Rev. Leon H. Sullivan’s business plan, job centers still have impact today
This 6-foot-4 giant of a man had a voice that resonated so much that he was often referred to as the “Lion from Zion.” In his book “Build Brother Build,” Leon Howard Sullivan speaks of growing up poor in Charleston, W.Va., and being raised by his grandmother. His first personal experience with racism was being denied the right to sit down to order a soda in a local store. He decided then to work toward equality and remained committed to that goal his entire life
He attended West Virginia State College on a basketball scholarship. Always active, he was impressed by a speech at an NAACP event given by Adam Clayton Powell; Powell then invited Sullivan, who was studying at Union Theological Seminary at the time, to become assistant pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Sullivan was also mentored by the great union organizer A. Phillip Randolph, who had the vision for the first March on Washington in 1941 to eliminate job discrimination in Army and Navy industrial installations. (The march was called off a few days before its scheduled start because President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which outlawed such discrimination.)
Sullivan came to Philadelphia in 1950 to pastor Zion Baptist Church and started working to find jobs for youth and get them off the street corners. He helped establish the Citizens Committee Against Juvenile Delinquency, which created a massive organization of community volunteers that worked to not only help prevent juvenile delinquency, but also tackled problems of housing, employment and other issues confronting the Black community.
In 1960, Sullivan organized 400 African-American ministers and they initiated the “selective patronage” campaign (it was illegal to restrict trade). Tastykake was the first company to which the ministers presented “reasonable demands.” The company resisted for a while but finally gave in to the demands because they were losing money. Twenty-nine companies hired or promoted Black Philadelphians between 1960 and 1963, resulting in some 2,000 skilled jobs.
As more and more African Americans obtained jobs, companies began to complain that they weren’t skilled enough for some of the positions. Thus, Sullivan saw the need for job training, and Opportunities Industrialization Centers (OIC) was born. The first OIC opened in an old abandoned jailhouse at 19th & Oxford streets with thousands of people witnessing this new venture.
As he continued on his crusade of “racial economic emancipation,” Sullivan implemented the “10-36 Plan.” He asked 50 member of his congregation to donate $10 per month for 36 months to an unrestricted cooperative program. Two hundred members responded immediately and in a couple of years, there were 400 more members. In 1964, they purchased a $75,000 apartment building under the aegis of Zion Investment Associates. In 1965, they broke ground for Zion Gardens, a million dollar garden apartment complex, which, at the time, was the first of its kind and size in Philadelphia history to be developed and owned by African Americans.
In 1967, the group ground for a $2 million shopping center with a 20-year, million-dollar lease with the A&P food store chain — which marked A&P’s largest agreement ever made with a Black organization in the history of America. The deal also mandated that all chain establishments have Black management.
Continuing on the road to economic emancipation, Zion established the Entrepreneurial Training Center, National Economic Development Center, Progress Aerospace Enterprises, Progress Garment Manufacturing Enterprises & Ten Thirty-Six Fashions and Progress Stores. The “10-36 Plan” eventually grew to include more than 3,000 shareholders.
Leon H. Sullivan’s legacy is manifested by the hundreds of thousands that have attended and graduated from OICs throughout the world; the buildings owned by Progress Investment Associates; the newly-renovated Progress Plaza; and the thousands that have benefited from programs he initiated. Sullivan paved the way for today’s most influential African Americans in Philadelphia.
They Paved the Way
This series takes a historical look at several African Americans from the past who were influential during their time. While there were many involved in a variety of issues, time and space will not permit us to list all of them. However, we have selected a few “very” influential individuals and we will share their accomplishments with you as this series leads up to the 2011 Most Influential African Americans in Philadelphia edition of the Tribune Magazine.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to live your dream? Well, this lady is actually living her dream of leading a boarding school for low-income students. It’s been a dream since she wrote about it on her entrance essay for the University of Virginia. Autumn Adkins Graves is the first African-American woman president of Girard College.
That’s significant because the school is the legacy of Stephen Girard that in 1833 established a school for white orphan boys and only admitted African-American males in 1968 after years of legal battles and picketing and admitted the first girl in 1984.
Autumn was born in Monongahela, Pa., right outside of Pittsburgh. The youngest of four children, she was seen as her mother’s “special project” as there are 16 years between her and her closest sibling. She came along when her mother was in her forties and her parents were planning to adopt.
The family moved to Richmond when she was in the fourth grade and her first career goal was to be a teacher. She later considered something similar to managing a hedge fund so she could make a lot of money to open a private boarding school for inner city children or a sports agent.
A sports colleague advised against the latter saying that she was too nice and cared too much about others rather than about the money the athletes would make more for her as a sports agent.
She says that her father worked a lot and her mother was the primary caregiver and messenger for the family. They encouraged their children to be positive, loving and to work hard. For the family, school was not an option, it was expected. There was not a question of if, only when one would go on to higher education.
