Today, we reflect upon the life and legacy of OIC founder and visionary Leon Howard Sullivan.
Reverend Sullivan was born on October 16, 1922 and passed away on this day in 2001. Leon Sullivan was a Baptist minister, a civil rights leader and led the crusade for creating job training opportunities for Blacks. Sullivan helped organize the march on Washington, D.C., in the 1940s. Sullivan knew that jobs were critical in order to improve the living conditions of Blacks. In 1958 he requested that the largest companies in Philadelphia interview young Blacks. After only two companies responded favorably to Sullivan, he organized a boycott of various businesses and regarded the act as “Selective Patronage.” Sullivan coined the slogan, “Don’t buy where you don’t work.” The boycott was remarkably effective as Blacks accounted for 20% of the population in Philadelphia. The end result: the boycott generated thousands of jobs for Blacks in the span of just (4) years. The New York Times ran the story on their front page. Fortune magazine’s coverage of the situation put Sullivan and his program on the national map of public awareness.
In 1962, Sullivan's Boycotts were recognized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference who persuaded Sullivan to share information with them on his success. The exchange led to SCLC's economic arm, Operation Breadbasket, in 1967, headed by Jesse Jackson.
Sullivan’s “self-help” principle was an ideology based in the belief that people need tools to help themselves overcome barriers of poverty and oppression. Blacks were systematically excluded from better paying jobs as they were denied access to the requisite training. Sullivan’s vision and plan to help individuals obtain self-sufficiency was crystallized when he realized that jobs in of themselves were not enough. According to Sullivan: “I found that we need training. Integration without preparation is frustration.”
In 1964, Sullivan launched Opportunities Industrialized Centers (OIC) of America. The program offered individuals with little hope and few prospects the opportunity to obtain critical job training and life skills to help them sustain employment. The innovative concept swept the nation. As of date, with scores of affiliated programs in (30) states and the District of Columbia, OIC has prospered into a highly regarded movement, and has helped more than 2,000,000 disenfranchised and under-skilled individuals transform their lives.
OICW, Opportunities Industrialized Centers West (JobTrain) was established in 1965. In 2008, OICW changed their name to JobTrain. Since 1965, JobTrain continues to transform lives and communities in Silicon Valley. For nearly five decades, we've helped the Valley's most in need reclaim their lives from poverty and unemployment by preparing them for successful careers in high-demand fields. JobTrain transforms personal motivation and potential into real skills that are the foundation for self-sufficiency and self-worth. In addition to “vocational training,” we understand that these fundamental transformations require a high school diploma, computer literacy, an interview outfit and ongoing encouragement, as well as access to basics like housing, transportation, counseling and childcare. Our 165,000 individual success stories prove that powerful transformations happen. And it takes time, commitment and the right resources.
Sullivan made history multiple times, especially when he became the first Black to join the Board of Directors at General Motors in 1971. Six years later, Sullivan instituted a code of conduct for companies doing business in South Africa, regarded as the “Sullivan Principles,” this was a solution to complete disinvestment. Sullivan was instrumental in ending apartheid by lobbying large corporations such as GM and others to voluntarily withdraw from conducting business in South Africa.
Today, we honor an incomparable visionary and selfless leader that established real opportunities for individuals to help themselves.
We celebrate Leon Sullivan's exemplary life, for creating the foundation which has sustained JobTrain for almost half a century, and for creating the international affiliate offices - that believe in the potential of every human being and encourages them to always strive for achieving their personal best.