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Insights from a Trailblazer

Dr. Shelley Stewart, founder of o2ideas as well as the founder and president of the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation, joined us at our March 9, 2017 meeting. He talked to us about how he overcame impoverished beginnings and family tragedies as a child and eventually became one of Birmingham’s best-known radio personalities and one of America’s most prominent African American businessmen and philanthropists.

His broadcasting career began in 1949 as a local radio personality. He was a key communicator during Birmingham’s human rights struggles of the 1960s for young people involved in street protests there. He then owned a radio station and continued his prolific 55-year journey in broadcasting. He is recognized by the Smithsonian Institution for his radio career and he was the first African American inducted into the Alabama Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.

Stewart’s “parallel career” in advertising also began in the 1960s. In 1967 he co-founded o2ideas, a marketing, advertising and public relations firm based in Birmingham. o2ideas serves clients with global brands. He has been nominated into the National Advertising Hall of Fame. He has been honored locally as well, receiving The Vulcan Hero Award in 2014 as well as being included in Positive Maturity’s Top 50 Over 50.

He is also President and Founder of the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation, a national non-profit organization dedicated to reducing the dropout rate. He established the MCSF in honor of his late mother, Mattie C. Stewart. To date, the Foundation’s tools are estimated to have reached 19 million children, educators, community leaders and parents across 49 U.S. states.

Shelley’s lifetime odyssey is chronicled in Mattie C’s Boy: The Shelley Stewart Story, a book by NewSouth Publishing.