Her mother stressed doing your personal best, following your passion, and being a lady…how a lady behaves, sits, walks, talks and conducts herself.
When “AJ” (family nickname for Autumn Joy) was dating as a teenager, her mother would lovingly admonish her “don’t embarrass me and don’t ruin my last name.” Some of her best advice came from her father who told her “don’t take yourself too seriously.”
An avid history buff, she’s currently reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot, which relates the story of an African-American woman from Virginia who died at the age of 31 and whose cancer cells provided for major medical research without her knowledge. It’s a story of cancer, racism, scientific ethics and crippling poverty.
A defining moment for Adkins Graves was when she applied for job to head a New England private school. She was a finalist and felt it was good fit after a long interview process. However, in the end, it was traumatic.
It was, she said, “the first time I really felt racism.” She was informed that they “must go with a safe choice in these uncertain economic times.” For Adkins Graves, it was raw and painful. She says that she actually wailed for a moment because it took the wind out of her sail and she thought, “What’s the point?” However, two weeks later, the headhunter for Girard College called.
In retrospect, she believes she needed to have that experience to have the drive she has now in preparing students at Girard College.
“Without question I make sure they know they have skills and abilities and that it’s okay to hurt and to not be paralyzed by it. They should be aware that there’ll be another opportunity and to always be prepared for it and not think all people are like (the interviewer for the New England School). I was tempted to call him and tell him…but I didn’t.”
Just three days before her Girard interview, she met her husband-to-be, R. Vann Graves, and discovered that they had a Virginia connection. It was a blind date about which both parties were reluctant. However, Adkins Graves says now, “he’s my dream and he’s so cute.” She really enjoys being a wife and looks forward to starting her own family.
She notes, “I want to be a good wife; I’ve been a career person for so long. It’s very different to have another role that I play in a family, and I take it very seriously. It’s important to have balance between my job (which is such important work and good work) and my family life.”
Spending time with her husband and with family and friends relaxes her. Travel and great restaurants bring her joy, noting that Philadelphia has many great choices. She deems herself a magazine junkie and while she will read a book using a Kindle, she doesn’t want to give up the pleasure she gets from turning the pages of magazines and seeing the many pictures and reading the many interesting stories they contain. She wants to integrate technology into a reading program at Girard.
Before she turns 50, she wants to visit all 50 states (she’s been to 39). Someday, she’d like to get a Ph.D. in something other than education, possibly history or psychology. At different times and phases in her life, she’s had different theme songs. Her battle cry used to be the Gloria Gaynor anthem, “I Will Survive.”
Since she got married, she now favors the Bill Withers tune, “Just the Two of Us” as her relationship with her husband is both tender and special. Her two all-time favorites continue to be “His Eye Is on The Sparrow” and “All Hail the Power.”
With respect to mentoring, “for me, it’s not formal. I think mentoring is about wisdom, knowledge and experience. I’m just getting to that point where I feel that I have something of significant value to offer to someone; I talk to young people and gently raise questions about where they are in their careers to help them lesson themselves.”
Adkins Graves is a graduate of University of Virginia (BA), and Columbia University Teachers College (MA). She was assistant principal at Friends Seminary in Manhattan, dean of the Upper School at Sidwell Friends (Washington, D.C.), director of special programs at Mercerburg Academy (Pennsylvania) and upper school counselor and community service coordinator at the Breck School (Minneapolis).
Adkins Graves views education as much more than books. “One has to work smart and be able to have a practical education, to use it as a vehicle for access to family sustaining jobs so one will know how to feed them selves; how to take care of one’s body; how to restore one’s soul; how to make good choices for you and your partner, and how to be good parents.”
She has enjoyed teaching history and found it exciting to watch children learn about how “dead” people impact their lives today and figure how they will impact the future and why we do what we do.
In this position, she is an employee of the board of directors of the City Trusts, and reports directly to attorney Bernard Smalley, chairman of the Girard College Committee of the Board of City Trusts.
Notes Smalley, “she has completed her second year and has worked extremely hard given the challenges she’s faced with the overall school environment as an outsider coming in and learning the ways of Philadelphia — and [there are challenges] with the decreased budget at a time when there are multi-plans for the future of Girard College and its vision. She still has a bit to learn, as do we all.”
Girard currently has 185 employees, down from 260 due to budget cuts. One of her priorities is to make the school open to the Philadelphia community and to break down the “wall.” As such, Girard hosts the MLK Day of Service, works with the Fairmount CDC, hosts many different events and serves as a rental facility for special events including weddings, receptions and corporate meetings.
Adkins Graves is building relationships with the alumni association which consists of a group of people who are committed and supportive. She loves her job!
She is active on the boards of Shipley School, the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, the Library Company, the NY Branch of Children’s Defense Fund and is a member of The Links-Philadelphia Chapter.
