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Remarks by Andrea L. Zopp at the 52nd Annual Golden Fellowship Dinner

Andrea L. Zopp
52nd Annual Golden Fellowship Dinner
November 9, 2013

Good evening everyone.

I hope you liked the video. Let me first thank the people who made that greatfilm happen. Charles Stokes, Shon Harris, Mitchell Jones, Kayln Steed and VashtieJones were so gracious in sharing their stories with us.

Charles, Shon, Mitchell and Vashtie are here tonight at Table 1. Kayln is awayat school but her mom is here tonight. Thank you all for being a part oftonight’s dinner.

And I have to give a special noteof gratitude to the great people at the commonground agency for producing sucha compelling piece. Sherman Wright, a co-founder of commonground, sits on theChicago Urban League board of directors. When we asked him to produce this video, he immediately said yes and puthis best and brightest talent on the assignment. Sherman, we are most gratefulto you and your colleagues.

Here at the Chicago Urban League, we arepassionate about promoting and supporting African American entrepreneurs. Andwe believe in putting our money, or more aptly your money, where our mouth is.

And so, this year, as we have in the past, wehave put several African American owned businesses to work in putting togetherthis evening. In addition to commonground, the table centerpieces were createdby Flowers Fantastique owned by Evelyn Blakley. The wine comes again this yearfrom Esterlina Winery the only African American owed winery in Napa Valley,through its local distributors, 21st Century Vintage Distributors, owned by TashaGreen Cruzat and Lori Crossley. Security is provided by Kates Detective Agency,after party music will be provided by fabulous DJ Vince Adams. Our eventcoordinator is the Gemini Group owned by Glenn Harston, II and the Edwin C.Bill Berry Civil Rights awards were designed and created by Andre Guichard ofthe Guichard Gallery.

We are also passionate about supporting ourstudents. This year we were able to put action in that passion by hiring FreeSpirit Media, a non-profit that teaches all the aspects of media production tohigh school students, to produce the two videos highlighting our Bill Berryaward winners that you will see later in the evening. Jeff McCarter, FreeSpirit’s CEO and members of his team are here with us tonight. I know you willbe impressed by their work, as we were.
I have a few very important people to thank.

To my amazing board of directors led by ourChairman, Joe Gregoire, I am humbled and honored by your service, leadershipand support.

My predecessors, former CEO’s Jim Compton andCheryle Jackson are here. Thank you both for your continued counsel andsupport.

Thank you and congratulations as well to ourEdwin C. “Bill” Berry , Civil Rights Award winners, Rev. Jesse L. JacksonSr. and Louis Gossett, Jr. We are grateful for you allowing us to recognize allyou have done to inspire and encourage us.

I’m blessed and grateful to have my family here.Only two of my three children, Kelsey and Will, could be here tonight. Theirsister Alyssa is doing a semester abroad in Sydney, Australia. The other twodid not mourn her absence, but recognizing that this was a hot ticket, promptlyfilled her seat.

Bill and I also have two special guests that I’dlike to mention. Keith and Karen Koca are members of the Illinois NationalGuard and Blackhawk Helicopter pilots who returned from the Middle East earlierthis year.

Between the two of them they have done fivetours of duty in Kosovo and the Middle East. This last tour, which lasted ayear was the toughest, as they were both deployed and had to leave their twochildren–9 year old Ashley and 8 year old Christian–here with family. Pleasejoin me in recognizing and thanking Keith and Karen for their service to ourcountry.

Myhusband Bill is here as well. For those of you who were here last year, yes heis still painting fire hydrants. But of course, because he is who he is, he hasmade the project even more impactful, by taking young people from theneighborhood with him so they can fulfill their service commitments. He eventook out a young man who needed to fulfill some community service time as partof a criminal sentence. Honey, that halo thing over your head is gettingannoying and its glowing is making it hard to sleep at night. Cut it out! Thetruth is your generous spirit, warmth and simple humanity remain inspiring tome. I am blessed to have you in my life and I love you.

Our theme for the dinner this year is the Powerof Opportunity: Moving Chicago Forward. Now those of you who have been involvedin event planning know that picking a theme is a little bit of a stressful exercise.

Not too long, not too cute, or corny or trite.And maybe most of you don’t even pay attention to it. But I believe this year’stheme has real resonance and meaning. Particularly, in 2013, when we celebrated the 150th anniversary of theEmancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

When you think about those two major events andthe idea of the Power of Opportunity, two things become clear. First, themovements that surrounded those events, the abolition movement and the Civil RightsMovement, were both about seeking opportunity. The opportunity to live free, onyour own terms, and the opportunity for equal rights under the law. It was inessence, the search for opportunity that powered those movements; that changed ourcountry for the better.

The other fact that becomes clear is that real,sustainable, meaningful change is hard to come by. It takes a long time andgetting there is often not pretty.

Frederick Douglass said, the “If there isno struggle, there is no progress.” We think we know what that means, butI think we often minimize the idea of “struggle”.

It’s like that warning you see on your rear viewmirror that tells you things are closer than they appear. When we look back atthe Civil Rights Movement through the rear view mirror we see everything, butwe don’t feel the horror of it fully. It’s glossed over because of the positive results. We are living withthe benefits of those struggles. We know that the fight was worth it. And sothe fight seems not quite as hard.

This positively distorted view of the past hasan impact on the present. Equally, impactful is that we are in the age ofspeed. The age of immediate gratification. Have a question? Google can give youan answer right now. Want to watch a movie or see a tv show you missed, you cando it now. Although, I hope you’ll wait till I’m done. We expect things tohappen quickly and cleanly.

