On April 18, 2019, the Los Angeles Urban League will recognize Byron Allen, founder, chairman, and CEO of Entertainment Studios with the 2019 Whitney M. Young, Jr., Award.
The theme of this year’s dinner will be “Empowering Excellence,” and given the reach of Allen’s global empire, he clearly embodies that spirit, particularly in the fields of media and philanthropy.
However, as the Urban League prepares for the annual celebration, it’s hard to ignore the state of mourning that exists the city of Los Angeles is currently experiencing due to the horrific and untimely death of rapper and community activist, Nipsey Hussle.
President and CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League, Michael Lawson, graciously explained to theGrio about the work that the organization is doing to help L.A heal, why Byron Allen was a no brainer” as this year’s recipient of this year’s Whitney M. Young Jr. award, and how we can all learn from these three extraordinarily bold Black men who have chosen to dedicate their lives to empowering our communities.
The legacy of Whitney M. Young Jr.
When you look at the list of previous award recipients, the line-up is incredibly impressive.
It includes sports and entertainment legends like Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Denzel Washington, Natalie Cole, Sidney Poitier, and Stevie Wonder, as well as community leaders and organizations like Toyota, Disney and NBC Universal. In fact, last year’s honoree was none other than CNN’s Van Jones, who made headlines for his work in furthering civil rights and criminal justice reform.
Which begs the question, exactly who was Whitney M. Young Jr. and why is this award such a massive honor?
“This ceremony was started 46 years ago in honor of Whitney M. Young Jr. who was a powerful and impactful man,” explains Lawson. “It is an awards ceremony that is meant to celebrate the ongoing fight that he waged in such an effective and honorable way to improve the lives of Black people.”
“Young was focused on the economic empowerment of the African American community,” he continues. “He recognized that this was the core of the civil rights struggle because without economic empowerment – access to capital, access to credit, access to homes, access to jobs – we would never truly be free.”
In providing details about the selection process, Lawson clarifies why finding the right person isn’t always an easy task.
“The people who we honor are chosen because of their willingness to do the same work and walk in the shoes of Whitney Young. I almost hesitate to state it that way because they are incredibly big shoes to fill.”
An obvious choice
Once Lawson started talking about Whitney Young, he chuckled because the similarities between Young and Allen are in fact so similar that it’s almost eerie.
“You can’t sit and talk to him for more than five minutes without it being obvious that he has that same mindset of economic empowerment,” said Lawson of Allen.
“We always look for people who are able to move in the halls of power and yet make it a point to always remember where they came from. Byron Allen is the epitome of that, and we make it a point to encourage change makers like him and showcase their successes so other Black people realize what’s possible.”
Rapper Nipsey Hussle was also a gifted change maker who, in his own way, inspired countless people of color to invest back into their communities.
“Nipsey Hussle was another one of those people,” Lawson added with a sudden somberness in his voice. “He showed that even if you don’t ascend to Byron’s level of success you can still make a huge impact wherever you are, right in your own neighborhood.”
In the spirit of the Hussle
Once the conversation turned to Nipsey Hussle, it became impossible to ignore the deep grief and feelings of loss permeating the country following his death. Lawson, however, maintains that this is even more reason to celebrate Black excellence, community leadership, and entrepreneurship at next week’s gala. After all, these are the very things that Hussle himself vocally championed in his short, but impactful, 33 years of life.
“This organization was founded in 1921 and has was always been about empowerment in the African American community,” Lawson explains. “We focus on entrepreneurship, workforce development, financial literacy, encouraging our youth to see the value in STEM education, and putting together programs that address the issues faced by people who have come out of incarceration and are looking to start a new life.”
Lawson believes that Hussle’s loyalty to his community is an example that anyone can follow.
“Nipsey had the same vision and cared about all the exact same things,” he points out. “There’s a statistic out there that states that in the Korean community in Los Angeles, a dollar that goes into that community stays there for about 50 days. When it comes to the African American community, a dollar only lasts about 8 hours.”
“We need to change that narrative and the way to do that is through entrepreneurship, through incubators, through creating the the types of goods and services and networks that allow us to engage with one another in a way that multiplies the economic juggernaut that we are,” explains Lawson.
“We are here because our grandparents picked themselves up after facing unthinkable horrors that Nipsey Hussle’s tragic death reminds us of now. Losing him was devastating, and yet for us as a people, it’s nothing new.”
It’s an unfortunate, but entirely true notion and, in historic fashion, Black folks always find a way to move. However, the hope this time is that the legacies of Young, Hussle and now Allen will inspire others to strive for a better tomorrow.
“Next week at this gala, we will be celebrating life, and all the Whitney Youngs, the Byron Allens and the Nipsey Hussles in our community who remind us why we need to keep fighting. Too many people died to get us where we are, so giving up simply is NOT an option.”
The 46th annual Los Angeles Urban League dinner will be held on Thursday, April 18, 2019, at the Ray Dolby Ballroom of the Hollywood and Highland Center. Entertainment Studios, LLC is the parent company of theGrio.