The grassroots organization continues the lesser-known legacy of economic empowerment of Martin Luther King, Jr.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — As Mable Ellis Welborn walks down a hallway in 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.

“It’s a beautiful historic walk,” she said before showing a photo showing Robert Kennedy.

Welborn is the chairman of the trust’s board of directors. She was appointed to the position after spending decades working with the Reverend Dr. Leon H. Sullivan, who has become a Philadelphia icon in the fight for economic opportunity.

Sullivan’s economic boycotts against companies that wouldn’t hire African Americans inspired another reverend: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Dr. King contacted Dr. Sullivan and asked if he would come to Atlanta,” Welborn said.

All thanks to Sullivan’s work focused on economic empowerment. It was a passion that many may not realize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared.

“Both admittedly being militant in their approach,” Welborn said. “Not violent, but militant in that they were deliberate in their pursuit of what they sought: justice, rights, ownership and equity.”

Aisha Dennis agrees with this 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 Reverend Sullivan founded in 1964.

“Dr. King had the vision for economic empowerment,” Dennis said. “Reverend Sullivan, who is our founder, walked with people like Dr. King during the civil rights movement almost 60 years ago, if you can believe him, and we are going through some of the same things now.”

The organization promotes economic opportunity through programs focused on education, job training and job placement.

“All of our programs are completely free,” Dennis said.

The OCI and the Charitable Trust also aim to help minorities in the home ownership process.

“That’s our mission,” Welborn said. “Homeownership, Wealth Development, Financial Literacy.”

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

“It was just a monument,” she said. “Everything you saw about it was true.”

The Trust and the OCI are now continuing the mission.

“I think it’s a challenge, but I think we’re up for the challenge,” Dennis said.

They hope to create even more monumental moments like those featured in the hallway near Welborn’s office. To do so, the legacies of King and Sullivan would be at stake.

“To accomplish everything he let us do,” Welborn said, “because the job never ends.”

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