She describes her leadership style as one that is open, direct (maybe too much), wanting staff to understand why she’s doing what she’s doing, wanting staff to take some direction and mix it with their own expertise and check in with her. Keys to success for this driven lady have been lots of prayer, faith in the unknown, surrounding herself with good people (who are smart and have good souls) and having the ability to grow.
Her heroes and sheroes are the everyday people from whom she’s learned so much. Many of them do extraordinary things that often go overlooked. She believes that unfortunately, young people underrate the value of work — they have a sense that everything should come instantly because they’ve made “any” effort. They’ve seen too many experiences of the flash and glamour and get rich quick messages and not enough of how to be a regular person — which is so meaningful and rewarding. She encourages young people to “Work Hard! Play Hard! Pray Harder!”
A FEW OF HER FAVORITE THINGS:
Book: “Green Eggs and Hair”
Movie: “The Shawshank Redemption”
Color: Royal blue
Food: Her mother’s macaroni and cheese and good Italian food
“The General” is the first female leader of the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC). As president, Sharmain Matlock-Turner manages a budget of $29 million with 400 employees across the parent organization and its 78 partners. The UAC began as the Black Coalition that was initially established to help quell the unrest after the urban riots in the 1960s. Most recently the name was changed from the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition to the UAC. Through its 40-year history, the Coalition has trained thousands of individuals, found jobs for the unemployed and underemployed, assisted families in finding adequate and affordable housing, and provided fiscal and management support for hundreds of nonprofit organizations. This year the Coalition has gotten into the business of helping reduce the “digital divide” in partnership with Drexel University and the City of Philadelphia.
At the helm for 13 years, she’s proud that the Coalition is becoming a regional player with current and proposed partners in Bucks, Chester and Montgomery counties; New Jersey; and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Md. “I’ve been lucky with opportunities, and I really love this job,” she acknowledges.
Matlock-Turner was born in North Garden, Va. in Albemarle County near Charlottesville. The family moved to Baltimore for a while, and then to Philadelphia. She is oldest of three children — her brother and sister live in Scranton, Pa.
Some of her fondest childhood memories include traipsing around the hills in Virginia, being free all day — baseball, peaches, church on the porch, watermelon and visiting people.
Naturally, her first mentors were her grandmother (whom she defines as “feisty,” refusing to accept the reference to her as “auntie” (a term often used by southern whites to refer to older Black women), and her mother. Her grandfather always worked the land or some other job so his wife did not have to work. Matlock-Turner visited with her grandparents every summer and smiles as she reminisces about those days in the country. Her mother taught her to sew, and she started making her own clothes at age nine. She also taught her to lay carpet and how to paint. Her mother stressed responsibility, even awakening Matlock-Turner one night at midnight because she hadn’t finished a paint job she had started earlier that day. She describes her mother (now 83 years old) as always beautiful and dignified.
She speaks proudly of having a loving family and is so very happy to have met and married her husband, Anthony “Tony” Turner. “This is an unbelievable, special time in my life with him, my two daughters (Ayana Matlock and Naima Turner) and being a grandmother for the first time. I enjoy being home.”
She credits Councilwoman Marian Tasco with teaching her a lot. Tasco helped her to evaluate situations and has always been generous with her time. Sharmain says that she has always tried to be around people who know more than she does, as “I can’t learn if I’m the smartest one in the room. I’m an experiential learner, although I do read and study; and, if I find I can’t do it, I let folk know,” says Matlock-Turner.
Other mentors include state Rep. Dwight Evans and her employer-mentor, the late Sen. Roxanne Jones, “Many people wondered why I would work with Sen. Jones and thought it would not be a good mix because she was not a parrot of the Philadelphia elite — always a part of and advocate for the working class and low-income families. I worked with her in North Philadelphia for nine years, and we learned from each other. She showed me how to work in communities with people with different views.”
Evans says that he met Matlock-Turner in the early 1970s when she was chief of staff to state Rep. John White Jr. and says, “You couldn’t find a better person. She’s a great friend, mother, wife and grandmother. I recently visited South Africa and focused on the significance of the emerging democracy, and the fact that the most [important] component of the democracy is the citizenry. Matlock-Turner is a good, solid citizen of the city, state, country — in fact; she’s a great worldwide citizen. She’s been an essential part of almost every community, political and social issue, project and concern in the city and we are fortunate to have her in this city. I am honored that she would think enough of me to even mention me as one of her mentors.”
Matlock-Turner has been volunteering for many, many years and her mother often wonders if she gets paid for all of the things she does. She references her work with the Black United Fund and Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation, West Oak Lane Charter School where she is a founder and board chair; Children’s Scholarship Fund, Citizens Bank Advisory Board, co-founder of ARISE Charter School. However, she’s cutting back some on outside activities and at this time and her major concern is education reform noting that it is key to a person having a sense of themselves and how to harness it to do what one needs and wants to do.
