Fourth Annual Whitney M. Young, Jr. Award Luncheon Voice of Empowerment

(L-R) Dwayne McCray, Lisa Tywman, Anita Lewis and Jeff Williams

(L-R) Dwayne McCray, Lisa Tywman, Anita Lewis and Jeff Williams

 

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

CLEARWATER – Each year the Pinellas County Urban League (PCUL) honors men and women who make a significant impact in the community, and this year was no different. The fourth Annual Whitney M. Young, Jr. Awards Luncheon celebrated those who empower and those who have received empowerment.

Held at Banquet Masters in Clearwater, this year PCUL President & CEO Watson Haynes took over the Master of Ceremony duties, while Board Chairman Dr. Frank Biafora welcomed the guest and spoke a little bit about the man whom the luncheon is named after.

“While we all come out today to acknowledge the tremendous work of the Urban League and our local heroes, we do it in the spirit of one of American’s bravest and often overlooked champion of the civil rights, Whitney Moore Young, Jr.”

Young, Jr. was the executive director of the National Urban League from 1961 until his untimely death in 1971.

He was responsible for turning the National Urban League from a relatively passive civil rights organization into one that aggressively worked for equitable access to socioeconomic opportunity for the historically disenfranchised. Young, Jr. even aided President Johnson during the most critical moments leading up to the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

(L-R) Dwayne McCray, Lisa Tywman, Anita Lewis and Jeff Williams

(L-R) Dwayne McCray, Lisa Tywman, Anita Lewis and Jeff Williams

Biafora said Young, Jr. was referred to as a power broker “for his passion and ability to work within the boardrooms of Wall Street and the hallowed halls of Washington D.C.”

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin expressed how important it is for the city to have outstanding partners such as the PCUL. Thanks to their partnership, the city has seen a record number of youths earning income and gaining valuable workplace experience. Together they have served nearly 1,000 young men and women over the past four years and almost 400 last year alone.

Those who have been empowered by the PCUL were all too happy to come up and tell their stories. In helping the unemployed and underemployed find work, Haynes gave all the credit to Anita Lewis who heads up the Pinellas Workforce Development Council.

“Anita Lewis is responsible for placing some of the most difficult people whose backgrounds prohibit them from just walking in and getting a job. Some are ex-offenders, some with disabilities,” he said. “She works with these people every day and does it with a smile.”

Dwayne McCray was one of three of her success stories who couldn’t stop thanking her. He told the crowd that he had gotten into trouble years ago, and even though he went back to school, he could not find a job.

“The first thing she said was ‘give me your resume,’” McCray stated, admitting that he thought it was already perfect.

After Lewis worked her magic, his phone started to ring. He secured a job at Checkers and within five months became a manager. Not only does he work at Checkers, he’s now a chef at the Salvation Army.

“I think the real success story is when you’re able to have a career you love,” he said.

Lisa Tywman is a domestic violence survivor and was referred to the PCUL for help with finding employment. Lewis encouraged her to go back to school, and with her new skills and professional resume, she landed a job with a company in downtown St. Pete.

“She encouraged me and stayed on top of me to stay on track. She was my mentor,” Tywman said.

Jeff Williams got up that morning at 6 a.m. to drive from Miami to be at the luncheon.

“I’m really grateful to the Urban League for all that they’ve done for me,” Williams said. “When I say help you, oh my God.”

He said once Lewis finishes with you, “you’re talking about polished and in place.”

PCUL’s Career Connection Center program connects those who are in need of work with those who are looking for workers. Local employers frequently reach out to PCUL to assist them with their employment needs.

Once such employer is Duke Energy, and Coby Glisson can attest to the program. Living from paycheck to paycheck, he’s now a lineman who builds and repairs transformers.

“They gave me a career and a lot of opportunities,” he said, revealing that he’s in the middle of purchasing a home.

Eric Graves also went through the Career Connection Center program. He said he’s working long hours but is thankful to Duke Energy and PCUL for a career.

For those who empower others, Duke Energy’s David Griffin was honored with the Empowerment Award for his efforts in finding minorities in St. Petersburg employment. And although they were only looking to hire five linemen, through Griffin’s hard work, 10 people were hired with the majority being minorities.

Duke Energy’s April Harley received the Diversity Advocate Award.

For more information on PCUL, please log on to ul-pinellas.iamempowered.com.

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