The Urban League of Greater Atlanta recently hosted its Spirit of the League luncheon, honoring entrepreneurs Pinky Cole, Derrick Hayes and others at the Westin Peachtree Plaza in downtown Atlanta.
COVID-19 halted the League’s 2020 celebration, so the organization’s leadership decided to combine the 10th annual Spirit of the League awards and its centennial celebration of the Urban League. Anonymous da Band kicked off the luncheon, with covers of well-known hits by Luther Vandross; Stevie Wonder; Earth, Wind & Fire and more.
Pinky Cole and Derrick Hayes, owners of Slutty Vegan and Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks, respectively, were each presented with the Champion of the League award. The Urban League recognized the couple for their success, performance and dedication. Cole and Hayes have participated in numerous philanthropic projects targeting economic disparities within the African American community. Recently, Cole partnered with her alma mater, Clark Atlanta University, to present over $600,000 in scholarships, and provided LLCs for the entire graduating class of 2022. The couple also offered free life insurance to Black males making $30,000 or less annually.
“Community involvement is very important (to us), as we both have businesses, and people stand in our lines each and every day,” Hayes said. “As the community continues to support us, we feel the need to big up the community so we can help other people and continue to give them the resources to make a life that they don’t have to be stuck in.”
President and CEO of the Urban League, Nancy Flake Johnson, engaged in a stage-side conversation with the two to discuss difficulties they are navigating, improvements they are making and their future endeavors. Cole stressed the importance of not allowing “hurdles” to knock them down. Because Cole’s first eating establishment in New York was destroyed by fire, she used that as fuel to return to Atlanta and make a lasting impact on the world.
“Failure is not a failure at all. It’s finding aspirations in the losses,” Cole said.
Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks and Slutty Vegan are not only expanding their family; they are still developing their business and philanthropic endeavors. Hayes shared that he is opening two new locations, and is launching a line of food seasonings for consumers to enjoy at home. In addition, Slutty Vegan recently partnered with Steve Madden to create a limited-edition athletic shoe, which sold out in 48 hours.
The Urban League also presented awards to its Rising Stars and Spirit of the League Empowerment honorees. Alyssa Davis and Angel Walker were honored for their achievements within the Project Ready program, which focuses on adult education, and the ability to prepare for post-secondary education success. Serving as a Project Ready Ambassador and National Urban League council member, Davis completed high school in December 2021, and is an upcoming nursing major at Georgia State University. Walker, Booker T. Washington High School’s 2022 valedictorian, served as a Bank of America intern and a leader for Project Ready, a National Urban League initiative that promotes college and career readiness. Walker will be attending Xavier University this fall to study biomedical science.
“We are thrilled to have such remarkable people to honor as we combine these two celebrations: the 10th Spirit of the League awards ceremony and the kickoff of what is now several Centennial events,” said Johnson.
Spirit of the League Empowerment recipients included Portia Powell, George Worth and Ashley Winston. These individuals all overcame adversity and utilized the League to further their education and empower themselves economically. Community partners Back on my Feet, Caliber Collision, GEICO and TechBridge were instrumental in aiding the organization in bridging the gap between where the honored guests started and where they are now.
Fulton County commissioners proclaimed June 17 as The Urban League of Greater Atlanta Appreciation Day, to recognize the non-profit for its success in educating and empowering the community through advocacy, emergency assistance for needy families, economic re-empowerment, food assistance and more. The League has provided over $1 million in emergency assistance funds for Dekalb and Fulton County residents through its Financial Empowerment and Emergency Relief Center (FEERC), chartered in 2019. The organization plans to continue to address the needs of low-income individuals and will release its State of Black Georgia Report in December.