*At the start of the prestigious Equal Opportunity Day Awards Dinner chaired by Rhonda Mims, president, ING Foundation and senior vice president, office of corporate responsibility, ING U.S., guests were encouraged to read an important message that was inserted into all of the programs.
Hundreds of black tie guests began reading and were buoyed by a profoundly moving message from President Barack Obama. “I send greetings to all those attending the National Urban League 56th Annual Equal Opportunity Day Awards Dinner. From generation to generation, courageous Americans have led a relentless march toward freedom, fairness, and equality – not just for some, but for all. Ours is a heritage forged by men and women who organized, agitated, and advocated for change; who wielded love stronger than hate and hope more powerful than insult or injury; who fought to build a National where no one is a second-class citizen and no one is denied basic rights. Events like the Equal Opportunity Day Awards Dinner honor those who carry this legacy forward and remind us all that the work of perfecting our Union goes on. As you gather on this special occasion, I wish you all the best for an enjoyable evening.”
This took place at the 56th Annual National Urban League’s celebration of community leadership during the Equal Opportunity Day Awards Dinner at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square on Wednesday, November 14, 2012. The exquisite gathering began with a networking reception followed by dinner, award presentations, exhilarating performances and ending with a snazzy dessert reception with jazzy sounds provided by Jazz at Lincoln Center Education Programs. Pastor Tyrone Stevenson, senior pastor, Hope Christian Center, Brooklyn, New York delivered a rousing invocation.
“The Equal Opportunity Day Awards honor dedication and commitment to economic empowerment,” said Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. “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.”
Bank of America received the Corporate Leadership Award for its contributions to the Urban League Movement that was accepted by senior vice president Dr. Tony Allen, 2003 Whitney M. Young award recipient for Advancing Racial Equality and founding president of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League. The award was presented by David L. Cohen, executive vice president, Comcast.
“Our country is better when we all work together to be more inclusive and more engaged in our communities,” said David Darnell, co-chief operating officer of Bank of America and National Urban League Trustee. “That’s why the National Urban League is so important to Bank of America. Since its founding, the League’s work has represented the best of our nation, and we look forward to continuing our partnership to build stronger communities and a stronger America.”
Steve Capus, president, NBC News, accepted the President’s Award in recognition of his efforts to promote diversity in the media. “Tonight we present the President’s Award to Steve Capus, President, NBC News, in recognition of his distinctive service and iconic achievements in the media industry” stated Morial in his presentation of the coveted award.
The Health Innovator Award was presented to Centene Corporation by Jon R. Campbell, executive vice president, director of social responsibility group, Wells Fargo & Company. The award was accepted by Michael F. Neidorff, chairman, president & CEO, Centene Corporation.
“It is an honor for Centene Corporation to receive this special recognition from the National Urban League,” said Michael F. Neidorff, chairman and CEO of Centene Corporation and National Urban League Trustee. “We take seriously the fact that our members rely on us every day for something as important as their healthcare needs and the health and well being of their family members and loved ones. The National Urban League is an advocate for empowering and educating individuals so that they can make informed health decisions and for supporting quality, community-based models of care. We look forward to continuing our health partnership with the Urban League in the months and years to come.”
Five-time Tony-Award-winning singer and actress Audra McDonald was recognized for her contributions to the performing arts with a special Equal Opportunity Day arts award.
Crystal E. Ashby, executive vice president of government & public affairs, BP America Inc., presented the inductees into the League’s Million, Five Million and Ten Million Dollar Halls of Fame — namely GEICO, Eli Lilly & Company, and the Ford Foundation, respectively.
Teen leader Hadlee V. Howell, a participant in the National Urban League of Rochester’s project ready and digital connectors programs, earned the I Am Empowered Awa rd for academic achievement and leadership in the National Urban League’s signature education program, Project Ready Post Secondary Success. The distinguished youth award was presented by Brandi Richard, president, National Urban League Young Professionals.
Guests were treated to performances by Dance Theater of Harlem and Harlem School of the Arts. “We are very pleased and honored to welcome students from two renowned community-based cultural and educational institutions that have served New York City children for nearly 50 years, stated John D. Hofmeister, chairman, National Urban League.
ING was dinner chair; Bank of America was platinum sponsor; and AT&T, GEICO, Nationwide Insurance, UPS and Wells Fargo were partners. American Airlines, the official airline of the Equal Opportunity Day awards, presented several free flights as door prizes.
The League is grateful for its supporters and their significant contributions to the Urban League’s fundraising efforts and thanked them for their commitment to helping the League continue its work towards fostering equal opportunity for all. Morial expressed special thanks to Diageo for event beverages; ING U.S. for the gift items; and gave a very special shout out to his excellent staff and volunteers with special mention to Eladia Riggs Bing, National Urban League special events consultant, and event management and fundraising specialist Susan Ulin Associations Ltd. The event was exceptionally produced by Backhand Productions, Inc.
In 1956, the National Urban League 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 Equal Opportunity Day Awards Dinner was held the same year. Past honorees include General Collin Powell, Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson, and Muhammad Ali.
Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.