Other roles she assumes include her weekly appearance on WURD Radio as a talk show host and as a periodic panelist on “Inside Story” on 6 ABC.
In her spare time, this self-proclaimed neat freak and putterer enjoys a good glass of wine, gardening, Pinochle and TV drama mini-series. Recently she began yoga and meditation, which she finds calming and centering. Her favorite vacation destination is Aruba.
Matlock-Turner credits her years at West Philadelphia High School, Penn State, Temple University and membership in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. with establishing lifelong friendships.
Reflecting on the decades since the passing of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts, she notes that there is still discrimination against people because of the color of their skin, although many say they don’t discriminate. She speaks of people dedicating their entire lives to working to advance the rights of people of color and acknowledges the commitment, contributions and accomplishments of Malcolm X and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Locally, she refers to Charles Bowser, and the work of the Black Political Forum and John White Sr., Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. and Hardy Williams, among many other local politicians and activists.
She readily acknowledges lessons learned and the respective teachers include Kevin Dow who emphasizes “Focus & Finish,” meaning it’s important to stay engaged until change occurs as well as the Sisters of Mercy with whom Matlock-Turner gained an understanding that if there is nothing to be able to reinvest at the end of the day, you’re not doing what you need to be doing.
Matlock-Turner has also learned that a high degree of professionalism is of paramount importance to the success of an organization. The company has to have good people, the leadership has to go outside of his/her circle, and the whole organization has to search and invest in systems and structures. It must have a good board, effective finance management and auditing, and raise the question of what more can be done to develop structures that can stand the test of time.
The organization also needs to focus on capacity building to explore and identify how to measure its success and show how it has made a difference. The powers-to-be have told organizations how to count (document) and then say, “We don’t like the way you counted.” So, it’s incumbent for them to realize their “ETO-Efforts to Outcome.”
Responding to the query, if you weren’t doing this, what else might you be doing? She says, “If I were doing something else at this time, it would be something related to Clean Up Philadelphia. I’d remove all trash, fundraise for community-based organizations, have mobile trash pick up machines in the neighborhoods, conduct lots of educational programs, have a Pick Up Philadelphia Campaign with contests, deputize youth and utilize Trash Rangers.”
For the Urban Affairs Coalition, her goal is to keep it fresh and on the cutting edge of employment, housing and the digital divide — to keep it relevant so people view it as a place to come to solve problems.
She envisions her next steps to include some role in the media engaging people in a give-and-take and has no aspirations of an elected position. “It’s time for new people to be out front, and I’m constantly looking for opportunities to encourage young people. “I called a young man whose picture I saw on the front page of The Tribune and told him that I’d like to meet him. I like working with the next generation of leaders and to share with them: ‘This is what I learned vs. This is what you need to do’; to do less preaching and more teaching — an atmosphere of listening and sharing.” When I was younger and attended meetings, I was told to ‘sit down, shut up and this is what you are going to do.’ We’ve had our turn. Let’s give them the best of what we have!”
A FEW OF HER FAVORITE THINGS:
Books: “The Tipping Point,” “The Good Earth,” “Pearl Buck” and anything by Walter Mosley.
Movies: “West Side Story,” “Porgy & Bess” and “Jumping The Broom.”
To say this lady wears many hats is an understatement.
The Rev. Dr. Lorina Marshall-Blake is the president of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation and vice president of Community Affairs for Independence Blue Cross (IBC).
She is also the mother of three children: Julian, Chawnda and Jamila; and grandmother of Jamile. One can sense the feeling of pride as she notes all of her children attended an historically Black college, i.e. Howard, Lincoln, Spelman and Xavier — and are successful in their respective careers.
Marshall-Blake serves as associate minister at Vine Memorial Baptist Church and spiritual chief officer at IBC where, from time to time, she has been called on to provide spiritual support for employees experiencing personal challenges and/or when an employee dies.
Additionally, this lady serves as president of the Omega Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. The group is a Pan-Hellenic organization with approximately 400 members. This is a position she has held since last fall.
The chapter has initiated the Emerging Youth Leaders program focusing on leadership by design, and on purpose, through the Bailey Arrington Leadership Institute.
In her role with the IBC foundation, her philosophy is to take the social to the philanthropic. The foundation serves Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties.
Marshall-Blake believes it important to see where the clinics are and to interact with the staff and clients. To that end, she has visited all 32 clinics. The foundation’s six-member board meets twice a year. Launched in 2011 with a $10 million budget, the foundation has awarded $3.25 million to date. She loves her job and views it as her dream job. She’s worked at IBC for 22 years and served on the board of directors at one point. Before this position, she worked at the Philadelphia Gas Works for 14 years.
