6th annual Whitney M. Young, Jr. Empowerment Luncheon

The PCUL held their sixth annual Whitney M. Young, Jr. Empowerment Luncheon last Friday at Banquet Masters in Clearwater. L-R, Dr. Kevin Gordon, Rev. Watson Haynes, James Sowell and Evan Marshall

BY ROGER CLENDENING, STAFF WRITER

CLEARWATER – Jamal Sowell, a longtime member of the Pinellas County Urban League (PCUL) and Florida’s new Secretary of Commerce, last week challenged Tampa Bay residents to stay “selfless” and “relentless” to maintain economic and social progress in their communities.

His challenge was issued to the nearly 300 persons attending the PCUL’s sixth annual Whitney M. Young Empowerment Luncheon at Banquet Masters Friday, Feb. 22.

Sowell is the chief executive officer of Enterprise Florida, the organization he leads in “preparing Florida for the tomorrows that are coming…by expanding and diversifying” the state’s economy.

At the national level, civil rights leader Whitney M. Young, then CEO of the National Urban League, worked on a similar plane, Sowell recalled.

Sowell said Young is remembered for making an impact through his devotion to the League’s work on economic and social progress, his part in the civil rights struggle and the mark he left on the improved quality of life for African Americans.

“He spoke truth to power and could walk into the Oval Office knowing thousands of brothers and sisters had his back,” Sowell asserted.

He said he was “blessed” by the legacy of Young and men and women like Rosa Parks, Martin L. King, Jr. and Coretta King as “waymakers” on whose shoulders he stands and who turned “the impossible for me into the possible.”

Sowell, who was once a student body president at the University of Florida and a marine in Afghanistan, earned a Master of Education and a Juris Doctorate before serving as Port of Tampa’s chief of staff. The largest port in the state of Florida, it handles more than 37 millions tons of cargo per year, has an annual economic impact of $17.2 billion and supports 85,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Because of the work and the sacrifices of leaders such as Young, Enoch Davis and others he called, “I am a better man. They gave me permission to be me, and the opportunity to try.”

And the words of Young that speak with “precision” these many years later, Sowell said, “It is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.”

“I want to thank the leadership here at PCUL for making a difference,” Sowell averred. “You all see this community not as it is but as it can be.”

Indeed, he went on, “The Bible tells us that we’ll give out if we don’t look ahead. That is to say, ‘where there is no vision, the people perish.’”

So, he added, “I’m thankful that this organization allows people of vision from across Pinellas County (now serving seven Florida counties) to mobilize and come together to put some legs and feet on the vision.”

What good is a vision if it gathers dust on a shelf, he asked. It must be picked up and distributed like seeds from the bag of the sower, he proclaimed.

In praising PCUL and its 10 different programs and services provided to adults and youth, Sowell offered that there is another man, well prepared, important in this equation: “Rev. Watson Haynes is our own Whitney Young,” a declaration that garnered much applause.

After all, he noted, “He has worked tirelessly to make sure that hundreds could have a bite at the apple, a seat at the table and a chance at the dream.”

Sowell observed that once Tampa Bay residents look inside PCUL, into their neighborhoods, in their churches on Sunday, they’ll find people who made the dream possible, who bore the bruises because they believed in something better.

“They are the history makers and the risk takers,” Sowell said. “They don’t get a holiday in their name, or a school named for them or even a street, but they stand as tall as giants. They loom large over the lives we live today.”

Recall, if you will, Sowell challenged, that grandmothers who stayed on you to get to school and stay there; that teacher who challenged you to stop dreaming small dreams; or that pastor who reminded you to “go in the name of the Lord.”

“People like Rev. Haynes may walk around like it’s no big thing, but what they do is sight unseen. They remind us that opportunity is coming. We need to get prepared.”

Sowell reminded his luncheon guests, black, white, Latino, Christian, Jew and Muslim, attending this Black History Month event, that “Our black history teaches us that progress only comes when we are selfless and relentless.

“Will you pledge this afternoon to be selfless in serving others and relentless in creating change,” he asked. “Are you willing to pay the price, invest the time and keep the faith?

“After all, “he concluded, “this is how we make the difference. This is how we live the dream.”

This year, the Outstanding Achievement Award was presented to Coach Cory Moore of Lakewood High School. He is responsible for successfully coaching many local players in their academic, personal, college and professional pursuits, including students who have gone on to play professionally in the NFL.

“This is not about just a football coach, this is about a young man who has made a difference in the lives of many young people who have crossed his path,” said Haynes as he presented Moore with the Urban League’s most coveted award.

“We may think at times that no one is really paying attention, but someone is always there to see what we’re doing,” said Moore. “I’m very humbled to even be in the same sentence with the Urban League and things that Whitney Young has done.”

scroll to top