WRITTEN BY: Ayana Jones – THE PHILADELPHIA TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
April 17, 2021
It’s been 20 years since the passing of Rev. Leon H. Sullivan and the impact of his accomplishments is still being felt throughout Philadelphia and beyond.
With that in mind, Opportunities Industrialization Center of America Inc. (OIC) will celebrate Sullivan’s impact with a “Moving Mountains” tribute April 23 at 1 p.m.
Sullivan founded OIC of America in 1964 to address the lack of education and job training programs available to minorities in Philadelphia so they could prepare themselves and become part of a highly skilled workforce.
“We felt that this was a unique opportunity for us to talk about what’s happened in 20 years — to sort of go back and help people to understand his contributions and accomplishments within the country as well as his impact and influence in helping to bring down apartheid in South Africa,” James Haynes, OIC of America president and CEO, said of the organization’s tribute to Sullivan.
“In my opinion, he’s a giant and he doesn’t necessarily get the credit or just rewards for all the things that he did.”
Born in Charleston, West Virginia, Sullivan died in April 2001 at the age of 78. He moved to Philadelphia in 1950 and became the pastor of Zion Baptist Church at the corner of Broad and Venango streets until his retirement in 1988.
Sullivan opened Progress Plaza in 1968. It was the first African-American-owned shopping center in the U.S.
The civil rights leader organized the “Selective Patronage” campaign, pulling together 400 ministers and their congregations to boycott major companies that refused to hire Blacks.
In 1971, Sullivan became the first African American to join General Motors’ board of directors. Sullivan served on GM’s board until 1991, when he took his fight against racial injustice international. His Sullivan Principles played a key role in the downfall of apartheid.
During the upcoming tribute, OIC of America will recognize General Motors with a trailblazer award for appointing Sullivan to their board of directors.
“We’re going to recognize GM for their social consciousness of that era,” Haynes said.
“The country was going through a racial awakening arguably in the ‘70s that kind of started in the late ‘50s and sort of found its way into corporate boardrooms.”
The award will be accepted by GM’s Global Chief Diversity Officer Ken Barrett.
OIC of America will also highlight when Sullivan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award that the American government can give, by President George H.W. Bush in 1991.
During the event, U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Pa., who was influenced by Sullivan’s philosophies, will participate in a Fireside Chat. He will discuss Sullivan’s work and impact.
While OIC of America’s tribute will highlight Sullivan’s legacy, it will also focus on addressing what the workforce development organization has been doing to remain relevant. During the pandemic, some of the organization’s affiliates helped provide food to people and were instrumental in helping those who were laid off find new employment.
“We want to spend some time talking about our mission and the kind of the things that we are doing: from food security to our ability to put people back to work,” Haynes said.
“The U.S. has a problem with putting people back to work. But we think that OIC and its network of affiliates is the answer to that because we provide wraparound services. We provide training and support people need when they are on the job.
“We’re not just talking about jobs for the sake of jobs,” he said. “We’re talking about jobs that lead to what will be considered sustainable living and moving people from poverty to the middle class. Economic development is kind of our focus and being a workforce development agency, there’s a lot to do and we take what we do very seriously.”
To RSVP for the upcoming virtual event, visit Facebook.com/oicofamerica