Literally, a lady of many hats, she’s known for the stylish hats that she wears every day. Being ladylike is a trait she patterned after her grandmother and mother.
“It’s important for young girls to see ladies as role models and to be able to see themselves unfold and learn to have love for themselves — as referenced in Dr. Mona Lake’s poem ‘Getting Ready to Unfold,’” Marshall-Blake said.
This tastefully dressed businesswoman appreciates hearing remarks of admiration from passers-by as she moves from activity to activity in Center City.
Her wardrobe is developed from selections delivered by Fred Lee, a deacon at her church who provides this service for many of the female congregation members.
While many view her as a fashionista, she describes herself as a classic dresser. However, she always makes a special effort to seek out a unique pair of earrings from a jeweler in New York during Pennsylvania Society Weekend.
A self-proclaimed “typical” middle child of five children (one brother is deceased), she and her siblings were expected to do well, go to school and “don’t go out acting a fool.”
Her father was a master plumber and handyman, while her mother stayed home to raise the children. When she was a baby, she was nicknamed “Bootsy” because she was small enough to fit inside her father’s fishing boot.
One of her fondest childhood memories is of Friday nights eating Chinese shrimp dinner from Ms. Punchey’s.
The family didn’t vacation much, however, a visit to Atlantic City or Wildwood for the day and a trip to Ocean City for the weekend were special treats.
She reflects fondly on neighborhood entrepreneurs “Mr. Otis” and “Miss Sadie” and she feels good to still know most of the families on the street on which she was raised and where her 84-year-old mother still resides. She has a special smile as she shares that she talks with her mother every day, no matter where she is, in or out of the country, and does her laundry and performs other duties that a daughter does for her mother.
Always mindful that “God never blinks” Marshall-Blake was raised to always be grateful for whatever you have and to treat everyone with the dignity they deserve.
She attended Brooks Elementary and was in the first group of bused students (to Mitchell Elementary on Kingsessing Avenue) and Overbrook High School. She has a master of arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania, a master of divinity degree from Palmer Theological Seminary (she was ordained on July 21, 2004) and an honorary doctorate of humanities from Albright College in Reading, Pa.
Marshall-Blake sleeps only about 4 to 5 hours daily and it’s ok with her.
She’s able to balance her extremely busy business, civic and personal life because she’s organized.
She noted that she and her father, who was exceptionally organized, would be awake moving through the home and doing things while the rest of the family was still sleeping.
Mentors of this extremely busy businesswoman include Delores Brisbon, Rev. Dorothy Watson Tatum, Anne Wrice Mullin, Chris Cashman, Dan Hilferty, Bruce Crawley and Councilwoman Augusta A. Clark. She gives back by mentoring several young people within and outside of the company. The group consists of Ayana Moses, who is getting married in Ghana and has invited Marshall-Blake to participate in the ceremony), Joanne Ferguson, Shalimar Blakeley, Bridgette Daniels and Marcus Allen.
The list of role models includes her mother, first lady Michelle Obama, her pastor, the Rev. James Allen, and her good friends, the Rev. Sandra Reed and Jan Gillespie.
These three words characterize this lady executive.
Moving from meeting to meeting, and activity to event, she logs many hours on a daily basis changing from corporate hat to community member to board member to mother and friend. After knowing her for a while, many of her business associates affectionately call her “Reenie.”
The recipient of numerous awards, she is quite proud to have been acknowledged by the Wynnefield Presbyterian Church, Women of Faith, the League of Women Voters with its Civil Leadership Award, BEBASHI, the Tribune’s Most Influential list, the American Jewish Committee. She also received the G. Fred DiBona Leadership Award, the highest award given by Independence Blue Cross.
An avid reader, she enjoys material from a variety of genres and quotes from them with ease. Some of her favorite books are: the Bible; “Heaven is For Real: A Little Boys Story of His Trip to Heaven,” Todd Blupo, et al; “Great Day Every Day: Navigating Life’s Challenges with Promise and Purpose” (Max Lucado) and Dennis Kimbro’s “What Keeps Me Standing: Letters From Black Grandmothers on Peace, Hope and Inspiration.”
With respect to leadership style she refers to “Leading Like Madiba: Leadership Lessons from Nelson Mandela.” This philosophy suggests that one does not have to be in front to lead; rather, one can lead from behind using one’s influence, bench strength and by supporting others — “it’s not always about a title,” she notes.
Marshall-Blake is excited simply about life every day and the possibilities of each new day. While much of what she does is in the public realm, most wouldn’t know that she has run the IBC Broad Street Run twice (and that’s the limit she says while smiling). She also loves to cook, and is a great cook, which can be attested to by anyone who has had the pleasure of dining on a meal she has prepared.
