Lovely ladies at the Gala. Dorothy Nyongo and Lupita Nyongo.
Photo Credit: Julie Skarratt
Harlem School of The Arts (HSA) is so amazing that its accomplishments should be inscribed with superlatives. Founded in 1964 by internationally acclaimed concert soprano Dorothy Maynor at a time when Harlem was in the throes of socio-economic crises, with high levels of poverty and non-existing cultural resources for its young people, she believed that world-class training in the arts that stimulates the child, strengthens the family and gives pride of ownership to a community will change this trajectory.
Fifty-five years later HSA continues its exemplary growth as an iconic institution. On October 21, HSA held its fifth annual Masquerade Ball & After Party at the Plaza Hotel- a celebration and fundraising soiree attended by loyal patrons who value the transformative role that HSA plays in the lives of students and their families. Layered on the evening’s joie de vivre was the institution’s recent ground-breaking “Renaissance Project,” a $9.5 million upgrade underwritten by the institution’s unwavering philanthropist, The Herp Albert Foundation–a nod to the 100th Anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance. “The house that Dorothy built” from humble beginnings in the basement of St. James Presbyterian Church continues to soar.
All 400 tickets to the event were sold- the Plaza’s ballroom was filled with elegantly attired guests. Contributions exceeded $1 million, ensuring that this esteemed institution will continue to maintain the high level of quality programs that have transformed the lives of over 10,000 young people since its inception. The event’s fundraising success is a validation that the HSA’s exceptional history of a 100% college acceptance rate for their pre-professional students, 95% specialized arts schools’ acceptance and their mission to provide word-class training and exposure to the arts across multiple disciplines is deserving of our support.
True to its ethos, HSA’s “Mask Ball” honors and attracts some of the most renowned individuals in the arts and entertainment industry. Walking the red carpet were this year’s honorees, Academy Award Winning Actress, Lupita Nyongo and her mother Dorothy Nyongo, First Lady of Kisumu County and Managing Trustee of Africa Cancer Foundation- both recipients of the Visionary Lineage Award. Michelle Ebanks, CEO Essence Communications who received the Dorothy Maynor Award and Racquel Oden, Managing Director, Northeast Division of JP Morgan Chase, recipient of the Betty Allen Corporate Award. Also present were Actress Lorraine Toussaint (OITNB), Actor Atandwa Kani (Black Panther), Moana Luu (Chief Content & Creative Director, Essence), Trevor Noah (Comedian) and We McDonald (HSA Alum, NBC’s The Voice) among others. While the red carpet dazzled, a bevy of HSA’s students embodying the “Mask Ball” accoutre in azure-tinted bodysuits, masked-faces and plumed headpieces, sashayed and meandered their lithe bodies between guests in the reception hall, adding to the whimsical and delightful theme of the event.
“Each recipient was selected based on their leadership and exemplary accomplishments in their field as well as their commitment to service in the community,” explained Eric G. Pryor, President of HSA. “They exemplify what is possible when you aim for excellence. They have all carved new pathways and shown their mastery through perseverance and determination.”
In her acceptance speech Lupita spoke to the need for arts institutions such as the HSA that were lacking in her native Kenya, while her Mom expressed how proud she is of her daughter’s accomplishment which she fully supports. Michele Eubanks highlighted the fact that black women are leading even dominant in many sectors such as business ownership, while Racquel Oden emphasized the need to support these women and why in her position at JP Morgan Chase she’s committed to initiatives that will financially benefit them.
Fox 5 anchor Lori Stokes hosted the event for yet another year. Sharing the podium in his role as co-host, pre-teenager HSA student Jabari King displayed the confidence, charm and intelligence that defines the institution’s alumni. While dining, guests were treated to special performances by HSA’s students of dance, voice and music. The HSA’s Alumi All-Stars featuring Desmond Scaife Jr. on vocals and Majid Khaliq on the violin opened with an ovation-worthy rendition of George Benson’s “The Masquerade”.
This wonderfully pleasant evening concluded with the After Party in the Plaza’s Terrace Room, where guests donned masks while they savored drinks and deliciously decadent desserts designed to induce a high while they danced the night away.