On Sunday, family, friends, co-workers and community members packed Zion Baptist Church to commemorate the legacy of Reverend Dr. Leon H. Sullivan on what would have been his 100th birthday.
The worship, which was part of a series of events held throughout October as part of Sullivan’s centennial celebration, was led by the Reverend Dr. Chauncey P. Harrison and consisted of a series of memories and tributes from those who had been close to and inspired by Sullivan.
Sullivan, born October 16, 1922, was a civil rights and social justice leader who spent his life advocating for social and economic equity through job training, investing in black-owned businesses, development community and real estate and entrepreneurial training.
Sullivan, known colloquially as the “Lion of Zion,” was the longtime pastor of Zion Baptist Church in North Philadelphia and used his pulpit to organize his causes.
During her lifetime, Sullivan’s advocacy was recognized with numerous honors such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award.
Some of Sullivan’s many accomplishments throughout his career include founding the OIC (Opportunities Industrialization Center), creating the “Sullivan Principles” and becoming the first African American elected to the board of directors of General Motors.
Telva McGruder, head of diversity, equity and inclusion at General Motors, was one of many executives who paid tribute to Sullivan on Sunday. She described Sullivan as “a leader, a visionary, an innovator and a trailblazer” who, during his tenure on the board of General Motors, “created the beginning of a very long series of expectations that (General Motors still tries) to respect, to this day.
“I met my team a few years ago when I started doing diversity and inclusion, and I shared the Sullivan Principles with them. There were a lot of younger members on my team and I asked them if they had ever heard of Sullivan’s Principles, and several of them said “no.” (So) I asked them, ‘Does this sound familiar to you? what you work on every day?” And the answer was “absolutely yes” and I helped them understand that we are in the shadow of Dr. Sullivan and that I am so proud to be there”, McGruder said.
Sullivan’s daughter, Hope Sullivan, shared her thoughts on her father’s character and legacy.
“I believe my father would want me to share this thought with you, especially for all the young people in the room. If you ever wondered what your purpose in life is: he would say, “Rejoice. Dream big. When you fall, you get up. Know that you are a born child of God with the potential to change this world no matter your circumstances, and teach your children and your children’s children to do the same,” she said. “That’s the message of Leon Sullivan’s life, to have every conceivable obstacle stacked before you and still have the audacity to claim your greatness.
Following the service, a reception was held at which leaders from various Sullivan entities shared their organizations’ continued gains and accomplishments through Sullivan’s legacy.
Louis J. King II, President and CEO of OIC America, was among the leaders of the Sullivan Entities to speak and shared his belief that OCI America “is (are) ready today. to carry on (Sullivan’s) legacy of taking forgotten people to forgotten places”. places and realize their economic dreams in this country.
“The doors of the middle class are open again today and the OCI is always ready to realize the vision of Leon Sullivan. He was a man ahead of his time. We needed social equality. We needed political equality,” he said. “But it’s not good if you don’t have economic equality. And that’s the only purpose we exist for…Sullivan’s vision, dream and work lives on. We offer you the opportunity to join us. It’s a difficult time right now. It’s a close fight, but don’t worry, you’ll be fine.
The next event scheduled as part of the Sullivan centennial celebration will be the unveiling of the newly renamed Reverend Dr. Leon H. Sullivan International Arrivals Hall and the opening of a permanent exhibit honoring Sullivan’s legacy which will take place Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. at Philadelphia International Airport.