DEARBORN, Mich., – Ford Motor Company announced today the winner of the Ford Freedom Unsung award – a national campaign honoring the outstanding achievements of ordinary people performing extraordinary work in the African American community.

The 2016 winner is Sylvester Lee of Belleville, Illinois. Approximately five years ago, Lee purchased an old school building in East St. Louis, Illinois, and started rehabbing it as the Sunshine Cultural Arts Center. There, he promotes teaching and inspires youth in the community through arts, cultural and educational programs.

Lee continues to enhance the holistic cultural arts curriculum that provides the tools necessary for youth to succeed in life and bring positive change to their communities. As a result of his commitment to community, Lee will receive a trip for two aboard the 2016 Fantastic Voyage, where he will be formally recognized as the 2016 national Ford Freedom Unsung Hero.

“Ford has a legacy of honoring African American achievement,” said Pamela Alexander, director, community development, Ford Motor Company Fund. “We commend Sylvester for his decades of work and commitment to inspiring and empowering youth, and the East St. Louis community.”

Individuals were invited to nominate their favorite living unsung hero. After a national call for nominations resulted in 200 nominees, judges selected 10 finalists. The public then had the opportunity to vote for the grand prize winner.

“I am truly humbled and honored to receive such a prestigious award,” said Lee. “This is a wonderful opportunity. Regardless of recognition or notoriety, I will continue to teach and inspire the youth in my community.”

Prior to the program’s national kickoff, Ford Freedom Unsung celebrations have taken place in Atlanta; Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area; Anchorage, Alaska; Indianapolis; and Kansas City, Missouri, over the last four years.

Ford Motor Company is presenting sponsor of the 2016 Fantastic Voyage later this month. The company also sponsors Ford Historically Black Colleges and Universities Community Challenge in collaboration with Tom Joyner Foundation. The challenge has awarded $300,000 over the past three years in scholarships and community grants to students and teams to implement community projects.

Ford’s support of the African American community dates back to the early 20th century when the automaker was the largest employer of African Americans in the industry. Ford is building on that century-long commitment with other signature initiatives that include:

  • Honoring African Americans famous and unsung for their contributions and achievements
  • More than $15 million invested in African American cultural institutions such as the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis
  • Educational investment of more than $11 million in scholarships for African American students including support to United Negro College Fund, Jackie Robinson Foundation and Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund

Follow the online conversation using #FordFreedomUnsung, #BlackAmericaWeb and #TomJoynerFantasticVoyage.

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 About Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company is a global automotive and mobility company based in Dearborn, Michigan. With about 199,000 employees and 67 plants worldwide, the company’s core business includes designing, manufacturing, marketing, financing and servicing a full line of Ford cars, trucks, SUVs and electrified vehicles, as well as Lincoln luxury vehicles. At the same time, Ford is aggressively pursuing emerging opportunities through Ford Smart Mobility, the company’s plan to be a leader in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience, and data and analytics. For more information regarding Ford, its products worldwide or Ford Motor Credit Company, visit

 About The Tom Joyner Foundation
The Tom Joyner Foundation ( was established in 1998 for the purpose of helping students continue their education at historically black colleges and universities across the nation. The foundation has raised more than $35 million to date for this single cause and helped thousands of deserving students. Since its inception, the foundation has assisted every HBCU, which is defined as “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans.”

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Freddie Allen is the National News Editor for the NNPA News Wire and 200-plus Black newspapers. 20 million readers. You should follow Freddie on Twitter and Instagram @freddieallenjr.

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