Family, friends, colleagues honor life of Ahmeenah Young

June 30, 2017

The family and friends of Ahmeenah Young have been mourning the loss of the pioneering former CEO and president of the Pennsylvania Convention Center since she died earlier this month.

That mourning was displaced on Thursday evening at the Convention Center, a place that rose under her leadership and direction, by a buoyant celebration of her life well lived.

Under an arcing ceiling in a dimly lit room, Young, who died at 69 on June 2 following a battle with cancer, the civic and hospitality communities of the Greater Philadelphia Region hosted a memorial service that was punctuated with laughter and fond memories of a woman who U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, speaking on a video screen, dubbed the “Harriet Tubman of the hospitality industry.”

The program opened with a rendition of “Home” sung by Kathy Sledge of famous singing group Sister Sledge. John McNichol, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, said the song was being sung in the appropriate place as Young often referred to the massive convention center as her home.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell served as the Master of Ceremonies. Rendell advised all to keep their messages to about two minutes, and most obliged. And perhaps the most poignant of the remarks came from her upbeat son, Pakeso Young.

“My mother was able to survive but she was also able to thrive,” Pakeso Young said, “From a person being born in South Philadelphia to become the head of the largest convention center in the country.

“That trajectory, that rise, is incredible,” he added. “But to me, the special thing about my mother was that not only was she a Black woman who was able to rise; she was a Black person who, once she reached a position of power, she used that power to help her people, using that position to mentor a younger generation of Black women into power so that when she was off the scene her legacy would be represented correctly.”

While she was considered as part of the bedrock of the Philadelphia business, corporate and power structure, Young’s celebration of life brought the approximately 400 attendees in touch with another side of her.

During the presentation of a resolution in her honor by city councilmembers, Councilwoman Cherelle Parker spoke of how Young and Robert L. Archie, a member of The Philadelphia Tribune’s Board of Directors, would dance the Bop at her annual Christmas party.

Young had a love for jazz, particularly the horn of Dizzy Gillespie. Her family was presented with a beautiful oil painting of the jazz legend.

The first woman and first African-American to ever hold the position of CEO and president of the Pennsylvanian Convention Center, Young oversaw the $787 million expansion in March 2011. She ensured that women, minorities, disadvantaged and small business owners received almost one-third of the project’s contracts.

The expansion was the largest project in the history of the state, and it made the Convention Center the leading economic engine for the region’s hospitality industry.

She had oversight of the day-to-day operation of the 2-milllion-square-foot facility and fiscal management of its $35 million budget. After leaving the Convention Center in 2013, Young participated on the Center’s Expansion Art Project Committee, working with fine arts organizations throughout the commonwealth to select and oversee the installation of 70 additional pieces of art in the building.

Young was a former general manager of Philadelphia’s Independence Visitor Center Corp. and vice president of corporate diversity for SearchWide, LLC.

She belonged to the Governor’s Advisory Commission on African American Affairs, along with the boards of Hahnemann University Hospital, the Philadelphia International Airport Advisory Committee, Gaming Control Board, Temple University School of Hospitality and Tourism, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the Philadelphia Eagles Oversight Committee for Affirmative Action and the African American Museum in Philadelphia. And two weeks prior to her death, Young was named to the Tribune’s Board of Directors.

“She was truly a giant here in the city of Philadelphia, particularly with regard to the mentoring she did with African American women,” said Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who served alongside Young on the Airport Advisory Committee. “Her activism, her passion for people, especially African American people. It was reflected in everything about her.”