*“A little learning, indeed, may be a dangerous thing, but the want of learning is a calamity to any people.” Those were the profound words of Frederick Douglass, a former slave who escaped to freedom to become one of the nation’s most prominent and influential abolitionists. Based on the strength and brilliance of his advocacy and writings, and as leader of the abolitionist movement, Douglass is widely regarded as the “Father of the Civil Rights Movement.”
In honor of his legacy, the New York Urban League established the commemorative Frederick Douglass Awards some forty-seven years ago and each year bestows the award to acknowledge and honor leaders in the private and public sectors whose contributions to society serve to eliminate racial barriers and promote opportunities for the disadvantaged.
The New York Urban League 47th Annual Frederick Douglass Awards Dinner took place on Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at the magnificent Mandarin Oriental Hotel – one of the most breathtaking luxury hotels located in Manhattan’s Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle in New York City. The event was hosted by David Ushery of NBC 4 New York and featured dinner, a silent auction and a musical performance by the “First Lady of the Flute” Bobbi Humphrey.
The New York Urban League chose this year’s four honorees to acknowledge their efforts to promote equal opportunity and civil rights. “Every year we have a very daunting task of finding a group of individuals who exemplify the heart, the tenacity, the intelligence and courage to stand with someone who prolifically said, ‘power concedes nothing without struggle.’ We could not be more thrilled than to honor these four incredible people” said NYUL president & CEO Arva R. Rice.
Some 340 black tie guests engagingly looked on as the League’s most prestigious Frederick Douglass Medallion was presented to The New York Times Op-Ed columnist Charles M. Blow; Applebee’s Apple-Metro chairman & CEO Zane Tankel; recording artist, producer and philanthropist KEM; and educational reformer Michele Cahill.
Chief Philip Banks III presented the medallion to Zane Tankel owner of 34 Applebee‘s in the New York Metro area who uses his entrepreneurship to employ thousands of New Yorkers.
Award-winning film & TV producer and author Crystal McCrary presented the medallion to The New York Times Op-Ed columnist Charles M. Blow who continues to bring issues to light through his pen highlighting the power of advocacy.
Michael Ferguson, principal & senior executive producer for OmniSource Events, Inc., presented the medallion to KEM whose personal battle to beat the odds while creating healing in music is a poetic tribute to those the League serves every day.
The highest honor of the evening was the Ann S. Kheel Award that was presented to Michele Cahill, vice president of national program and director of urban education, Carnegie Corporation of New York. Rice extended a very special congratulation to Cahill, who has dedicated her life to fight for a core tenant of NYUL – education.
The coveted award is named after Kheel, one of the League’s most distinguished journalists and civic icons who founded the Frederick Douglass Awards Dinner in 1965. The award was presented to Cahill by the Rev. Alfonso Wyatt, associate pastor, Greater Allen Cathedral, Jamaica, NY and founder of Strategic Destiny, Inc.
Although all of the acceptance speeches were incredibly moving and engaging, Tequilla White, a recent Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial Scholar who has remained connected to the League through volunteer work, brought the house down with her youthful words of wisdom.
In his captivatingly inspiring closing remarks, board chairman Michael Robinson noted the importance of the dinner. “Our goal is to ensure that no child or adult who wants to learn, who wants employment, who seeks economic stability and self sufficiency will not go without education and training for the lack of financial resources.”
William D. Holiber, president & CEO, New York Daily News; Leonard Jones, partner, Rice Financial Products Company; Larry Quinlan, global chief information officer, Deloitte LLP; and Alicin Williamson, principal, The Raben Group served as gala co-chairs. Khephra Burns & Susan L. Taylor, Hon. David N. Dinkins, Noel Hankin, Reginald Van Lee and Terrie M. Williams served as gala honorary co-chairs.
Alicin Williamson chaired the gala dinner committee consisting of Josefina Aguayo, Lauren Maillian Bias, Dolly Christian and Sonya Lockett. Kudos to all of the sponsors with special thanks to tribute sponsor Microsoft and auctioneer diva and the always amusing Audrey Smaltz who raised an additional $6,400 during a live auction.
The mission of the New York Urban League is to enable African Americans and other underserved communities to secure a first class education, economic self-reliance and equal respect of their civil rights through programs, services and advocacy. (Photos by Margot Jordan)
About the NYUL
The mission of the New York Urban League (NYUL) is to enable African Americans and other underserved communities to secure a first class education, economic self-reliance and equal respect of their civil rights through programs, services and advocacy. Today, the League directly serves approximately 15,000 residents annually through our employment, education and empowerment services. In 2010-11 the League awarded $131,500 in Whitney M. Young Scholarships to 43 scholars as a result of our annual Football Classic held at MetLife Stadium; served over 3200 students and their parents through academic support and college readiness programs; 5040 residents in Harlem were able to access technology and classes at our NYUL Technology Center; financial literacy workshops and online tax prep aided nearly 800 residents in becoming more financially self sufficient; and 650 residents sought job placement and counseling from NYUL employment counselors. The NYUL serves Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Bronx, and Manhattan.
Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.