Jean-Marie Horovitz, Noel Hankin, Ed Goldberg, H. Sidney Holmes III, Rahshib Thomas, Glenn Rice, honorees Cora Weiss and David N. Dinkins, New York Urban League president & CEO Arva R. Rice, honoree Marcus Sameulsson, National Urban League president & CEO Marc Morial, Michael Robinson

*Since its inception in 1965, the New York Urban League (NYUL) Frederick Douglass awards dinner has recognized a wide range of private and public-sector leaders including Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Dr. Betty Shabazz, Russell Simmons and Bud Selig, whose contributions have helped break down racial obstacles and promote opportunities for the less fortunate.

At the organization’s 2011 event Thursday, May 12, 2011 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel featuring a reception followed by a formal dinner and program hosted by the NYUL board of directors and the gala dinner committee, former New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins, celebrity chef and owner, Red Rooster Harlem restaurant Marcus Samuelsson, and peace activist Cora Weiss names have been added to that distinguished list in recognition of their efforts to promote equal opportunity and civil rights.

Honorees Dinkins and Samuelsson received the Frederick Douglass Awards named in honor of the former slave who rose to prominence as one of the nation’s most influential abolitionists, and Weiss received the Ann S. Kheel Award.  Proceeds from the evening go to support NYUL’s core programs in education and employment.

More than 340 guests attended the black tie event including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Governor David Paterson, New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, businesswoman and philanthropist Loida Lewis, previous FDD recipient Frank Thomas, real estate mogul Daniel Rose, SNY sportscaster Brian Custer and NY1 anchor Errol Louis.

Former NYS Governor David A. Paterson, honoree David N. Dinkins, NYUL president & CEO Arva Rice, Mayor Michael Bloomberg

As guests entered the beauteous Mandarin Ballroom for dinner, on the back of each seat was a bottle of Moet & Chandon Imperial Champagne in a special container bag adorned with the NYUL logo.  This should give you an idea of the type of event it was.

Then guests were greeted by NYUL president and CEO Arva Rice, resplendent in a blue gown and sporting a new and becoming hairdo, who took it up another notch or two.  Rice beamed as she relayed a story to the audience of how Frederick Douglass’ slave owner unsuccessfully tried to halt his efforts to learn to read to show how far African-Americans have progressed since his time.

“Clearly, over 150 years, one African-American president and a billionaire media mogul later, we can say that African-Americans are free.  But it is through the continued access to and mastery of reading that our young people will be dissatisfied with their positions and seek to do more,” she said.

“It was Frederick Douglass who provided us with this year’s theme, ‘Once You Learn To Read, You Will Be Forever Free.’  It is our role to provide young people with education and adults with job training and placement so that they can be free to live up to their true potential,” Rice concluded.

Larry Quinlan, chief information officer, Deloitte LLP served as gala chair.  Agnes Gund, Honorable David A. Paterson and Franklin A. Thomas and Kate R. Whitney served as honorary co-chairs.

Carlos Austin, Noel Hankin, Dwight Johnson, Elinor Tatum and Alicia Williamson served as gala dinner committee.  Josefina Aguayo, Lauren Bias, Brian Dixon and Terrie Williams served as gala benefit committee.  WNBC-TV News Anchor David Ushery did a wonderful job in keeping guests entertained as Master of Ceremonies.

This event continues to be held in high esteem because of the generous donations by sponsors:  Microsoft, Walmart (tribute sponsor); Bloomberg, MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc., Morgan Stanley (abolitionists), Major League Baseball (orator); and Deloitte LLP, The Kheel Family / TASK Foundation, Macy’s, Moet Hennessy USA, MTV Networks, New York Daily News, UPS (statesmen).  (Photos by Margot Jordan)

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.