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Urban League Gala to honor 1619 Project journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones

Urban League Gala to honor 1619 Project journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones
Nikole Hannah-Jones
Nikole Hannah-Jones

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones will be among several honorees at the Chicago Urban League’s 61st Annual Golden Fellowship dinner. The event will be held November 5 at the Sheraton Grand Chicago Riverwalk, 301 E. North Water St.

Education will be in the spotlight as the black-tie gala will also honor President Emeritus Dr. Walter Massey, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Dr. Helene D. Gayle, who served as CEO of the Chicago Community Trust before she became president of Spelman College this year.

This year’s theme is “The Fight For Equity Continues: Get In League With Us.” Urban League officials say while progress has been made, the fight for equity is ongoing, and the Chicago Urban League has been in the ring for more than a century.

Returning to an in-person celebration after a year’s hiatus due to the pandemic, the 2021 gala raised $1.6 million. More than 1,100 of Chicago’s business, civic and community leaders watched Boyz II Men and a surprise performance by Grammy Award-winning Rhythm and Blues star Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds perform their greatest hits.

Urban League officials are making plans to accommodate more than 1,500 guests this year, while observing health safety guidelines.

A portion of the star-studded gala will highlight the achievements of Hannah-Jones, an award-winning investigative reporter who covers civil rights and racial injustice for The New York Times Magazine.

In 2020, Hannah-Jones won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her in-depth 1619 Project, an essay that chronicles the Black experience in America, written to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first slaves in Virginia, in 1619.

While critics have attacked the piece, Black America has embraced it and continues to push it as a learning instrument in public schools across the country.

In 2018, Jones was among several speakers at a dedication renaming Congress Parkway in Chicago after voting rights activist and journalist Ida B. Wells. Hannah-Jones counts Wells, as well as Black journalists Ethel Payne, Simeon Booker and Claude Sitton, as her idols.

Prior to joining The New York Times, Hannah-Jones worked as an investigative reporter at ProPublica in New York City, where she spent three years chronicling the way official policy created and maintains segregation in housing and schools.

Before that, she reported for the largest daily newspaper in the Pacific Northwest, The Oregonian in Portland, Oregon, where she covered numerous beats including demographics, the Census and county government.

Hannah-Jones started her journalism career covering the majority-Black Durham Public Schools for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. During her three years there, she wrote extensively on issues of race, class, school re-segregation and equity.

A native of Waterloo, Iowa, Hannah-Jones became interested in journalism when she joined her high school newspaper and began writing about Black students who were bused across town as part of a voluntary school desegregation program.

Hannah-Jones has received over 50 honors and awards for her work. She sits on the boards of many non-profits that aim to address social equity and diversity in America. Hannah-Jones graduated from the University of Notre Dame where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and African-American studies in 1998. In 2003, she obtained a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism and Media, where she was a Roy H. Park Fellow.

Hannah-Jones is a tenured professor at Howard University; she serves as the school’s inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Journalism.

She made headlines in 2021 when she turned down a tenured position with the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media. The school’s Board of Trustees had voted to not review Hannah-Jones’ application for tenure amid controversial opposition to her 1619 Project.

Over 40 school faculty signed a petition criticizing trustees, which later approved her for the tenured position, but Hannah-Jones turned it down and chose Howard University instead.

The Chicago Urban League
Dr. Helene D. Gayle

The Urban League will also honor Dr. Gayle, who serves as president of Spelman College, one of the nation’s oldest Historically Black Colleges. Formerly, she served as president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust. She had served in this role since October 2017. Under her leadership, the Trust adopted a new strategic focus on closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap in the Chicago region.

For nearly a decade, Gayle was president and CEO of CARE, a leading international humanitarian organization. An expert on global development, humanitarian, and health issues, she spent 20 years with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, working primarily on HIV/AIDS. She worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, directing programs on HIV/AIDS and other global health issues.

Gayle serves on public company and non-profit boards, including the Coca-Cola Company, Organon, Palo Alto Networks, Brookings Institution, Center for Strategic and International Studies, New America, ONE Campaign, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and Economic Club of Chicago.

She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Council on Foreign Relations, Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society, National Academy of Medicine, American Public Health Association, National Medical Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics.

She was awarded the Chicago Mayor’s Medal of Honor for her work on COVID relief and recovery for the city. Named one of Forbes’ “100 Most Powerful Women” and one of NonProfit Times’ “Power and Influence Top 50,” she has authored numerous articles on global and domestic public health issues, poverty alleviation, gender equality, and social justice.

Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, Gayle earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Barnard College, a medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania and a medical degree in public health at Johns Hopkins University. She has received 18 honorary degrees and holds faculty appointments at the University of Washington and Emory University.

Also to be honored at the Urban League Gala, Dr. Massey is currently president emeritus, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Chicago Urban League
Dr. Walter Massey

An educator, physicist and executive, Massey is currently chair of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization, chair of the City Colleges of Chicago Trustees, president emeritus of Morehouse College, and of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and senior advisor to the president and emeritus trustee of the University of Chicago.

Recent awards and honors include the Sigma Xi 2020 Gold Key Award and the National Science Foundation’s 2019 Vannevar Bush Award. His memoir “In the Eye of the Storm: My Time as Chairman of Bank of America During the Country’s Worst Financial Crisis” was published in 2020 by Beckham Publications.

Throughout his career, Massey has been dedicated to science and technology as necessary to sustain and improve quality of life, public understanding of science and technology as essential to democracy, the arts as vital to fostering creativity, and the intersections of science, technology and the arts as critical for innovation.

From the beginning, he has been committed to strengthening the field and the country through racial and social equality by ensuring active inclusion, access to quality education, and mentorship for women and under-represented minorities, particularly in STEM fields.

Born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Massey received a Ford Foundation fellowship at age 16 to attend Morehouse College where he received his BS in physics and mathematics. He holds both his MA and PhD in physics from Washington University in St. Louis where his thesis focused on “Ground State of Liquid Helium-Boson Solutions for Mass 3 and 4.”

He was a postdoctoral fellow at Argonne, assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and held professorships in physics at Brown University and the University of Chicago.

He has served on the boards of BP, Tribune Company, Motorola, McDonald’s, First National Bank of Chicago, Continental Materials, Amoco, Research-Cottrell, Analytic Services, the Mellon Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund, the MacArthur Foundation, the Rand Corporation, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, among others.

Dr. Massey has received both the Chicago Historical Society’s Enrico Fermi Award for Science and Technology and the Illinois Humanities’ Public Humanities Award, in addition to the Order of Lincoln, the State of Illinois’ highest honor.

The Georgia State Senate passed resolution SR 113 to recognize and commend him as president of Morehouse College. The American Association of Physics Teachers awarded him their Distinguished Service Citation, and he has received 41 honorary degrees.

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