.

News of her disappearance last week shocked us all. The discovery of her body in a park near Vacaville, California, and the evidence which suggests she was the victim of a violent crime is heartbreaking. We are deeply saddened by this tragedy and extend to her gifted family, which includes our colleague Tanya Coke and our Board member George Kendall, our deepest sympathies. All who knew or worked with Sandra Coke are grieving and mourning the loss of an extraordinary woman, a committed advocate, and a dear friend.

However, it is impossible to think about Sandra without smiling. Remembering her is an unavoidably joyful exercise because she was the source of so much comfort, hopefulness, and kindness. EJI celebrates the life and legacy of Sandra Coke while we share condolences with an entire community of defenders, advocates, activists, and caregivers who had the great honor to know and work with one of our beloved.