Two blocks down the street from the Westin Convention Center Hotel, an Occupy Pittsburgh encampment has found a home in front of BNY Mellon’s local offices. The protestors there say they represent the 99 percent of Americans who have been ignored and mistreated by the wealthiest one percent in Corporate America.

RONALD H. BROWN LEADERSHIP GALA—Front, from left: Lionel Harris, Bev Smith, Sister Marie Immaculee, Larry Davis and David Cohen with Urban League representatives in back. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

But inside the hotel, at the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh’s Ronald H. Brown Leadership Gala, Corporate America did appear to be listening as they came out in droves to support the annual awards program.

“This event is so significant that we met and exceeded goals in this economic climate. I am honestly touched and I don’t say that lightly because I know people in this room have to make decisions and they decided to support the Urban League,” said Urban League President and CEO Esther Bush. “Corporate America is listening. It’s not just look at how many people we’ve found jobs for and how many people we’ve helped, this event also shows that the corporate community here is supportive of what we’re doing.”

The annual gala held on Dec. 2 honors individuals, organizations and corporations who exemplify leadership in improving the quality of life for African-Americans. It also serves as a fundraiser for the Urban League’s programs and this year’s gala surpassed the goal of $300,000.

“Eighty percent of the dollars gained through this evening’s event will go directly to support the operations of the Urban League,” said Andrew Stockey, master of ceremonies. “During these challenging economic times, these dollars are especially needed and appreciated.”

The annual event draws donations from a number of organizations including the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh Steelers, Giant Eagle, Carnegie Museum, and the Pittsburgh Penguins. One of the night’s greatest donations was an original framed photograph by legendary photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris from PNC Financial Services, which was auctioned off for $1,250.

“PNC is proud of our long standing partnership with the Urban League. One example of our partnership is our membership on the Urban League board of directors,” said Alan Trivilino, senior vice president and regional manager of PNC, who also served as the gala’s co-chair. “While we pause to recognize the honorees tonight, our partnership with the Urban League continues to grow.”

The photograph was one of nearly 1000 images being featured in a Carnegie Museum exhibit dedicated to Harris’ work. The historic Courier staff photographer was recognized with a special posthumous award at the gala.

“I don’t think he realized the magnitude of his work at the time, but he did want it to go to a place that would do it justice,” said Lionel Harris, accepting on behalf of his father. “When you go to that exhibit, it will capture you in a way that I can’t even explain.”

The program’s other honorees were Bev Smith, a nationally syndicated talk show host; Larry Davis, dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work; The Comcast Corporation; and a special lifetime achievement award to the Pittsburgh Sisters of Mercy.

“There is a saying that a prophet is not honored in his own land,” Smith said. “Well I’m being honored tonight and I accept it on behalf of all the women who came before me.”

“I have lived in a number of places, but of all the places I have ever called home, Pittsburgh has been the most welcoming city to me and my family,” Davis said. “I want to recognize the University of Pittsburgh for having the foresight to support programs that address race relations.”

“You may be asking yourself, why is this White guy from Philadelphia here accepting this award from the Urban League. I have a personal passion for the work of the Urban League and Comcast has a passion for the work of the Urban League,” said David Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast. “I know that I share this award not only with Comcast, but with our national Urban League partners who are making a difference in so many lives.”

“Mercy goes on and Mercy wants to continue to serve,” said Sister Marie Immaculee, accepting on behalf of the Sisters of Mercy. “Let us thank God for the Urban League and their many contributions and we are proud to continue to work with them.”

During an audiovisual presentation of the Negro National Anthem, guests were presented with images of African-American struggles over the years. These images began with the pyramids of Egypt, continuing through images of the civil rights struggle, before moving into video footage of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and ending with the new Martin Luther King Jr. Monument and President Barack Obama with his family.

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