Other community activities include serving on the boards of the Philadelphia Urban League, the Urban Affairs Coalition, the Black Women’s Health Alliance and the IBC Safety Advisory Commission. She also finds time to be affiliated with 2000 African American Women, the Community College of Philadelphia and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.
Cultural heroes and “sheroes” include Fannie Lou Hamer, Sojourner Truth and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “If they hadn’t done what they did, we wouldn’t be here to do what we are doing,” Marshall-Blake said.
Living legends who complete her list include General Colin Powell, President Barack Obama, and Radio One founder Cathy Hughes.
“Our young people need to be able to see them and learn how they are able to do what they do,” she said.
Her office, with a large picture window looking out over the city, is that of a busy woman. One gets a sense of who she is and what her interests are from the books, artifacts and other materials that are displayed throughout the space.
Family photos, AKA paraphernalia, an African-American doll with a small bag of cotton (‘lest we forget’), a photo of President Barack Obama, numerous awards, a bookcase full of books and other mementos. Her degrees adorn her office walls and there is a coffee table near the cushiony couch near the entrance to her office that holds some of her favorite books.
“The key to my success is my faith walk,” Marshall-Blake said. “I believe that as I succeed, you succeed. I love my job. When I leave at the end of the day, I feel fulfilled. I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish at IBC. Those of us who are in these positions of leadership are the exception; we should be the rule, and young people should be able to see African Americans in different leadership roles.”
Driven. Family-oriented. Artistic.
These are the three words that Charisse R. Lillie says best describe who and what she is.
This soft-spoken, gentlewoman serves as corporate vice president of community investment and president of the Comcast Foundation. In this capacity, she supervises twenty people in the Center City Philadelphia corporate office and several hundred in the field through various division presidents.
Lillie worked at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll LLP, where she was a partner and chair of the Litigation Department and a member of the Employment and Labor Law Group. Before joining the firm, Lillie’s legal experience included positions as trial attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Deputy Director, Community Legal Services, Inc., professor at Villanova Law School, Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; General Counsel to the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Philadelphia; and City Solicitor of the City of Philadelphia. David L. Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast Corporation (with whom she worked at Ballard Spahr) recruited her to join him at Comcast. Although she was satisfied with her position at the law firm, Comcast seemed to be a really exciting opportunity.
The job is fast-paced, fun and interesting and keeps her quite busy. She’s on the road a lot, with work-related travel consuming generally 30–40 percent of her time. She’d think she was in heaven if she could have a four-week sabbatical. She’d probably use the time to travel to South Africa, Ethiopia, Italy and London.
Lillie received her bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University – cum laude, her J.D. from Temple Law School – Dean’s honor list and her LL.M from Yale School of Law. She volunteers with her respective alma maters – Wesleyan interviewing new recruits, fundraising with Temple University and is active in the local Yale Club, among many other volunteer activities. Early in her career, she worked as a research assistant to the Honorable A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. on his first book, “In the Matter of Color,” and as law clerk to the Honorable Clifford Scot Green, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
She says the best advice she received was from Judges Clifford Scott Green and A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. They both advised her to treat every person in an organization the same. The latter suggested that her Afro hairstyle would get in the way of her career path; fortunately for her, it didn’t hinder her advancement. She is very proud of her legal career — with 28 years in law practice including government and a big law firm. “I think law is in my DNA!”
Lillie was born and raised in Houston, Texas to parents who were educators and artists and inspired a love for the same in their children. As children, she and her sister made Black history collages and were regular attendees to the theatre. She had early aspirations were to either become a lawyer or an actor. She feels truly blessed to have known her maternal and paternal grandparents.
Education was paramount in her family — one did not get congratulations for receiving an “A” but had to explain if one received a “B.” The family lived in a ranch style home in a segregated area with segregated public schools. She and her sister were a part of the first wave to attend Catholic school. They had great teachers with high expectations; however, there were limited opportunities. “It seemed as if all one could do was teach. Most African-American men with degrees worked in the post office. At the time, it wasn’t realistic for a girl to aspire to be a lawyer,” said Lillie. Students were around their home all the time. Her parents were her mentors, and she had tremendous role models, including family friend Barbara Jordan — a lawyer who became a Congresswoman.
Family is dear to Lillie and she is very proud that she and husband, Tom McGill Esq., have three productive children, Tom III, Leslie Arnette and Alison McGill.
Having time with her husband and family is the most rewarding experience she has. Cooking is one of the things Lillie enjoys doing, and she really likes to make two of her favorites that her grandmother taught her to prepare — curried shrimp and gumbo. Her husband affectionately calls her “Lillie,” while others sometimes refer to her as “Charsee” — the result of the mispronunciation of her name by Caribbean Passport Security reading her name on her birth certificate while traveling years ago.
More time to sleep is at the top of her list of “what I would do if I had more time.” She has a personal trainer at her home 3–4 times per week and enjoys visiting the spa and listening to music. She enjoys reading but doesn’t have enough time to read for pleasure.
