Obama Joins Star-Studded Crowd at Ripple of Hope Dinner

President Obama
All photos Lieba Nesis
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The Ripple of Hope Awards dinner celebrated its 50th Anniversary on Wednesday, December 12, 2018, at the Hilton hotel in grand style. The honorees were nothing short of spectacular with President Barack Obama, CEO of Discovery David Zaslav, Governor of New Jersey Phil Murphy, and CEO of Humana Bruce Broussard gracing the ballroom along with thousands of attendees. It is rare for Obama to join a New York City gala and the crowd went wild. Obama’s complaint to photographers and attendees that the flash was blinding him went unheeded-he eventually went backstage to avoid the crowds.

Peter Frampton

The star power in the room was equally astounding as guests such as Robert De Niro, Jon Bon Jovi, Julianna Margulies, Keegan Michael Key, John McEnroe, Paul Sorvino, Scott Wolf, Chris Tucker, Sam Waterston, Kate Mulgrew, Chad Lowe, Peter Frampton, Catherine Keener, and dozens of other luminaries joined for a historic night.

Robert De Niro

The cocktail hour began at 5:30 PM with press and guests arriving to take pictures on the red carpet and socialize with the illustrious crowd. The $2,500 ticket cost was pricey but not unreasonable considering the guest list.

Dee Dee Benkie and Paul Sorvino

Emcee Alec Baldwin who hosts every year had the crowd in stitches as he rattled off the names of all the Kennedys saying he could have just named a Dublin phone book nobody would have known the difference. Baldwin said Ethel Kennedy couldn’t attend because she had bronchitis and wished her a speedy recovery. There were a couple of other glaring absentees including Hilaria Baldwin, Michelle Obama and Grace Hightower (oh yeah she and De Niro are getting divorced.)

Jean Shafiroff and Kerry Kennedy

A woman who was very present was Kerry Kennedy, who heads the organization, and remarked that with the help of David Zaslav she was taking her father Bobby’s message of “peace, justice, and compassion” to the classrooms with more than 3 million teachers and 30 million students learning her curriculum. Kerry looked stunning with her new blonde tresses and sexy diamond necklace.

Kory and Phil Griffin with Lesley Stahl

Supporting her in her efforts to free Rikers Island inmates was Robert Smith, the wealthiest African American, who said that 75 percent of people in jail haven’t been convicted of a crime they are just too poor to make bail, and he was working on bail reform especially for laws that negatively impact women and youth.

Keith Lieberthal and Julianna Margulies

The money-raising portion was exhilarating as Alec Baldwin whipped out his Donald Trump impression imploring the crowd in his Trump’s voice just to text their pledges and remarking that he and Melania were donating $10 to this great cause-Alec will never be rid of this character.

Hope Smith with Seren and Michael Shvo

Baldwin said they were raising money in increments of $500,000 as President and CEO of Tivity Health, Donato Tramuto, stood up to announce he was donating $1 million to combat bullies in the workplace. Tramuto remarked that because of bullies he has hearing loss in his ear and said that this problem cuts across everything. Scott Minerd, CIO of Guggenheim Partners, perhaps inspired by Tramuto, also committed $1 million to ensure “liberty and justice for all.”

Kate Mulgrew and Henry Schleiff

The evening raised more than $6 million in total, a record for this organization. It was now time for the awards with first honoree Bruce Broussard, President, and CEO of Humana Inc., a health insurance company with headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky speaking about the responsibility of making sacrifices to help others and improve the status quo while remarking that health was more than just health care. Broussard said there were four P’s that guided him in life: Persistence, Patience, Passion and Pepto Bismol.

Governor of NJ Phil Murphy

He was followed by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy who served as Ambassador to Germany under Obama from 2009 to 2013. Murphy enumerated the changes he was enacting in Jersey and said he wanted to change the minimum wage from $8.60 to $15. The last two honorees were the evening’s highlight as Tom Brokaw introduced David Zaslav remarking that the reason David is so ambitious is because his last name begins with “Z” and he decided he never wanted to be last again. Brokaw said NBC suffered a terrible loss when Zaslav moved to Discovery 12 years ago but said that Zaslav’s 18 channels around the world had brought him from “Z” to “A” in a lifetime.

Erica Zaslav, Honoree David Zaslav and Ken Zaslav

We were then shown an expertly produced video where Jane Goodall, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Nancy Pelosi spoke about Zaslav’s integrity and work ethic. Spielberg sent him a “Mazal Tov” via film and said he and David visited Auschwitz and were now collaborating on a six-hour documentary delving into the origins of hatred. Zaslav, 58, said being of Eastern European Jewish descent his family was forced to emigrate to the United States and he can remember being an 8-year old in Brooklyn and his father weeping at the kitchen table because Robert Kennedy had been assassinated.

Robert Kennedy Jr. and Cheryl Hines

Zaslav remarked that the fight against discrimination and hate goes on in the US and around the world not with armies and weapons but rather with media content which is more powerful. He observed that content should be used to deal with hate and global warming as Discovery was not a media company but a mission company. Zaslav’s Discovery channel is viewed by over 1 billion people a day, and his twelve-year reign continues to reach greater heights. His program “Planet Earth” calls attention to the fact that 50 percent of the animals that were alive when we were born will be gone by the era of our grandchildren and Zaslav plans on producing more pivotal content dealing with environmental issues.

Chris Tucker, Juan Williams, Darrell Green and Keegan Michael Kay

On a more personal note, Zaslav remarked that he wishes his father, who died nine months ago, could have attended but was glad his mother Gloria was at the dinner. He referred to the evening as a second bar mitzvah and thanked his wife Pam who he met when he was 16 – although it took him 10 years to “close the deal.” He then introduced the Vy Higginsen Harlem Choir who sang “this land is our land.”

Bon Jovi and Lieba.Nesis

It wasn’t until 10 PM that President Obama spoke and he sent a message of unity and optimism remarking that we had more in common than tore us apart. Obama joked that he had his “hope credentials” since he was always speaking about hope and therefore it was apropos for him to be honored at the “Ripple of Hope” Gala. The President also said that there were “Ripples of Progress,” and he was encouraged by recent elections which voted in more women and new gun laws that seek to halt gun violence. He harkened back to 50 years ago when Bobby Kennedy held a child or elderly person’s hand and the incredible progress that has been achieved since that time.

John McEnroe and Patty Smyth

Obama’s message was unabashedly positive without any negative remarks about the current administration or state of affairs. His twenty-minute speech received a rousing standing ovation as guests headed to the foyer for a dessert table that was equally pleasurable.

– 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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