The Chicago Urban League’s 58th Annual Golden Fellowship Dinner raised nearly $2 million to support education, employment, housing, entrepreneurship and advocacy programs for African-American communities in Chicago.
Nearly 1,500 supporters from the corporate, civic, faith and non-profit sectors attended the gala held at the Hilton Chicago. Mayor Lori Lightfoot greeted the crowd at the pre-event reception. The event was emceed by NBC 5 News anchors Rob Stafford and Michelle Relerford, featured inspirational acceptance remarks from the evening’s three honorees, and concluded with a rousing performance by 10-time Grammy Award winner Chaka Khan.
The League’s Interim President and CEO Barbara Lumpkin said that significant support of the event illustrates the spirit of this year’s gala theme, “Getting to Equal Together.”
“Countless individuals both in and outside of this room answered the call to help us reach our goal,” said Lumpkin. “Our work toward racial equity continues, and thanks to your unwavering support, we can keep moving forward.”
The Chicago Urban League serves more than 15,000 youth and adults each year.
The Chicago Urban League’s incoming President and CEO Karen Freeman-Wilson addressed the audience. Freeman-Wilson will take the helm of the organization in January 2020, following the completion of her term as mayor of Gary, Indiana.
“It is my honor to stand on the shoulders of those who came before me,” said Freeman-Wilson. “I look forward to working with the Urban League team and the Chicago community to move on an agenda that is complementary to work that many of the organizations present are doing and to move together to get everyone to equal.”
The 58th Annual Golden Fellowship Dinner was co-chaired by East Lake Management & Development Corporation President and CEO Elzie Higginbottom and his wife Deborah, along with Illinois Tool Works Chairman and CEO E. Scott Santi and his wife Nancy.
The League bestowed its highest honor, the Edwin C. “Bill” Berry Award, on Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Barack Obama. Named for Bill Berry, executive director of the Chicago Urban League from 1956-1969 and a key activist in the Civil Rights Movement, the award is given annually to leaders who make a mark locally and nationally through hard work, perseverance and creativity.
In her acceptance remarks, Jarrett noted that she was born in the same year that Berry became head of the Chicago Urban League and that she began her career in public service the year that he died, 1987. “I grew up knowing so well what an icon he was as an advocate for civil rights and equality, not just here in Chicago but throughout our country,” she said. “It is with great humility that I accept an award named after a man whom I believe to have been great.”
The newly created Humanitarian Award was presented to Chicago Urban League Board member and retired chairman of Northern Trust Frederick H. Waddell for his long-standing support of the organization. Melody Spann Cooper, Chairman of Midway Broadcasting Corporation, was presented with the Lester H. McKeever, Jr., Individual Service Award. Named for long-time CPA, accounting firm principal and Chicago Urban League Life Director Lester H. McKeever, Jr., the award recognizes an individual who embodies excellence through service and has demonstrated a strong commitment to improving the quality of life for African Americans in Chicago.
Lumpkin closed the formal dinner program by asking the audience to join the Chicago Urban League staff in a show of unity by turning on their cellphone flashlights. With the lights down, the result was a beautiful display of working together.