Celebrating Diversity in Corporate America

The Executive Leadership Council's annual Recognition Gala feted black leaders of the present and past.

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Boris Kodjoe, Gabrielle Union and honoree Christopher Williams (courtesy of ELC)

(The Root) -- As one of his first orders of business since being named the president and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council, Ronald C. Parker addressed a crowd of about 2,000 at his organization's annual Recognition Gala Thursday night.

At the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center outside of Washington, D.C., Parker, formerly a senior vice president at PepsiCo., affirmed the ELC's message of diversity and inclusion in corporate America. "Such a diverse group brings a richness and varied lives to every situation," he said, "and this fuels diversity of thinking, which, in turn, leads to innovation. [This will] produce better goods and services for our consumers. Corporations will realize greater profitability ... Diversity makes for sound business."

The ELC's more than 500 members are senior black executives and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, as well as other corporate leaders and entrepreneurs. Alvaro L. Martins, a Xerox sales executive, founded the council in 1986 to develop African-American corporate leaders.

The Recognition Gala, hosted this year by actress Gabrielle Union, celebrates up-and-coming business leaders -- college students who have won business competitions and essay-writing contests -- as well as legends in the business world. This year's recipient of the Alvaro L. Martins Heritage Award, for his outstanding career in promoting minority economic empowerment, was Edward Lewis, co-founder of Essence Communications. In his acceptance speech, Lewis proved that he deserved the honor when he recalled the sale of his company to Time Warner for "hundreds of millions of dollars."

"The sale not only created wealth for the individual investors and shareholders in Essence," he said, "but also for certain individuals -- Essence staff -- who had been given shares over the years, creating a significant number of black female millionaires."

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