In October 2019, I co-chaired the Black Tie Masquerade Ball for the Harlem School of the Arts, a 55 year-old performing arts school of which I sit on the board of directors and chair the development committee. We annually reach about 10,000 children and adults teaching dance, music, theater and visual arts through our classes and workshops.
As reported in the New York Times, on this night, we raised almost $1.1 million dollars to support the social justice work we do. Our school is not only about teaching piano or how to use a 3-D printer, we are using arts education to tackle systemic problems facing our community. Research shows that students who participate in the rigorous discipline of performing arts education are twice as likely to graduate college, have significantly lower truancy and drop out rates than their peers and are 78% more likely to exercise his/her right to vote one day.
I am passionate about the education we provide at Harlem School of the Arts because, as a former theater kid in high school, I know first hand the positive impact creative stimulation can have on a child’s present and future success.
Our personal philanthropy is rooted in the idea that EVERY CHILD deserves access to quality education, teachers that care about them and programs that make them feel like human beings. We are children of middle class parents. We attended public schools. We are first generation in lots of things including college educated for me. We deeply understand that our story is impossible without community organizations like the Harlem School of the Arts. While attending Spelman and Morehouse, we learned that “to whom much is given, much is required.” We are honored to serve and give back to the community of which we owe so much.
Prior to the kick-off of the evening, I organized a photo shoot on 5th Avenue outside the dinner and after-party which was held at the famous New York Plaza Hotel. Here are some of the images to document one of my favorite fashion meets philanthropy moments of 2019.
Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back.” Back in June 2019, I called Michelle and Kerri from Prom Plus NYC to help me gather Raquel Oden’s friends and family to cheer her on as she accepted her award at the Harlem School of the Arts Gala. They enthusiastically and without hesitation agreed to help pack the room with Racquel’s friends and family while also raising money to support the school. They exceeded every goal, went above and beyond and then showed up to the joint looking fly as hell. Social justice work is a team sport and true sisterhood is one of life’s treasures.
Planning a gala in New York City is a gargantuan task including choosing the venue, finding honorees, creating an ambience, working with a press team, finalizing invitations and then the ever daunting task of “fundraising.” We are lucky to have an excellent partner in Dwight Johnson Design assisting with every task and making sure that we have a room worthy of the talented children and community that we serve.
When planning a major fundraiser in a place like New York City where organizations fight for space on the social calendar, one of the sticky details is figuring out how we get the right people in the room. I was grateful to call on my girls Renae Bluitt producer and founder of “In Her Shoes Blog” and Kéla Walker, storyteller and media host extraordinaire, to join us on this important night. In the day and age of major influencers, it’s tough for a non-profit school like ours with a small budget to attract relevant people. We were thankful to have Renae, Kéla and many others in the room supporting our talented students and spreading the word on why arts education is an important tool as we tackle the systemic problems facing our children and community.
Another goal as co-chair of this event was delivering our message outside the island of Manhattan and reaching people in other cities. We were blessed to have friends and family fly in from around the country to support our mission. History shows us that we are stronger together.
Through my work at the Apollo Theater with Jonelle Procope, I got involved in major philanthropy when I was 30 years old. This gave me a chance, early in my career, to figure out what issues matter most to me. As I learned the ins and outs of fundraising and planning events, I was also able to work with and build relationships with executives, industry leaders and community activists. Through my leadership role at Harlem School of the Arts, I now have the opportunity to build my own table and it’s important to pay it forward by creating spaces where younger people feel welcomed and seen. My go to gal pals for this are my little sisters in crime Chelsea Roberts and Chelsea Keyes, known affectionately as ”The Chels.” My heart was warmed that they agreed to join the Harlem School of the Arts Associates’ Board and buy tickets to attend the Gala. The evening (and my life in general) was and continues to be greatly impacted by their youthful energy, ideas and enthusiasm.
I could go on and on about this magical, glamorous and unforgettable New York City evening of philanthropy and fashion. After almost a year of work, it was truly wonderful to see it all come together in such a successful night. I do hope you enjoyed a sneak peak inside the gala and learning about the impact that Harlem School of the Arts delivers to our community.
As always, thank you for your support and for stopping by Jackie Unfiltered. And, as I know the question is on your mind, yes, we have already begun planning for 2020. I will let you know as soon as details are ready to share. The work continue…