When he was a teenager growing up in North Philadelphia, Congressman (2nd District) Dwight Evans remembered the feeling of pride he had while working in a store that the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan founded.
“It was called “Our Market,” Evans, remembering the convenience store in Wyncote, Pa., where he held an early job, said. “Today it would be like a Wawa. Think about that. He recognized the value back then of being an entrepreneur. He knew that if you wanted to address the social needs of the Black community you have to focus on fixing the economics of the Black community.”
That was part of Evans’ keynote address Saturday at the PECO building at the anniversary luncheon marking the 50th year of Sullivan Progress Plaza, the nation’s first shopping center developed, managed and continuously owned by African Americans.
The luncheon recognized the founding of Sullivan Progress Plaza and honored “those who have maintained his legacy.” Honorees included Anita J. Chappell, Wendell R. Whitlock, Senator (3rd District) Shirley Kitchen, Teresina Wilson, the Rev. Gus Roman, William V. Downes, Elmer Young Jr., Frederick Miller Sr., and Donald “Ducky” Birts.
“It is wonderful to see all the hard work that went into Progress Plaza and to know that it is a legacy here to this day for all the work that went into creating, growing and sustaining Progress Plaza,” said Kitchen, who helped raise millions of dollars for the redevelopment of the plaza. “What you have to understand is that this is historical. It’s the first continuously owned African-American shopping center in the country. So, I’m very proud to have made a contribution to something like this.”
Evans described Mable Ellis Welborn, Chairman of the Board at Leon H. Sullivan Charitable Trust, as the “keeper of the Leon Sullivan legacy,” and noted her passion for continuing Sullivan’s work locally, nationally and internationally was evident.
“There is nothing else that I can imagine, other than saving my soul and my family, that is more important to me than the legacy of Leon Sullivan,” said Welborn. “I work harder today than I did when I drew a six-figure salary because I’m passionate about this work.”
Ellanor Jean Hendley, Founder, Teen Shop, acted the Mistress of Ceremonies. Doctor Aaron Smith, of WURD 96.1 FM, moderated a question and answer session with Evans.