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Leon Sullivan Summit to Re-convene Next Month in Abuja, Nigeria
By: Lorinda Bullock
NNPA National Correspondent
Originally posted 6/28/2006

WASHINGTON (NNPA) -- Black American leaders in business and international affairs will travel to Abuja, Nigeria in July, joining prominent African leaders in politics and business to take part in the seventh Leon Sullivan Summit, formerly known as the African/African-American Summit.

The four-day conference is held to promote the advancement of business, education, technology, and health in African nations.

Organizers expect nearly 6,000 delegates from 35 nations, including the Caribbean and Korea.

“Everybody who goes to the continent talks about how many children are dying and the ravages of AIDS and malaria and genocide and corruption. But at our summit we really try to stay very positive and rather than focus on the negatives we talk about solutions we talk about best practices we talk about what works,” said Hope Sullivan Masters, president of the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation and daughter of the summit’s founder.

This year’s summit is returning to Abjua, Nigeria where Summit VI took place in 2003. Past summits have been held in the Ivory Coast, Gabon, Senegal, Zimbabwe and Ghana.

What has been working since the first summit in 1991 are the multimillion business deals that are forged during the summit. The Sullivan Foundation says that at least $750 million in new business agreements have been initiated as a direct result of past summits.

The biennial event is named for Rev. Leon Sullivan, a Baptist minister and internationally acclaimed humanitarian, who devoted most of his life to speaking out for international human rights and developing programs to help American Blacks and African nations become boost their economic development.

Reflecting on her father’s legacy, Masters observed: “He looked around and saw all these Black doctors and lawyers and educators and teachers and judges and surgeons. We have gone through the struggle we’ve gone through to reach this point because we have to take what we have home. If we were never brought here, we would never have these skills or have so much. It’s a responsibility of ours to take it back home. And that’s really what the summit is about. It’s the reverse bridge. They brought us over in slave ships and we’re coming back in airships that we charter.”

Sullivan’s received more than 50 honorary degrees from universities, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992 from George H.W. Bush and the Eleanor Roosevelt Award from President Bill Clinton in 1999.

As the first Black board member of General Motors, he created the Sullivan principles for U.S. companies operating in minority-led South Africa. That pressure helped lead to the downfall of apartheid in South Africa.

After Sullivan died in 2001, Masters took the helm and continues works to continue his legacy of “bridging the gap between African Americans and Africa.”

In addition to the large business deals taking place, past summits have drawn the likes of President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and her predecessor, Colin Powell.

Other notable delegates include the foundation’s board chairman, former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young.

This year, Masters said, a record 20 heads of state are confirmed as of now -- the most ever.

Just getting African leaders in the same location can produce spectacular results. During the 1995 summit, there was a bloody conflict between Rwanda and Burundi.

“We had both presidents of those countries at the summit and they would not come together in the same room,” Masters said.

“I remember vividly probably midnight one of the nights of the summit in the middle of the week, my father doing shuttle diplomacy up and down on the elevator going to visit the president of Rwanda, going to visit the president of Burundi, going back and forth carrying messages back and forth. Then about 2 o’ clock in the morning, they decided to come together in his suite and shook hands over a peace accord.”

The first summit was less dramatic but equally important. It was instrumental in retiring more than $60 million in African debt.

As in the past, Coca-Cola will also be at the table in Nigeria.

“The Summit provides a forum where leaders in government, business, civic and academic institutions can come together and leverage their collective resources to create initiatives and policies that help support economic and social development in Africa,” said Charles Sutlive, a Coca-Cola spokesman.

“As the largest private-sector employer in Africa, helping build strong, vibrant local communities is not only the right thing to do, but also helps create sustainable growth for our business.”

One of the key events planned during this year’s summit will include a black-tie gala honoring the president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, but the week will be jammed with other very special events as well, Masters said.

“We have surgeons coming to the summit. They’re going to be talking about tribal scarring and keloids and they’re going to actually be doing procedures. We have a woman who’s coming who is going to test people’s DNA from the saliva in your mouth and as a result of that you’ll be able to determine what country on the continent you came from.”

Just traveling to Africa reconnects Blacks with their past, Masters said.

“It’ll change your life. I’m telling you right now. You’ll be different when you come back,” she explained.

“It’s something about the energy and the purpose of it and really feeling like you’re walking within history. It’s intense.”

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