Chicago Urban League flying high thanks to annual gala

Gala attendees lit up the room with their phones in solidarity with the mission of the Chicago Urban League.


By Wendell Hutson

The Chicago Urban League reached a fundraising goal Saturday with its 58th Annual Golden Fellowship Dinner at the Hilton Chicago that attracted nearly 1,500 people and raised almost $2 million.


By doing so, Barbara Lumpkin, interim president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, said the nonprofit could continue providing community programs to the 15,000 youth and adults it services each year.

“Countless individuals both in and outside of this room answered the call to help us reach our goal,” said Lumpkin. “The proceeds from the gala go to support our many programs, such as housing, education, workforce development, youth programs, entrepreneurship, and so many more.”

The urban league presented three community awards at the gala to individuals who exemplified leadership, excellence and humanitarian.

Former White Senior Advisor (under President Barack Obama) Valerie Jarrett was awarded the Edwin C. “Bill” Berry Award given to those who show leadership through hard work, perseverance and creativity. The award is named for Bill Berry, a civil rights activist, who also served as executive director of the Chicago Urban League from 1956 to 1969.

While thanking the urban league for the award Jarrett said she was born the same year Berry became head of the urban league in 1956 and started her public service career the same year he died in 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,” said Jarrett. “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 Frederick Waddell, a Chicago Urban League Board member and retired chairman of Northern Trust Bank, for his long-standing support of the organization.

And Melody Spann-Cooper, chairman of Midway Broadcasting Corporation, which owns WVON AM, received the Lester H. McKeever Jr., Individual Service Award. McKeever was a long-time certified public accountant and Chicago Urban League life director. The award in his honor recognizes an individual who embodies excellence through service and has demonstrated a strong commitment to improving the quality of life for blacks.

By year-end Lumpkin will step down as head of the urban league and make way for Gary, Ind., Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who was chosen in September by the board of directors, as the organization’s next president and chief executive officer effective January 2020.

“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.”

Supporters of the gala included those from corporate, civic, faith and non-profit sectors as well as Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and community leaders like civil rights leader Timuel Black, who said since being founded in 1916 the Chicago Urban League has always worked hard to advance blacks.

“It is an organization I am most proud of because of the work they do on behalf of black folks,” said the 100-year-old South Side resident. “I have seen a lot during my time, some good and some bad, but I dare anyone to say something bad about the Chicago Urban League and say it with a ‘straight’ face because they would be lying to themselves.”

NBC5 Chicago anchors Michelle Relerford and Rob Stafford served will as masters of ceremonies, while East Lake Management & Development Corp. Founder, President and CEO Elzie Higginbottom and his wife Deborah, along with Illinois Tool Works Chairman and CEO E. Scott Santi and his wife Nancy, served as co-chairs for the gala.

And WVAZ radio personality Joe Soto introduced Grammy-award singer Chaka Khan, who performed live and received a standing ovation afterwards.

“What can you say about a Chaka Khan performance other than wow,” said Soto.



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