When we look at some of thechallenges that face us, chronically under performing public schools, a largeunskilled workforce, increasing gun violence, millions without access to healthcare, a large undocumented immigrant population, an economy weighed down by theburgeoning costs of an unfunded and unsustainable pension system and criminaljustice policy that results in the wharehousing of thousands, we getdiscouraged and defeated.

Many of these issues have been withus for years, even decades. The solutions to these problems are not easy, andrequire thoughtfulness, open, honest dialogue, understanding compromise andsacrifice. Yet the public debates are often uninformed, without analysis ordepth, and filled with vitriol and stubbornness. We see no path to resolutionand begin to assume these problems are insurmountable. Or worse, we becomeindifferent.

But, if we look at our history, notthrough the rosy glasses of success or through our limiting rear view mirrorbut through clear, honest assessment of the ugliness that we have come through,we can see that we have come through some very dark and difficult days;  wehave, in fact,  have surmounted theinsurmountable.

Has anyone seen the movie “12 Yearsa Slave”? It is an extremely difficult movie to watch. Because it tries to showhonestly, how truly horrifying slavery was. Let’s be clear: Slavery was theeconomic foundation of our country. Can we imagine a more intractable,entrenched issue? But we as a country overcame it. It was not pretty. Millionsof people died. But we came through. The Emancipation Proclamation whoseanniversary we honor this year became law. And our country is better for it.

Many of our parents and even some ofus in this room grew up under Jim Crow laws and institutionalized racism. Foranyone who questions how horrible those laws were and how difficult life wasfor African Americans in the South, remember that 6 million African Americans moved, to get away from thoselaws. Changing the face of this country. And over many years, with much painand many marches like the March on Washington, Jim Crow laws were overturnedand replaced with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of1965. We overcame. We surmounted the insurmountable.

Time has a funny way of changing ourperspective. We look now at slavery or Jim Crow and say well those were obviouslyhorrible, immoral laws, of course they would be overturned. The issues we facetoday are less clear cut; the grey areas are much wider and the solutions muchless obvious. But remember, at the time of slavery and Jim Crow, there wereplenty of people on both sides of the issue and they were as hotly contested ifnot more so than what we face today.

And just like slavery and Jim Crow,the challenges we face today are limiting opportunities for many us. Just likeslavery and Jim Crow they are preventing people from fulfilling theirpotential. Just like slavery and Jim Crow they are leading to a segmentedsociety of those who have access to opportunity and those that do not.

And just like in the fights againstslavery and Jim Crow it is the desire for opportunity, the recognition that afair chance can make a difference, theunderstanding of the power ofopportunity, that will drive change now as it has in our past.

This is why organizations like theChicago Urban League are so important. We have a history and track record ofnot backing down. We can and have provided the persistent push and drumbeat forchange. We have provided leaders like Edwin C. Bill Berry, whose legacy wehonor at this dinner every year and who stood tall and led the clarion call forchange in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

And we have and we will continue toleverage that power and desire for opportunity to support our advocacy and tobe the voice for those to whom access to opportunity means so very much.Because we know that when we break down the barriers that are holding many ofus back, we all will do better.

Which gets me to the power ofopportunity not just to drive societal change, but to change individual lives. Theidea of the video was to show you, not just that we see things differently hereat the Chicago Urban League, but also to show you how access to opportunitiesmakes a difference for individuals. And I think the video did a great job. Butthose of you who have been here before, know that I am a trial lawyer and IIike demonstrative exhibits. I recently received a photo, that really captureswhat I want you all to appreciate about how the power of opportunity, that weare creating with your support, is really felt by the people we touch.

This is my daughter Alyssa, who Imentioned is at school in Sydney Australia this semester.  You will note that she does not appear to bestudying. And yes, I did know that she was intending to jump out of a plane,but she’s 21 and she’s in Australia, so there was not much I could do about it.

But here is why this picture stoppedme in my tracks. It is the expression on her face. It is the “I just overcamethe major obstacle of fear and jumped out of a plane and I am flying”expression.

That I wanted you to see, Because itis that expression, that look of pure joy in her accomplishment, that capturesthe power of opportunity for the individuals we have been blessed to work withat the Chicago Urban League.

When Vashtie Jones, who hadstruggled with her finances, and had been told “you’re  a grandmother,  you do not need to own a home,” was able, withthe help of the Chicago Urban League, to organize her financial matters andfinally buy a home, took her keys and opened the door and stepped into her housefor the first time. She knew, Yes, I can fly!

When Shon Harris, through thetraining and support he received from the Chicago Urban League, was able tosuccessfully bid on and receive a seven figure contract to work on the CTA RedLine project and take his business from 4 people in his basement to 105 in hisown office, he knew, Yes, I can fly.

When Mitchell Jones, a student fromEnglewood, who had only read about China, and never imagined that he could gothere, stepped off a plane in Beijing and was greeted as an honored guest, andclimbed up the Great Wall he knew, Yes, I can fly”.

That is what the power ofopportunity can do and thanks to all of you that is the work that we willcontinue to do here at the Chicago Urban League.

At the Chicago Urban League, we areinformed by our history and we see things differently. We know that we cansurmount the insurmountable.

We have seen the power ofopportunity at work and we know that we can, and we will find a way to provideaffordable, access to health care to those who need it.

We have seen the power ofopportunity at work we know that we can and we will provide a quality publiceducation to all of our children, regardless of their zip code, color or race;

We have seen the power ofopportunity at work and we know that we can and we will bring hope to ourhopeless children who do not value their lives or the lives of others and socontinue to end them in senseless gun violence.

We have seen the power ofopportunity at work and, we will stand with those confronted by barriers, givethem the tools and the support to break those barriers down and when they do,open the door, give them a little push, and let them know that

Yes. They can fly.
That is the power of opportunity.
Thank you and enjoy the rest of theevening.