Marc H. Morial, Alma Arrington Brown, John D. Hofmeister

*“Fifty-five years ago, this dinner was launched to recognize the extraordinary contributions and efforts made by civic and business leaders who had the courage to champion the cause of equal opportunity,” stated Marc H. Morial, president and chief executive officer in his humble welcoming remarks at the start of the National Urban League’s 55th annual Equal Opportunity Day Awards (EOD) dinner on Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square, New York City.

“The EOD Award is the highest commendation bestowed by the National Urban League, added John D. Hofmeister, chairman, National Urban League.  “In recognizing tonight’s honorees, we do so with the greatest praise, respect and appreciation to their contributions and commitment to community, equal opportunity, and racial justice.”

“The EOD awards honor dedication and commitment to economic empowerment,” added Morial.  “Our honorees are leading the way toward equal opportunity and social justice, and the generosity of our partners is helping the Urban League Movement to change the lives of millions of Americans and hundreds of communities.”

Following a video presentation, Morial profoundly thanked the tremendous generosity of NUL’s supporters “for all that they do to help us continue Empowering Communities and Changing Lives.”

Morial then presented the esteemed entrepreneurship innovator award to Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses that was accepted by Lloyd C. Blankfein, chairman and chief executive officer, The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.  Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is an initiative designed to help small businesses create jobs and economic opportunity by providing greater access to business education, financial capital, and business support services.

The program is based on the broadly held view of leading experts that greater access to this combination of education, capital and support services best addresses barriers to growth.  Three Urban League Affiliates are local 10,000 Small Businesses partners and Morial serves on its national Advisory Council.

Marc H. Morial, John D. Hofmeister, Hugh Price and Rayford Wilkins, Jr. with affiliate CEOs from the National Urban League movement

Steve Rasmussen, president and chief executive officer, Nationwide Insurance, accepted the corporate leadership award for the company’s contributions to the Urban League Movement presented by Hofmeister.  “It’s an honor to be recognized with this award by our longtime partner, the NUL,” Rasmussen said.  “The National Urban League has been in the trenches helping to empower people for over a century.  We are proud of our partnership and the work we do together to empower communities and change lives.”

Nationwide has been recognized by both Black Enterprise and UPTOWN Professional magazines as one of the nation’s top 40 companies for diversity.  A longtime partner in the NUL’s mission of economic empowerment, Nationwide’s support has been invaluable in the creation of www.iamempowered.com, NUL’s first ever social mobilization platform connecting the Urban League Movement with communities and individuals across the country.

Following a noble awards ceremony, dinner was served.  Guests dined on crawfish soup; roasted beef tenderloin, brie creamed spinach, roasted shallot mashed potatoes; port wine reduction.  Libations served during dinner included Sterling Vintner’s Merlot; and New Harbor Sauvignon Blanc.

The program resumed with the induction ceremony of 2011One Million and Five Million Dollar Hall of Fame for their significant contributions to the League’s fundraising efforts.  New inductees into the League’s One Million Dollar Hall of Fame were Best Buy, McDonald’s, and Yum Brands.  Inductees into the Five Million Dollar Hall of Fame were Prudential and Walgreens.  “Thank you for your commitment to helping us continue our work towards fostering equal opportunity for all,” stated Morial.

In addition, two successful small business entrepreneurs were presented with the distinguished I Am Empowered awards.  Donna Jones Baker, president and chief executive officer, Urban League of Greater Cincinnati, presented the League’s distinguished I Am Empowered award to Cincinnati’s Lonnie Grayson, president, Environmental & Safety Solutions, Inc.

Patricia A. Coulter, president, Urban League of Greater Philadelphia, presented the other I Am Empowered award to Philadelphia’s David K. Simms, proprietor, Eatible Delights Catering and a graduate of the Urban League Entrepreneurship Center.

Morial was joined by Hofmeister in presenting the special recognition award to founder and chair of the Ronald H. Brown Foundation, Alma Arrington Brown, longtime NUL supporter, vice-chair of the board and widow of the late Ronald H. Brown, the first African American U.S. Secretary of Commerce (1993-1996).

The exemplary evening, which was chaired by Rayford Wilkins, Jr., chief executive officer, AT&T Diversified Businesses, was emceed by Richelle Carey, weekday anchor, HLN and host of “What Matters” on HLN and CNN.  Guests were delightfully treated to a special performance by New Orleans’ legendary R&B singer and musician Aaron Neville.  Other participants in the program included former NUL president Hugh Price, Topaza Watkins-Edmond, Rev. Canon Dr. Sandye A. Wilson and The Collaboration.  The funky Ray Chew Band performed onstage throughout the empowered evening.

I was a guest at the Target table where I dined with Donovan E. Charles, senior specialist, community relations, Target; Jim Hogan, group vice president, group 497, Target; Darnell L. Williams, president & CEO, NUL of Eastern Massachusetts; J. Howard Henderson, president & CEO, NUL Greater Baltimore; and Novella S. Ford, development director, New York Urban League.  The engaging evening ended on a sweet note at the much anticipated dessert reception.

In 1956, the NUL established Equal Opportunity Day to focus attention on positive efforts to ensure fair and equal treatment for all citizens and to remind Americans that the greatness of our country rests upon the principle of equal opportunity for everyone.  The first EOD awards dinner was held that same year.  (Photo Credit:  Brian Price)

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.