Local organization continues MLK's lesser-known legacy of economic empowerment

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As Mable Ellis Welborn walks down a hallway of the building that houses the Leon H. Sullivan Charitable Trust in North Philadelphia, she has a story for every black and white photo along the wall.

"This is a nice, historical walk," she said before pointing to a photo that features Robert Kennedy.

Welborn is the board chair of the trust. She was appointed to the position after spending decades working with Rev. Dr. Leon H. Sullivan who became a Philadelphia icon in the fight for economic opportunity.

Sullivan's economic boycotts of companies that wouldn't hire African Americans inspired another Reverend: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Dr. King reached out to Dr. Sullivan and asked if he would come to Atlanta," Welborn said.

It was all because of Sullivan's work focused on economic empowerment. It was a passion that many may not realize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared.

"Both being admittedly militant in their approach," said Welborn. "Not violent, but militant in that they were deliberate in their pursuit for what they were after: justice and rights and ownership and equity."

Aisha Dennis agrees with that notion and continues the work of economic empowerment for the African American community as COO and Interim CEO of the Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC), which Rev. Sullivan founded in 1964.

"Dr. King had the vision of economic empowerment," said Dennis. "Rev. Sullivan, who is our founder, walked with the likes of Dr. King during the civil rights movement almost 60 years ago, if you can believe it, and we're going through some of the same things now."

The organization pushes for economic opportunity through programs that focus on education and job training and placement.

"All of our programs are totally free," said Dennis.

OIC and the charitable trust also aim to help minorities with the process of homeownership.

"That's our mission," said Welborn. "Homeownership, wealth development, financial literacy."

As Board Chair of the Leon H. Sullivan Charitable Trust, Welborn is just as inspired now as she was when she saw King speak at the March on Washington.

"That was just a monumental," she said. "Everything you have seen about it was true."

The Trust and OIC now carry on the mission.

"I think it's a challenge, but I think we're up for the challenge," said Dennis.

They hope to create even more monumental moments like the ones featured in the hallway near Welborn's office. To do so would the legacies of King and Sullivan.

"To accomplish all that he left for us to do," said Welborn, "because the work never ends."
Copyright © 2022 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.