After my last blog, I said I would next blog on urban gardening, but instead I feel the need to share details of a recent memorable evening.
A little less than two weeks ago, we hosted our inaugural Journey for Change: Empowering Youth Through Global Service graduation celebration. As our amazing Journey for Change Ambassadors completed a year of service, advocacy, and educational activities, the entire Angelrock Project team wanted to make sure they were able to celebrate this accomplishment with their families and know how proud we were of each and every participant. It was also an opportunity to invite them to become a part of The Journey for Change Alumni club.
What we did not know is how spectacular it would be in every possible way. The evening was made possible by the Time Warner Foundation and we could not be more appreciative. The Time Warner Center has a beautiful screening room and a stunning reception room overlooking Central Park which we utilized for the event. We had two main components to our program – to award our graduates with certificates given to them by leaders in the fields of art, education, publishing, and business and to present them with their genealogy results.
The evening was hosted by journalist and cultural critic Lola Ogunnaike, who is not only a true talent but is incredibly generous as well. She truly connected with the mission of the evening, set a perfect tone for the night, and made everyone feel welcome.
We started the evening by showing a video montage generously produced pro bono by Charles Kliment of Kaja Circle which was a compilation of a video from South African Tourism, that was a beautiful visual display of the sights and sounds of the country, a special CNN Journey for Change segment, that was posted on CNN.com only and is amazing as it focuses on HIV/AIDS in the country, and a segment from PBS’s African American Lives 2, focusing on Chris Rock’s ancestry, hosted by Henry Lewis Gates, Jr.
We then moved into the graduation ceremony. This was a joy for me because we invited some of the most prestigious people from the fields of art, education, science, and business to present the graduation certificates to our young Ambassadors. It was important to me that our presenters talk about their careers and how they managed to succeed in their chosen field so as to expose our Ambassadors to the different career opportunities available to them. Our group of presenters included: Dr. Joyce Brown, President, Fashion Institute of Technology; Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator, The Studio Museum of Harlem; Dr. Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith, Provost & Senior Vice President, York College; Stacy Morrison, Editor in Chief, Redbook Magazine; Mikki Taylor, Beauty Director, Essence Magazine; Gina Paige, President, African Ancestry, Ric Ramsey, President, LEAD; Tracy Reese, President & Designer, T.R. Designs; Dr. Thomas Schutte, President, Pratt Institute; and Timothy White, acclaimed celebrity photographer. As each presenter took the podium, they shared information on their background and gave words of wisdom and advice, as well as pertinent facts on their career trajectory. They all had such inspirational stories and it really gave the evening a special personal touch to have them there.
As I have mentioned in earlier blogs, Professor Gates gave our Ambassadors, perhaps, one of the greatest gifts possible. He and his team presented each of them with their genealogy results from the swabs we took earlier this summer from kits provided by Family Tree DNA. Click here to see pictures. From these precious swabs their DNA was tested by Family Tree DNA, African DNA, and African Ancestry. Professor Gates was on hand to announce the results, adding humor and charm to the night, along with telling our Ambassadors not only the country of their ancestry but most often also their exact tribes. It was so beautiful to hear all of the different countries our ambassadors came from, ranging from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and Ireland. We were also so proud to have quite a number of ambassadors who are descendent from various Native American tribes. That night I also learned that my lineage traces to the Ibo people in Nigeria. It is such a gratifying and intense feeling to learn my own heritage. I’m already planning my trip to Nigeria to see my culture and heritage! I wanted to link to the companies who helped us with this momentous task, because you too, can trace your heritage no matter what your race or background.
Following the ceremony, we all headed over to the reception that was filled with South African music, delicious South African food, and a wonderful performance by Juxtapower, a South African dance troupe who did both traditional boot and Zulu dances.
The graduation ceremony would never have been as successful as it was without the tremendous support and generosity of our Journey For Change Angel Sponsors. First and foremost, the Time Warner Foundation was gracious enough to not only host the evening for us, but supplied the wonderful South African cuisine as well. Their team truly went above and beyond to put this event together and we enjoyed working with each and every one of them. Dwight Johnson of Dwight Johnson Design lent his special event services to coordinate the program and his wonderful staff helped keep the evening running smoothly. Additionally, Richard Menage was my graphic angel who designed everything from the invitation, to the journal, the letters and certificates for the Ambassadors, and all of the signage. As mentioned earlier, Charles Kliment of KAJA Circle was our video angel and Ken Fredman of State of the Art Consulting put together our photo montage for the reception. Julie Skarratt, a phenomenally talented and sought after photographer was on-hand and took gorgeous photos over the course of the night. Click here to visit Julie’s blog to see some shots from the evening and more of her work. Thank you to the Salvation Army Greater New York Division for printing our journals which came out great. I truly cannot thank Tracy Reese enough. When I approached her about being a presenter for the evening, she immediately came back to me to not only say she would present but she was going to gift each of our female Ambassadors with a new dress for the night. It didn’t stop there as two days later she reached out to John Bartlett who gifted each of our male ambassadors with a new suit! Our kids looked spectacular thanks to these two designers. Thank you! And speaking of the suits, two more angels, Joe and Natalia of House of Dani, custom tailored each suit. A big thank you to David Chin and his styling team who helped our Ambassadors get dressed and accessorized for the evening. Also, a shout out to my personal stylists Keith Neal and Elena George who made our girls sparkle and shine through their hair and make-up magic! Another angel, Annie Hausmann, who I’ve named the “gift bag queen,” put together 150 gift filled with wonderful items in a few hours. And lastly, an enormous thank you to all our volunteers and interns who came to ensure the night was a success. As you can see, this ceremony would never have come together without each and every person who helped out. Not only was the ceremony a celebration of the journey our Ambassadors have been on, but it was a testament to the love and support for them from a village of people who care about their futures.
As I reflect back on the year since our trip to South Africa, it’s hard to believe how time flies. When I first approached The Salvation Army Greater New York Region, Journey for Change was just an idea. In such a short time not only have our Ambassadors learned about travel, service and advocacy, but I have had the privilege of seeing positive changes in each and every one of them. Be it dependability and retention at our Journey for Change events, improvement in academic grades, opening up and coming out of their shells, or just a general positive outlook on their futures, the changes have been magnificent. It has been some year and I cannot think of a better way to end their year as Global Ambassadors than with this spectacular night.
Peace and blessings,