By Glenn Reedus, Chicago Crusader
Mix 100 years of activism, a vibrant Black Chicago community, a commitment to empower and improve that community and the final product is the Chicago Urban League’s Golden Fellowship Centennial Edition Fellowship Dinner. The dinner, the League’s 55th black tie celebration, features Diana Ross as the entertainment, and will honor longtime Chicago businessman Spencer Leak, Sr., on Saturday, Nov. 19.
According to Chelsea Whittington, the League’s senior manager of external affairs, there are three primary reasons this year’s gala is the first time the event has been completely sold out. About 1,700 business and community leaders, community activists, and long time supporters of the League will come together at the Hilton Chicago to observe the League’s 100th year in business. Whittington surmised the popularity of this year’s gala titled “Building on Our Legacy,” is a mixture of Ross performing, the community work the League does, and the fact it is the centennial observance. “Even when we were preparing for last year’s gala, there were organizations saying they wanted to wait and be a part of the centennial, and some that committed to contribute more to the centennial than they did last year, as well as some who said, this is your 100th year. I have to be part of that.”
Tawanna Streater, the League’s director of development, said, “the success of the Golden Fellowship Dinner would not be possible without the consistent support of our sponsors, board members, staff, volunteers and all who have a vested interest in making Chicago better.”
“As we move into our next century of service, we are even more committed to building on our legacy and will continue to effect real change in the lives of the people we serve.”
Whittington said the money raised from the gala will be used to support many of the League’s programs, as well as cover some operating expenses. While the organization was established 100 years ago to primarily help African Americans moving from the south
to the north in finding jobs, housing and other necessities, the mission has not changed that much. Whittington explained “when someone comes through our door and says I need help finding a job, or I need help with housing, or buying my first home, we are essentially doing the same thing we did 100 years ago. We are just helping in a different way.” Urban League President and CEO Shari Runner will detail where the League is headed at the dinner.
Whittington added, “today we have even more services and can help in more ways.” She cited the League’s interest in advancing educational opportunities for students and adults. One such student is currently a freshman
at Indianapolis University, Jamarcus Walker, a Chicagoan who participated in several Chicago Urban League programs, amassed $500,000 in scholarship offers from colleges and universities across the country. “He could have gone to just about any university, but he chose Indianapolis University because his father passed recently and he wanted to be able to be home quickly to visit his mother,” Whittington explained. Young Walker will be featured in a video that will be shown at the gala. He plans to major in and ultimately teach theology at the college level.
Spencer Leak, Sr., a name familiar to many Chicagoans, especially those on the South Side, will receive the League’s Edwin C. (Bill) Berry Civil Rights Award. It is the highest recognition the league bestows on a community leader. Leak, owner of Leak and Sons Funeral Homes, has a history of activism that dates back to the Civil Rights Movement. He and his father were among the many Chicagoans who marched to desegregate Oakwood Cemetery in the 1960s. Leak’s father was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Leak Funeral Home company is among the oldest in Chicago, having opened in 1933. Leak also has served as the Consumer Affairs Chief for the Office of the Illinois Attorney General, Executive Director of Cook County Department of Corrections and Commissioner of the Illinois Human Rights Commission.
William C. (Bill) Berry, was an icon in the Civil Rights Movement, and directed the Chicago Urban League from 1956-1969. The honor bearing his name also has been bestowed on noted Chicago historian, activist, and philanthropist Timuel Black, legendary opera diva Jessye Norman, civil rights activists Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., Rev. Willie T. Barrow, Hank R. Schwab, and Rev. Addie L. Wyatt, also legendary actors Louis Gossett, Jr., Phylicia Rashad and Cicely Tyson, as well as James W. Compton, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League from 1972-2006.