The A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum awarded its inaugural “Community Change Agent Award” to Ronald “Kwesi” Harris, director of the African American Male Resource Center at Chicago State University, at its 20th anniversary gala.
In addition, the museum presented “A. Philip Randolph Gentle Warrior Awards” to Richard Trumka, president of the national AFL-CIO; to City of Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers; to 2nd District U.S. Representative Robin Kelly; to the Rev. Dr. Leon Finney, pastor of Metropolitan Apostolic Church and to George X. Daniels, founder of George’s Music Room, during the February 28 fundraiser at the historic Parkway Ballroom, 4455 S. King Drive.
Dr. Lyn Hughes, founder of the museum, praised Harris as a “change agent” for the work he has done to uplift African-American youth. He has achieved the highest African-American male student retention rates in the university’s history by targeting the issues that these males confront in school and by building a bridge with administrators, students and support staff in Chicago State’s enrollment-retention-to-graduation initiative.
Harris is also a founding member of Chicago’s citywide coalition against tobacco and alcohol billboards and lectures nationally against popular culture shifts that promote negative imagery.
“The way he’s made a difference in people’s lives parallels the achievements of A. Philip Randolph as he successfully forged the alliance that led to the formation of the first black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters,” said David A. Peterson Jr., executive director of the museum. “As the first recipient of this award, Kweisi is the ideal person because of the standard he has achieved and the example he has set.”
The Gentle Warrior Awards honor deserving African-Americans, who like Randolph, “push gently, yet forcefully, against the boundaries of conventionality with a warrior spirit.” Randolph led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) to become the first black labor union chartered under the American Federation of Labor and the first to win a collective bargaining agreement with a major U.S. corporation, the Pullman Company.
Trumka complained about how badly mineworkers were treated when he was a 12-year-old growing up in Rices Landing, Pa. and his grandfather, a miner, challenged him to do something about it. Trumka worked in the mines for over seven years while working through Penn State University and then earned a law degree from Villanova. Then he worked on the legal staff of the United Mine Workers for four years and provided pro bono legal work for local families. He was elected president of the United Mine Workers of America at 33 and in 2009 to his first term as president of the AFL-CIO.
Summers previously served as chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and as the appointed trustee for the Cook County Pension Fund. He led the closure of a $487 million budget deficit while keeping Preckwinkle’s promise to roll back the county sales tax, saving taxpayers more than $400 million annually. Previous to his appointment by Mayor Emanuel as City Treasurer, he was a senior vice president at Grosvenor Capital Management and a leader of its Emerging and Diverse Manager business, which invested over $2 billion with minority- and women-owned firms.
Congresswoman Kelly brings passion and warrior-style leadership to the five committees on which she serves in Congress: Oversight and Government Reform; Economic Growth; Job Creation; Regulatory Affairs subcommittee on national security; Science, Space and Technology subcommittee on research and technology. She has promoted numerous bills to generate job growth and to end gun violence. As a state representative, she promoted bills to protect consumers from fraud, to support economic development and to increase the minimum wage. She also led the fight for landmark legislation to protect victims of domestic violence and to improve public safety.
Rev. Dr. Finney has been an activist all his life, most identified with The Woodlawn Organization and the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation. Its $190 million in real estate investments inspired many other communities across the nation to initiate similar community development programs. He founded the church he now serves as pastor and has taught at the University of Chicago, Lutheran School of Theology, the University of Illinois, Northwestern University and McCormick Theological Seminary as executive director of the African American Leadership Partnership.
Daniels’s Music Room is the largest independent music retail store in the Midwest, a mecca for artists such as Mary J. Blige, Sean Combs, The Isley Brothers, Alicia Keys, Twista, Do or Die and Usher. Based in Lawndale, Daniels positioned the original store as an anchor over 30 years ago, a symbol of longevity and fortitude in an area known for economic depression. His use of digital download kiosks there, which allow customers to burn customized CDs, won him the “Retailer of the Year” award from the National Association of Recording Merchandisers. In 2001 at the request of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Daniels opened a second location at Midway Airport.