Urban League’s Gala Raises Almost $2.4 Million, Honors Community Leaders

All Photos by Wagner Lane Productions

The Chicago Urban League’s 62nd Annual Golden Fellowship Dinner garnered nearly $2.4 million to support education, job training, housing, entrepreneurship and leadership programs. 

Drawing in an audience of approximately 2,000 who were all elegantly attired to celebrate the Chicago Urban League’s accomplishments, the event welcomed a diverse crowd, including representatives from the business, politics and nonprofit sectors.

Chicago Urban League President and CEO Karen Freeman-Wilson framed the evening under “Accelerating Equity: All Hands on Deck.” She eloquently showcased the League’s successes, emphasizing strides it made in aiding home ownership, expanding entrepreneurship programs, commemorating the MetroBoard’s 40th anniversary and hosting three fairs centered on wellness, youth and careers. The Chicago Urban League’s trajectory in 2023, she said, exemplified that when “all hands are on deck,” major initiatives can be accomplished. 

Guiding the evening’s celebrations were co-hosts Jeanne Sparrow from V103 and Samantha Chatman, the ABC 7 Chicago Weekend Morning Anchor. The duo led attendees through a journey infused with laughter and “Divine Nine” love and introduced everyone to the esteemed honorees while collectively highlighting the Chicago Urban League’s accomplishments.

The evening sparkled with action and enthusiasm during the live paddle raise challenge, which generated an impressive $244,000. Excitement and pure joy filled the room as participants from all over the venue lifted their paddles in support of various areas of the Chicago Urban League.

Honorees were recognized for their dedication and impactful contributions. Dr. Aleta Clark, known as “Englewood Barbie,” received the Humanitarian Award. In her acceptance speech, she said, “I grew up as an orphan, but I turned out okay. Everything I wanted as a kid, I’m now that for other people. It’s easy to look the other way. It’s hard to face everything head-on.”

Her selfless mindset rightfully earned her the award.

Don and Liz Thompson, recipients of the Lester H. McKeever, Jr. Individual Service Award, shared their profound beliefs in supporting and investing in communities. They emphasized the importance of offering access to capital and advocating and “unapologetically supporting” Black, brown, and women-owned businesses through actionable measures.

National Urban League President Marc Morial, the final honoree of the night, was the recipient of the Edwin C ‘Bill’ Berry Civil Rights Award. He delivered a captivating speech and connected with the audience by talking about musical guests, The Isley Brothers. Morial then dived into a discussion about defending democracy and emphasized “the right to voice freedom of speech and the right to learn!” He continued by expounding upon the power of diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Morial also reminded us of the power of leveling the playing field for everyone,” and to get there, together, “we have to defeat poverty!”  

The night culminated with the attendees having their phones lifted high in the air, hips swinging and singing as they enjoyed the sound of The Isley Brothers! The legendary group serenaded the crowd with favorites like “Between The Sheets,” “Footsteps in the Dark,” and a tribute to Tina Turner with “Proud Mary.'” It was an evening where music connected souls, resulting in a vibrant display of joy and celebration that made everyone want to “Shout!” 

As the event concluded, DJ Jay iLLA took over, delivering a fun afterparty with a mix of old-school rap, Hip-hop, R&B and a blend of new-school music, including reggae, Afrobeats, and the quintessential sounds of Chicago House Music.

The Chicago Urban League’s 62nd Annual Golden Fellowship Dinner was an unforgettable celebration, uniting the city and beyond in a spirit of appreciation, love and commemoration.

Here are more photos from that special night:

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