Story & Photos by Lieba Nesis:
The Gordon Parks Foundation held its tenth anniversary dinner at Cipriani 42nd Street on May 24 with hors d’oeuvres beginning at 6:00 PM. This dinner celebrates Gordon Parks, who was a noted African-American photographer, musician, writer and film director who died in 2006. Last week the exhibition “Invisible Man: Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem” opened at the Art Institute of Chicago. Tonight honored seven individuals, similar to Parks, whose work has changed the landscape of music, fashion, photography, philanthropy and education including: Kathleen Cleaver-who coined the phrase “black is beautiful, acclaimed public interest lawyer- Bryan Stevenson, designers Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow, philanthropists Judy and Leonard Lauder, photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier, and singer Janelle Monae.
Moreover, we were introduced to the 21 talented students from across the country who were awarded the Gordon Parks Scholarship in photography, tap dancing, poetry and singing. Singer-student Maria Wirries wowed the crowd with her magnificent voice and sparkling red dress-the guilelessness of these students is what this dinner is all about. The room was replete with supermodels Chanel Iman, Martha Hunt, Constance Jablonski and internet sensation Luka Sabbat. The combination of Alexander Soros, son of George, and DKNY designers Osborne and Chow, brought the fashion crowd out in droves as well as Gayle King, Usher, and Victor Cruz. Maxwell Osborne, who took to the stage said he felt unworthy to receive the award and was upset that there were only 21 scholarships when there should be “one for every f-in person in the room”; he then apologized for the expletive since his mother was in the audience. His partner, Dai-Yi Chow, said he lived by the Gordon Parks quote “enthusiasm is the electricity of life” and felt super humbled to accept the award. Swiss Beatz, the emcee of the evening, announced to enthusiastic applause that Beatz, Victor Cruz and Usher, per Osborne’s exhortation, were funding 30 additional scholarships to the current 21. Thomas Campbell, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, introduced Leonard Lauder and Judy Glickman who have devoted time and energy to this charity and continue to amaze with the prodigiousness of their philanthropy. There were other notable dinner attendees including Gayle King who looked extra svelte and told me she did not know who designed her dress but was excited to fit into it. Gayle fraternized with Usher and Janelle Monae while photographers snapped away feverishly. Janelle Monae, accepted her award and thanked her grandmother who was a sharecropper and her mother for “sacrificing her senior year in high school to give birth to me.” Monae is a fashion and music sensation and said she wanted to kill the stereotype that African Americans are monolithic because “we are layered” and then said that “women are not objects but subjects, and the future is female.” To ensure the future of this foundation fundraising and an auction were held where $14,000 was raised for two tickets to the Chanel Paris show as well as a tour of Coco Chanel’s house, and more than $65,000 was given for a Parks photograph featuring Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver. The surprise of the evening was a spectacular performance by Jon Batiste and Stay Human-which included a female horn player who stole the show. As I headed outside to grab some air, I bumped into Peter Brant Jr. and some of his socialite friends smoking and fraternizing before they headed out to the Rose Bar for Part Two to an incredibly inspirational evening.