The legacy of the civil rights movement and its push toward equality for all will be celebrated next month when the Urban League of Portland hosts its annual Equal Opportunity Day Dinner.
The dinner, which features keynote speaker Janice Bryant Howroyd, founder and CEO of Act*1 Group and the presentation of this year's Equal Opportunity Awards, takes place at 6:45 p.m. Oct. 3 in the Grand Ballroom of the Portland Hilton Hotel, 921 S.W. Sixth Ave. A no-host reception begins at 5:45 p.m. KOIN TV anchor and reporter Ken Boddie will emcee the evening's festivities.
"Equal opportunity Day is a longstanding tradition with both the National Urban League and its local affiliates," said Marcus Mundy, president and CEO of the Urban League of Portland. "What we typically do on that day is honor community leaders for their work throughout the year in being advocates for everybody getting an opportunity."
Keynote speaker Howroyd has earned a reputation for her business savvy and her philanthropy. She started her business — Act*1 Group, a staffing, job recruitment, technology services and corporate services company — nearly 20 years ago with $1,500. She has since built it into a multinational corporation that posted more than $622 million in gross sales last year.
"The Urban League of Portland is excited to be able to present such a dynamic businesswoman, philanthropist and educational advocate to our collective community," Mundy said. "Janice Bryant Howroyd practices what the Urban League of Portland promotes — empowerment, self-determination, hard work and success.
"Her personal story of overcoming obstacles, her love of family and community, her commitment to giving back and her belief in self would be remarkable for anybody, but to have all of that as an African American woman, competing in this society, is nothing short of incredible."
Mundy said he was particularly impressed by the story of Howroyd's entrepreneurial odyssey.
"She's phenomenal," Mundy said. "She started her business in 1978 on a wing and a prayer … and the will to start something new. She told me that when, six months later, she had an office and a fax machine, she thought she was big time."
Howroyd, a graduate of historically Black North Carolina A&T University, has used her wealth to give back — she has awarded $10 million both to her alma mater and that of her daughter, the University of North Carolina.
Urban League officials hope that Howroyd will be an inspiration to those in attendance, young and old.
"What I'm most excited about is bringing someone who came from a very small and rural town in North Carolina and started her business almost from nothing," said Urban League board Chair Dr. Algie Gatewood. "This is a great opportunity for people from the community to witness what the American Dream is all about. This woman is living the American Dream.
"If she can make it, so can others. This ought to be an inspiration and a motivation for young people in our metropolitan area, especially those from underrepresented communities."
This year's Equal Opportunity Awards will be presented to outgoing Oregon Health Sciences University President Peter O. Kohler, M.D., and the Rev. Mary Overstreet-Smith, pastor of Powerhouse Temple Church of God in Christ.
"Dr. Kohler has spent years dedicating himself to health care for all of Portland, including our African American community," Mundy said. "He's always been a very strong partner with the league … . He's well-respected in his field. Before he steps down, we wanted to recognize him for his many contributions to the community."
The Rev. Overstreet-Smith made headlines after Hurricane Katrina when she sold her home and used the proceeds to help the storm's victims. She has since overseen efforts to rebuild the Gulf region and to assist displaced storm victims who have settled in the Portland area.
"She sacrificed a lot, personally, for the Hurricane Katrina victims — putting her personal finances on the line, selling her house, just getting it done" Mundy said. "And she didn't ask anybody, she just made it happen.
"And then this year, she made the North by Northeast Health Clinic happen almost just by dint of her will. She said, 'I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna take care of these people one day a week,' and she made it happen. … We thought that kind of sacrifice deserved our appreciation."
In addition to Howroyd's speech and the awards, Gatewood said he hopes that those attending the dinner will be inspired to get involved with the Urban League and the causes it represents.
"I encourage businesses and individuals to join the Urban League of Portland and be a part of what we're about — helping to build community through economic development, housing and education," he said.
Tickets for the Equal Opportunity Day Dinner are $250 each, or $2,500 for a table of 10. To purchase tickets or to learn more, call 503-280-2611.