Gordon Parks Holds Star-Studded Gala and Raises Over $1.3 Million

Honoree Alexander Soros, Julz, Maxwell Osborne, Chelsea Clinton
and husband Marc Mezvinsky
All photos Lieba Nesis – click images for full size views

The Gordon Parks Foundation held its annual dinner and gala on June 6, 2017 at Cipriani 42nd Street with cocktails beginning at 6 PM. The dinner was jam packed with over 800 people; it is safe to say there were probably no more than ten Trump voters in the room. Everywhere you looked there were Democrats including: Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, the Honorable John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Stephen Colbert, Martin Scorsese, and Alexander Soros (son of George). Thankfully, the tone of the evening was mostly pleasant with speakers calling for outspokenness without bordering on incivility.

Dao-Yi Chow, Imad Izemrane and Maxwell Osborne.

However, there were many political speeches calling the audience to action. Emcee Swiss Beatz, husband of Alicia Keys, started off the evening on a somber note saying that he wanted to say “fu to cancer” (I think everyone would agree with that) after having lost his best friend the night before to cancer. His friend’s last request to Beatz was to tell men, who are often negligent, to get checked out by a doctor and leave their egos at home.  This pivotal message made me feel like I was at a Michael Milken Prostate Cancer dinner. Beatz then went onto talk about the Gordon Parks Scholarship which provides scholarships to 24 students with a recently instituted Fellowship program in 2017 that provides short-term fellowships up to the amount of $10,000 to two students.

Sherry Bronfman & Cynthia Wood

While this evening’s co-chairs were listed as Alicia Keys and Swiss Beatz, Karl Lagerfeld, Leonard and Judy Lauder, Janelle Monae and Grace and Usher Raymond; Keys, Lagerfeld and Monae, as far as I could tell, were not in the house. No worries, uber director Martin Scorsese was there to introduce honoree Mavis Staples who is both an iconic singer and a Civil Rights Activist. The 76-year-old Staples said she was having brain fade due to her old age but wanted to say thank you and to acknowledge the great Parks.

Left to right models Vlada Roslyakova, Olesya Senchenko, Inna Pilipenko,
Alina Baikova and Sophie Longford

For those unfamiliar with famed photographer Gordon Parks he was born in 1912 and was a musician, writer and film director who died in 2006 at the age of 93. He was the first African American to produce and direct major motion pictures including “Shaft” in 1971 and he created the “blaxploitation” genre.

Patrick McMullan, Marisa Cardinale, and Peter Kunhardt, Jr.

He was also an author, poet and composer and an icon in the black community inspiring many of our current entertainers to pursue their dreams. One of those philanthropists who idolizes Parks is 32-year-old Alexander Soros who was introduced by democratic Congressman Keith Ellison who applauded Soros for not just giving money but for getting his hands dirty by actively getting involved in the charities he supports having traveled to Burma and Asia to help the indigent.

Photographer Bruce Weber

Soros received the Gordon Parks Award for Humanity and said he was honored to be near congressman John Lewis and that there were a bunch of “white supremacists’ in the current White House. He also spoke about his grandfather Tivadar who saved his father and many other jews from the horrors of the Holocaust and that many wealthy Jews died in the Holocaust-money was irrelevant. Soros told me of his horrific trips to Auschwitz and how much he enjoyed visiting Israel this past November.

Gene Young Parks and Niko Elmaleh

Auctioneer, Hugh Hildesley then held a scholarship and photography auction where he said that 100% of what was raised would be given to the scholarship and fellowship program. Barbara Bowman and her daughter, Valerie Jarrett, who was the longest serving Senior Advisor to President Obama, were at the dinner with Jarrett reiterating the importance of the Parks foundation and commending the audience for their participation.

Dr. Henry Gates, Jr & Diana Revson.

After more than $1.3 million was raised, Dr. Henry Gates Jr., the Director of the Hutchins Center for African American Research at Harvard, introduced honorees Kathryn and Kenneth Chenault, with Gates imploring the black community to strive to be doctors and lawyers and not just basketball and football players.

Model Ajax Deng in Dennis Basso

The highly intellectual Gates, reiterated this to me later saying that the average career of a basketball or football player was no more than 3 years and the black community needed to stress loftier goals. He also praised honorees Ken and Kathryn Chenault for their partnership and for helping to raise more than $500 million for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Honoree Kathryn Chenault and Dr. Henry Gates, Jr.

Ken and Kathryn Chenault are a power couple with Kathryn devoting time and money to the arts, education and health care institutions. Ken Chenault has been Chairman and CEO of American Express since 2001 and received his JD from Harvard Law. Chenault recalled hearing John Lewis speak at his church when he was 12 and the impact it had on his career trajectory.

Usher and Judy Glickman Lauder

He also recalled obsessing over the photographs of Gordon Parks when he was only 5 and how excited he was to meet him years later. While most of the crowd was anxiously anticipating the speech of John Lewis, Stephen Colbert gave the music award to his band leader Jon Batiste.

Harry Belafonte

Finally, Usher introduced John Lewis by saying it was important to be disruptive to change the point of view of somebody else and that Harry Belafonte, whom he calls “Pops,” and who was present at the dinner, told him “without crisis there is no cause.” Usher hasn’t aged a day in the past ten years and he urged the audience not to “stand still and be silent.”

Honorable John Lewis

John Lewis, who received a lengthy standing ovation, spoke about his arrest in 1960 and how he went to a vintage store earlier in the day to buy a new suit for $5 so he would appear “fresh” just in case he was put in jail. Lewis said that Martin Luther King inspired him “to find a way to get in the way” and implored the audience to never give up and keep their eyes on the prize.

Rapper Common performing

After all these speeches it was time for some heady entertainment by rapper Common who rapped about the black experience at one point taking issue with why Maria [Sharapova] gets paid more than Serena {Williams}. At the hour of 10:45 the crowd went to the Cipriani foyer for an after party where Swiss Beatz spun tunes and petit fours were served-a light ending to a potent evening.

– Lieba Nesis

Lieba Nesis

My love of fashion, writing and photography were something that always dominated my lifestyle however it wasn't until I was approached by the editor of Lookonline that I realized I could utilize these three skills in combination.

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