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Legacy Gala Overview

The Social Development Foundation’s Annual Legacy Gala is an elegant evening to honor individuals in the Milwaukee community who have made a significant impact for those living in poverty. During the first inaugural event, we honored the late legend Don Sykes.


Sd-Foundation: The Legacy Gala

Attorney James Hall

2023 Don Sykes Honoree

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Hyatt Regency Milwaukee

222 West Kilbourn Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53203

The Legend Don Sykes

The late Don Sykes is remembered as one of Milwaukee’s most prominent antipoverty activists. As part of President Bill Jefferson Clinton’s administration, Sykes served as director of the Health and Human Services Office of Community Relations. In Milwaukee, Sykes was executive director of the Social Development Commission for more than 20 years. He is celebrated for a career of service and his fight to empower people experiencing poverty.

Don Sykes passed away in 2017, but his work continues to inspire advocates working on behalf of people experiencing poverty. It is fitting that the Social Development Foundation, dedicated to the elimination of poverty, presents the Don Sykes Legacy Award each year. This distinguished award is given to members in our community who, like Sykes, work tirelessly to move people beyond poverty. In 2023, we are honoring the living legend Attorney James Hall.

On his pursuit for equal rights, Don Sykes inspired local, state and national politicians to take notice – not to mention the public at large. Don also made a lasting impact through his work as he mentored future leaders like Gwen Moore, hired low-income residents, and taught students at UWM. He truly created environments where everyone felt valued and empowered.

“All you can do is the best you can do. And you do it. It’s irrelevant to fret. Don’t waste your time fretting and crying. Put your energies into what you can do. Move at it.” – Don Sykes

At the inaugural Legacy Gala in 2018, the Social Development Foundation was pleased to honor Don Sykes. Narrated by radio show host Earl Ingram, watch this video and learn more about the legend Don Sykes.

Past Legacy Honorees

June Perry Stevens headshot

June Perry-Smith

2022 Legacy Honoree

June Perry-Stevens is an ideal recipient of the Don Sykes Legacy Award. Much of her work was influenced by the late Don Sykes, the namesake of the legacy award.

Read more about June

June is the co-founder of New Concept Development Center, Inc. Her non-profit social service agency focused on critical community issues such as mental health, teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, employment and case management for HIV clients. New Concept often collaborated with Sykes who was then CEO of the Social Development Commission.

With her leadership at New Concept Development Center, June:

Developed the first prenatal care program which became the model for Title XIX of the Social Security Act. Title XIX authorizes Medicaid programs that provide health coverage to people experiencing poverty – especially pregnant women, parents with young children, people with disabilities and the elderly.
Developed Milwaukee’s first Fathers Resource Center and first-time juvenile offenders program that became a model for Milwaukee County.
Authored a blue-ribbon report on teen pregnancy prevention for the City of Milwaukee.
Launched the city’s first girls mentoring program at the Hillside housing complex in 1978.
Created a youth motivation seminar for role models and youth, and developed its first youth-managed and youth-operated business through its youth entrepreneurship program.
Through her work, June has improved life for many Milwaukee families and individuals. When she retired, her organization had served more than 2,000 families a year with an operating budget of $2.5 million. June has worked tirelessly to make a difference in our community.

In partnership with her daughter, Krystle C.M. Perry, June is the owner of Best Ed Business, providing office design and furniture, office supplies, PPE and strategic sourcing. Through Best Ed, June and Krystle strive to deliver an intergenerational, minority and women owned business that paves the way for others and provides exemplary service. Their family motto is “if it is to be, it is up to me”.

Ben Johnson Photo

Ben E. Johnson

2019 Legacy Honoree

Johnson had a diverse and esteemed career. He was a former district sales manager for the Milwaukee Journal Company where, in addition, he served as a member of the company’s Board of Directors.

Read more about Ben

Johnson was also a community organizer for the Walnut Way Improvement Council. Johnson identified residents experiencing poverty and helped them access critical services including health care and education.

In 1971, Johnson was elected to replace Alderwoman Vel R. Phillips to represent the 6th Aldermanic District. In 1976, he became the first African American Milwaukee Common Council President serving until 1980.

One of Johnson’s biggest accomplishments was the creation of a program affectionately known as the “$1 House” program. This important initiative made home ownership attainable for many Milwaukee residents who purchased and repaired dilapidated homes in city neighborhoods.

After serving on the Milwaukee Common Council, Johnson was appointed Milwaukee City Clerk. He served four years in the position.

Eventually, Johnson left government and worked as a management consultant. Later he accepted a position with Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) providing small business start-up assistance at the Milwaukee Enterprise Center. He has taught government and business classes for University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and MATC.

Volunteer and civic activities include chairing several boards and committees including: The Social Development Commission, the U.S. Panama Canal Treaty Advisory Commission and the White House Council on Economic Development.

He is presently on the boards of Urban Strategies Inc. and Northcott Neighborhood House. Ben Johnson is a life member of the NAACP.

Today Johnson is revered for his efforts to create vibrant, affordable subdivisions including Halyard Park, Richardson Subdivision and Lindsay Heights.