Lillie gives back through Comcast’s Digital Connectors program promoting digital literacy, youth leadership and community service. She also serves on the board of Penn Mutual Life Insurance, NBC Universal Foundation, Franklin Institute, United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Board of Trustees of Howard University among other volunteer activities. A member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., she says it is a part of the village of women she’s been around most of her life.
She speaks of having a passion for diversity indicating that she is open and wiling to experience different cultures.
As a leader, she views her style as collaborative and that accountability goes two ways. She has an open-door policy where employees can express their concerns. She expects everyone on her team to be clear on the vision; she clearly articulates deadlines and bottom lines to those she supervises. And, Lillie is always focused on the corporate goals. “If I’ve learned anything, it’s to trust my grit instincts about people and situations and to not second guess myself.”
One of her most educational and interesting experiences was serving on the MOVE Commission. It was the first time she had to deal with the press. As a young professional, she had the opportunity to work with attorneys William Brown, Bruce Kauffman and Charles Bowser. She found it to be a remarkable experience in the presence of such brilliant lawyers. She gained a huge perspective on big bureaucracy and it was great preparation to become city solicitor.
When she was chair of the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, she felt positive about being in a position to have an influence on economic development in Philadelphia and national monetary policy. She credits attorney Hillary Holloway (a former board chair himself) — whom she described as a very special human being, very sweet and humble, for recommending her to the board.
Through the years, Lillie has received numerous honors including the 2011 United Way Women’s Initiative Award, CableWORLD as one of the Top 50 Minorities in the Cable Industry and one of the Top 100 Most Influential Women in Cable.
Elleanor Jean Hendley, founder and president of Teenshop describes her as “one of the kindest and most giving people I know. Charisse is Teenshop’s ‘godmother’ and directly accountable for much of our success during the past 26 years. I fondly tell Charisse that she is a gift that keeps on giving, and she supports Teenshop in countless ways. They include bringing Teenshop as a pro bono client into Ballard Spahr LLP when she was an attorney there, and making sure that the firm continued to represent us after she left to go to Comcast. She is a major supporter of our residential Summer Leadership Conference for rising seniors held annually at Bryn Mawr College. Each year since the program started in 2007, Charisse has sponsored and mentored one of the students, and continues to contribute significant financial support to this program. She has also participated in the conference as a speaker, and she even comes to many of our Teenshop activities during the year. Through her actions, Charisse continues to be a blessing to Teenshop and we are truly grateful.”
Lillie’s favorite activities include listening to music, preferably jazz — and she enjoys the work of Gil Scott Heron, whom she describes as brilliant and prospective.
Her mother and Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall are her sheroe and hero, respectively. Her mother, Dr. Vernell A. Lillie founded the Kuntu Repertory Theatre in 1974 at the University of Pittsburgh. At 80 years old, she still has a stellar reputation in African American Theatre and has mentored generations of students. Says Lillie, Marshall, because of “what he accomplished under very challenging conditions, with very little money, working with people putting their lives on the line is truly remarkable.”
If you asked her for advice, she’d tell you to work hard, define your passion, develop a plan and be flexible with it; be action-oriented and find mentors (some will come and some you may have to pursue). An early defining moment in her life was the chance to work with federal judges through a grant to travel and interview 10 judges (she actually met with nine). She felt honored to see people in very high positions with gentility and humility and wanted to be just like them. She has always admired the “legal intellectual,” which sort of served as a guide as to how I wanted to live my life as a professional.
Like others in her station in life, from her perspective, she sees a major issue in the African-American community as the need to create businesses and have the opportunity to get access to capitol.
SOME OF HER FAVORITE THINGS
The board of governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) increased tuition at Cheyney University and 13 other state-owned universities by three percent for the 2012–2013 school year. This marks the fifth time in eight years that the increase in tuition has been at, or below, the rate of inflation.
“The gap between financial aid and the cost of attendance will be minimal, but it will also vary from student to student,” said Michelle Howard-Vital, president of Cheyney University. “Many students will owe about $3,000 that they will have to pay by working or by taking out loans. While this does not seem like a great deal of money, with the economic downturn and the average Cheyney University family income of about $35,000, money will be very tight.”
For in-state undergraduates, a three percent increase in tuition and technology fees will mean an extra $198. Out-of-state graduates will pay anywhere from one and half to two and a half times as much, and will also see a three percent increase. Cheyney Board of Trustees will not determine fees for registration, student activities and dormitory expenses until July 26.
At Cheyney, the three percent tuition increase was almost welcoming news — considering the 7.5 percent increase in 2011.
“Even though it was only three percent, I was concerned, because with last year’s increase we lost 300 students,” Howard-Vital said. “I’m glad that it wasn’t as high as the year before, but any increase means sacrifices and choices made by the students and their parents. When a student picks a college, it’s initially because of three reasons: cost, academic programs and the overall image of the university.
