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Chicago Urban League raises $1.6M after in-person return of annual glitzy gala

The Chicago Urban League’s highly anticipated, star-studded 60th annual Golden Fellowship Dinner returned last weekend to raise $1.6 million one year after the in-person event was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Boyz II Men and a surprise performance by Grammy Award-winning Rhythm and Blues star Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds led a powerful come-back of the black-tie event, which raised just over $1 million after it went all virtual last year because of COVID-19 concerns.

The black-tie gala was themed “60 Years and Onward: Meeting the Moment with the Movement.”

The event was viewed as part of a pivotal year for the Chicago Urban League as it recovers from the pandemic. The proceeds will be used to fund many of the organization’s programs.

ABC and Chicago reporter Samantha Chatman emceed the event as more than 1,000 guests packed Chicago’s Hyatt Regency Saturday, November 6, for the three-hour ceremony led by Chicago Urban League President and CEO Karen Freeman-Wilson.

The evening began with a champagne reception hosted by Chatman; comedian and actor Damon Williams served as host of the dinner program; and Maurice “Ice” Culpepper, of iHeart Media Chicago’s V103 radio station, served as DJ for the after party. Attendees were required to submit proof of vaccination in advance, and the wearing of masks was encouraged.

An iconic group, Boyz II Men sang some of their greatest hits before Babyface took to the stage for a surprise performance that put the star-studded evening over the top.

 Boyz II Men
GRAMMY AWARD-WINNING vocalists Boyz II Men and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds provided the entertainment for the Chicago Urban League’s 60th Annual Golden Fellowship Gala. Pictured performing l-r: Wanya Morris, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, and Shawn Stockman. (Photos by Victor Powell)

The fundraising gala honored Chicago business leaders Brett J. Hart and Connie Lindsey for their service to others and leadership in promoting equity and diversity. Gala co-chairs John O.

Hudson III, President and CEO of Nicor Gas, and Michael O’Grady, Chairman, President and CEO of Northern Trust, addressed the audience and discussed their organizations’ commitment to issues that align with the Chicago Urban League’s mission.

Saluting the evening’s honorees and co-chairs, Freeman-Wilson said, “Last year, so many of our friends in the corporate arena made statements and pledged dollars so that people would know of their commitment to fair and equal treatment. But words and money ring hollow unless there is a demonstrated commitment to systemic change. Our sponsors and their teams at Nicor and Northern Trust embody that commitment. And each of our honorees—Brett Hart, Ben Crump and Connie Lindsey, live these principles every day.”

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JOHN O. HUDSON III, President and CEO of NorthernTrust and Gala Co-chair Connie Lindsey, the Executive Vice President and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility for Northern Trust, who accepted the League’s 2021 Humanitarian Award and Chicago Urban League President and CEO Karen Freeman-Wilson.

Attorney Benjamin Crump, who has represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and more, received the 2021 Edwin C. “Bill” Berry Civil Rights Award during the Golden Fellowship Exchange on Friday, November 5. The Bill Berry Award, named for the late civil rights leader and former Chicago Urban League President and CEO, is the League’s highest honor.

“I am very heartened to receive this award,” he said. “I channel the spirit of our ancestors, Edwin Berry and so many more—the Whitney Youngs of the world. We have to continue the fight.”

United Airlines President Brett J. Hart received the 2021 Lester H. McKeever, Jr., Individual Service Award. “It is truly humbling to be recognized by the Chicago Urban League,” he said. “United Airlines has been privileged over the years to partner with the Urban League on impactful work in the community. I appreciate that, in my role as president of United Airlines, I not only have an opportunity to affect change in our communities, but I have an obligation to do so.”

In 2018, Crusader Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell received the award for serving more than 50 years at the newspaper.

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“CHICAGO PD” actor LaRoyce Hawkins and Crusader Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell at the Nov. 6, 2021, Chicago Urban League gala.

Northern Trust’s Executive Vice President and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility Connie Lindsey accepted the League’s 2021 Humanitarian Award in person with remarks that brought the crowd to its feet.

Lindsey said she accepted the award on behalf of her late mother, from whom she “learned resilience, unconditional love, steadfastness and endurance.” She added, “And I gratefully accept this award on behalf of every little Black and brown girl who might ever hear me speak or do something.”

Lindsey uses her influence and experience to advocate for equitable access to opportunities for all as a motivational speaker on topics of diversity and inclusion, corporate responsibility, leadership, and personal and professional empowerment.

Last year, the 59th Annual Golden Fellowship Dinner went completely virtual with artists Common, Grammy Award-winning R&B group the Emotions and singer and songwriter Jonathan McReynolds performing live in-person at the Hyatt.

The Chicago Urban League initially planned a limited in-person event, but COVID-19 cases began rising as more residents began gathering indoors as chilly fall temperatures settled. Last year’s theme highlighted the ongoing fight for racial equity after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

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