Young-Cantarella Memorial Lecture

Honoring the lives and work of three remarkable leaders in the advancement of community and urban affairs at the intersection of private, nonprofit and public sectors.

Whitney M. Young Jr. — Margaret B. Young — Francesco Cantarella

Bonded by family ties, these remarkable leaders shared an equally strong connection through common principals that guided their professional and community roles. Spanning more than five decades of the civil rights and urban affairs movement, all three played a role in shaping the contemporary approach to corporate social responsibility. Whitney Young, as head of the National Urban League, brought corporate leaders to the table for the first time in an effort to engage them in the urban issues of the time. Following his death in 1971, his widow Margaret Young was invited to join the Boards of Directors for Phillip Morris (Altria) and New York Life at a time when few women and fewer minorities did so. She was the conscience on those boards. The Youngs’ work is documented in papers housed at Columbia University. Francesco Cantarella, husband of the Young’s daughter Marcia, as a senior vice president, headed corporate responsibility efforts for both Chase Bank and then several divisions of Federated Department stores.

The Young-Cantarella Memorial Lecture celebrates the influence and impact of leadership in the development of corporate social conscience. Social challenges and issues — in areas including education, employment, housing, and women- and minority-owned businesses — continue to persist, especially in the current political environment with pressures to shrink budgets and government services. What has changed — as reflected by the achievements of these three leaders — is the acceptance that companies have a key role to play and can bring innovative thinking, efficiency, and significant resources to tackle such societal problems, as well as the acceptance that the well-being of companies is intricately tied to the well-being of the communities in which they operate.

Following models championed by Columbia graduate Francesco Cantarella for multi-national retail, banking, and airline industries, companies today more effectively harness and align strategies, governance processes, and organizational resources in areas such as strategy, legislative advocacy, community affairs, public affairs, and corporate foundations. Corporate and nonprofit enterprises are partnering in efforts to stimulate social benefits by addressing issues including diversity, education, access to finance, and economic development.

This keynote speaker will be chosen to share successes and struggles based on an assessment of visionary achievement in corporate social responsibility with respect to:

  • Innovative approach
  • Global perspective
  • Education and communication
  • Measurable community impact
  • Corporate governing framework
  • Sustainability and longevity of programs
  • Strategic partnering network

Whitney Young Jr. was a major US civil rights leader who spearheaded the drive for equal opportunity for blacks in US industry and government service during his 10 years as head of the National Urban League, the world's largest social-civil rights organization. His advocacy of a “Domestic Marshall Plan” — massive funds to help solve America's racial problems — was felt to have strongly influenced federal poverty programs sponsored by Democratic Party administrations in Washington. After army service in World War II, Young switched his career interest from medicine to social work and graduated with an MA from the University of Minnesota in 1947. Starting as director of industrial relations for the Urban League at St. Paul, Minnesota, he moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where he served as executive secretary. Becoming dean of the School of Social Work of Atlanta (Georgia) University in 1954, he was instrumental in improving relations between the city and university. Appointed executive director of the National Urban League in 1961, Young won an impressive reputation as a national black activist who helped bridge the gap between white political and business leaders and poor blacks and militants. Under his direction, the organization grew from 60 to 98 chapters and shifted its focus from middle-class concerns to the needs of the urban poor. He was particularly credited with almost singlehandedly persuading corporate America and major foundations to aid the civil rights movement through financial contributions in support of self-help programs for jobs, housing, education, and family rehabilitation.

Margaret B. Young, a writer and educator, was married to civil rights leader Whitney M. Young Jr. A professor of educational psychology at Spelman College in Atlanta in the 1950s, Mrs. Young wrote several books for children about the African-American experience including: The First Book of American Negroes (1966), The Picture Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968), Black American Leaders (1969), and The Picture Life of Thurgood Marshall (1971), published by Franklin Watts. She also wrote a booklet for parents, "How to Bring Up Your Child Without Prejudice" (Public Affairs Committee, 1965). She was the chairwoman and executive director of the Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Foundation, dedicated to training young black leaders in the field of social relations. She closed the foundation in 1990, upon her retirement. Mrs. Young served on the boards of many nonprofit organizations, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Dance Theater of Harlem, and the Girl Scouts of the USA. She also served on corporate boards, including the New York Life Insurance Company. She was a member of the United States delegation to the 28th General Assembly of the United Nations in 1973. In 1942 she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and French from Kentucky State College for Negroes, as it was then known (it is now Kentucky State University). She married Mr. Young, a college classmate, two years later and afterward earned a master’s degree in educational psychology and testing from the University of Minnesota.

Francesco P. Cantarella, a public relations executive long active in New York municipal affairs, headed Corporate Social Solutions, Inc., a firm assisting New York corporations in public affairs. Mr. Cantarella was a member of many boards throughout his life, including serving as vice chairman of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. After an early career as a newspaper reporter on the Providence Journal Bulletin, the Newark Evening News, and United Press International, Mr. Cantarella entered the Chase Manhattan Bank Public Relations Department. After a series of promotions, in 1969, he was appointed senior vice president and director of public affairs for the bank, a position he held for five years. He later went to Abraham & Straus and Bloomingdale’s as senior vice president and director of public affairs, where he served from 1980 to 1994. During this period, the YMCA of Greater New York honored him as its "Man of the Year," and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People cited him as "Businessman of the Year." The New York Urban League awarded him its “Community Service Award” for his activities on behalf of children in Brooklyn. Mr. Cantarella was also a Trustee of the New York City Police Foundation and a member of the board of directors of the Trickle-up Foundation. Mr. Cantarella was married to Marcia Young Cantarella, daughter of the late Whitney M. Young, Executive Director of the National Urban League.