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Urban League honors five Detroit-area 'warriors'

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Courage. Innovation. Commitment to service.

These are some of the outstanding traits the Urban League of Detroit and Southeastern Michigan says its five 2015 Distinguished Warriors demonstrated through their contributions to human and civil rights across the region.

The luminaries were lauded Thursday during the group's 36th annual Salute to Distinguished Warriors Dinner, which raised more than $200,000 for league services and programs benefiting about 70,000 people each year, coordinators say.

The honorees were praised as exemplars working toward building a better, more inclusive community, no matter the cost, during the event that drew more than 700 guests to the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center.

"This year's honorees represent the best our region has to offer," said Greg Clark, the league's board chairman. "This diverse class of warriors is outstanding in every way."

"They're very special people," said N. Charles Anderson, the league's president and CEO. "We have some outstanding honorees."

The winners:

■Former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard, who faced a $1.7 billion deficit, a bankruptcy threat, record high unemployment and the country's worst credit rating when taking office in 1983 but "won national acclaim for his innovative approaches to economic development, education, crime fighting, environmental protection and helping children" during his eight-year tenure, the Urban League said.

When accepting his award, Blanchard proudly noted how he was among the few state governors born in Detroit.

"The greater Detroit community has been very good to our country, and our state," he told the crowd.

■Haifa Fakhouri, president and CEO of the Arab American and Chaldean Council. She is credited with developing and launching employment and training programs, and leading a $36 million development project that revitalized a struggling area "into a thriving and vibrant neighborhood" with shops, restaurants and other destinations. The sociologist and educator's efforts also "helped bridge the gap between the Arabic community and the mainstream" and "provided a bridge for economic self-sufficiency and the actualization of human potential for the many immigrants," the Urban League said.

In a video presentation, Fakhouri said her group, which has also offered food distribution programs and other efforts, strives to "work with the entire community."

■The Rev. James C. Perkins, longtime pastor of Greater Christ Baptist Church and president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention Inc. The Urban League cited the numerous enterprises he established to support the community — including Providence Place, a $10 million development providing housing for low- and middle-income families, and the Benjamin E. Mays Male Academy, which educated black youths.

Perkins told the audience he was involved in an Urban League program while attending college, and "many of the community organizations skills" learned there he applied to his ministry in Detroit.

■ Maribodine Busey Robinson, a 105-year-old active in the civil rights and women's suffrage movements. The Ohio State University graduate spent many years volunteering and serving with a host of civic and social groups, including the YWCA, Goodwill Industries and Community Chest of Metropolitan Detroit.

Her daughter, Ilene Robinson, said she was heartened to see her mother's work honored.

The older Robinson joined boards and committees for many groups in hopes of helping shape policies that would better conditions for the community at a time when "there were not a lot of blacks serving in those roles," her daughter said. "She was carrying the minority torch within the organizations."

■Angelo B. Henderson, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, community activist and radio talk show host. An ordained minister, he "stepped from behind the microphone and the pulpit and into the streets of Detroit after a 90-year-old grandmother was raped, robbed and left for dead," league officials said. Henderson co-founded and was spiritual leader for the Detroit 300, a crime-fighting citizens patrol group.

Henderson died at age 51 in February 2014.

Accepting the award on his behalf was his wife Felecia Henderson, an assistant managing editor at The Detroit News. She recounted how while participating in a youth dialogue this week, the students asked her what Angelo Henderson would say to them. She responded: "Speak up, take back your neighborhoods, never be too big to help someone and change the world."

Among the attendees was Alice Thompson, CEO of the Detroit-based nonprofit Black Family Development Inc. She said the event was important in recognizing contributions of people she called "bold, courageous pace-setters."

"When you look at what they've done, it aligns with the vision and mission of the Urban League," she said. "They are and have been innovators, and in some cases the positions they have taken … required courage."