“… some students may need to stop going to school and work in order to afford tuition. In the past, I had to talk students back into school because they were working so much to support themselves and their families. I just want students to know that despite the recent increase, the faculty, administration and alumni are doing everything we can to help you.”
The Cheyney University National Alumni Association has been developing scholarship funds for students who do not have enough money between the gap of financial aid and the cost of attendance. The alumni have raised $800,000.
“We were expecting a decision like this, but it is unfortunate because of the economic challenges that people are experiencing,” said Barbara Daniel Cox, 1966 Cheyney alumna and former president of the National Alumni Association. “There are ways for students to get help for their education. Cheyney offers various scholarships, including the Wilt Chamberlain Scholarship and the James Hughes Memorial Scholarship. Various companies, churches and organizations will also provide scholarships. Students just need to be very proactive and search for various scholarships and grants.
“Students can still get an education, they just need to think outside of the box when it comes to the cost. In addition to scheduling classes, they also need to be mindful of cost. Students need to continue to put together a combination of resources to be successful financially. We will continue to support and help the students who attend Cheyney.”
PASSHE also approved new tuition rates for resident graduate students and all nonresident students. The resident graduate tuition rate in 2012–13 will be $429 per credit, an increase of $13. Nonresident graduate tuition will increase by $20 per credit to $644. Full-time, undergraduate tuition for nonresident students will range from $9,642 to $16,070, depending on a variety of factors, including the university and program in which a student enrolls. The tuition technology fee will increase by $10 to $358 for the full academic year for full-time resident students and by $16 to $542 for full-time nonresident students.
The recent tuition increase will leave a $15.8 million gap in PASSHE’s budget. Last year’s budget gap was more than $30 million after the 7.5 percent tuition increase, according to the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.
The total cost of attendance including tuition, fees, and room and board will likely remain below the national average, and significantly below the average in the Middle States region, made up of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, according to PASSHE officials.
“This action demonstrates our ongoing commitment to our students and their families, and to the commonwealth,” said Guido M. Pichini, PASSHE Board of Governors Chairman. “PASSHE universities will continue to offer high-quality education at the most affordable cost possible.”
On Thursday Oct. 18 nearly a thousand people gathered in Philadelphia in celebration of the 175th anniversary of the founding of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.
Founded in 1837 as the Institute for Colored Youth, Cheyney is the oldest of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in America.
The founding of Cheyney was made possible by Richard Humphreys, a Quaker philanthropist who bequeathed $10,000, one tenth of his estate, to design and establish a school to educate the descendents of the African race.
The evening gala was held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center Ballroom and launched the 2012 University Homecoming weekend.
“This event is extraordinary for many reasons,” said Cheyney University President Michelle Howard-Vital, Ph. D. “It celebrates the lives of those who have contributed to the legacy of Cheyney University through the 19th century, 20th century and 21st century. At a time when people are questioning the value f historically Black colleges and universities, it demonstrates that Cheyney University, which has always been a very, very small liberal arts and teachers college — has contributed significant value in terms of responsible contributing citizens to the commonwealth, and that we will continue to contribute to the commonwealth.”
The committee organizer and Cheyney alumna, Barbara Daniel-Cox, lined up an evening filled with entertainment by Harold Melvin's Blue Notes, Billy Paul, Amazin' Grace, Bill Jolly & TSOP Band and many more.
Hosting the evening of awards, dinner, entertainment and dancing was Philadelphia International Records co-founder, Kenny Gamble.
“One hundred and seventy-five years is an understatement and is just unbelievable when you just think about it,” remarked Gamble, who deemed himself “Honorary Cheyney person” during the VIP reception. “It is hard to think about something being able to last 175 years. You know, I remember Cheney when it was a state teachers college. Many of our teachers, especially African-American teachers, and opportunities came through Cheyney and it's still true today. I am happy to support Cheyney, and I think the whole community should support Cheyney because education is so essential for just surviving today.”
The black-tie event attracted many area notables including Cheyney graduates.
“For Cheyney it means another bright tomorrow, quite frankly,” said Philadelphia Tribune President and CEO Robert W. Bogle, who is a Cheyney alumnus. “Cheyney has done so much for many of those from yesterdays that have had an enormous impact on our city, our state and our nation. I think this event makes it clear that our future is bright by the support that we have gotten for this event. As for what it did for me: I wouldn't be whatever you say I am if it had not been for Cheyney University, and all the men and women, faculty, staff who contributed. Because in those days, faculty and staff worked with you, they were a part of you, and it was important to them that you were successful. So, whatever I am, I owe it to Cheyney.”
The gala also marked the culmination of a $1 million donation campaign initiated nearly three years ago by the Cheyney University Alumni Association.