The University of Pennsylvania held its Athletic Hall of Fame Class VIII induction ceremony, where Dr. Willis Cummings, a former Harlem dentist, was inducted. The induction was well-deserved and long overdue.
Prior to enrolling in the University’s School of Dentistry as one of two African-Americans out of 259 candidates in the class of 1919, Cummings earned a bachelor’s degree from Fisk University in 1916. In 1918, Cummings became the first African-American captain of the Penn cross-country team–the first African-American captain of a varsity program for any team at any school in the Ivy League.
Needless to say, as a Black man, he had many hurdles to cross, as his accomplishments more often than not were ignored by the school and its opponents. In fact, the only recognition he did get was from the schools that refused to compete against the team as long as they had an African-American on the roster. Even Penn showed its resistance by refusing to take a 1918 team photo.
Resilient and unfazed, Cummings kept his eye on the prize. He was a founding member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Psi chapter on Penn’s campus and went on to become one of Harlem’s premier dentists. His practice was located on Seventh Avenue and 138th Street.
Accepting the plaque in Cummings’ honor was D. Elton Cochran-Fikes. Cochran-Fikes is also from Harlem; he went to Rice High School and then traveled on to Penn. He ran at Penn and became the fastest African-America miler, when he ran 3:55 for the mile in 1974. He is now an associate athletic director at Penn.
Many of you may know his mom, Ella Dufau, who is still a Harlem resident. She once owned a wig store at 30 W. 125th St. back in the ’60s and ’70s.
The Columbia University Teacher’s College (TCCS) elementary school, located on 133rd Street and Fifth Avenue, is holding a fundraiser at Hue-Man Bookstore, at 124th Street and Eighth Avenue, on Wednesday, May 23, and it promises not to be your ordinary fundraiser.
TCCS parent Deborah Copaken Kogan will be there to read from and discuss her new book, “The Red Book,” a New York Times bestselling novel. Proceeds from the book will be donated to the school. Refreshments will be served (including wine).
Meanwhile, Christina Lewis Halpern, daughter of the late Reginald Lewis, held court at the Schomburg Library American Theater to discuss her book, “Lonely at the Top,” a memoir about her journey through Harvard University and her father’s journey. It’s a fascinating story and makes you realize everyone has their struggles in life.
Condolences to Beverly Baker and family, whose husband, father and son, Jesse, recently passed away. Jesse was a popular face around New York Civil Court, where he was a landlord-tenant litigator. Born Feb. 7, 1952, Jesse grew up in Highstown, N.J. After graduating with honors from Highstown High, he went on to attend Princeton University with a full academic scholarship. Jesse graduated from Hofstra University Law School with a J.D. and master’s of business administration in 1979. He leaves behind sons Donnell and Jonathan and baby girl Leah.
As a couple, the Bakers were known for hosting fabulous parties at their Englewood estate. The mansion was always festively decorated, depending on the season. Of course, there was always a scrumptious buffet with an equally delicious array of desserts. Musical entertainment sometimes included a live band.
I recall one New Year’s Day gala where I wore a long black taffeta skirt. I loved that skirt. Unfortunately, I only wore it once and can’t imagine where it could be now, though I doubt it would fit anymore.
Another party was held in late August. It was early evening and everyone was lounging around the pool when the mood turned from fun to somber as news of Princess Diana’s death spread across throughout the house.
Personally, after watching a news clip of Princess Diana touring a war-torn country in Africa and holding a little African girl whose legs were blown off when she stepped on one of the bombs planted by the enemy throughout the countryside where she was playing, I became a huge fan of the princess. I remember thinking, she’s a princess, why would she chose to go to Africa, where she could possibly step on a bomb herself? I was so inspired by her when I learned that she was spokesperson for the American Red Cross (ARC) that I decided to take some courses with ARC and learn more about the operation.
The party soon ended after that and it was to be the last party I ever attended at the Baker household. However, I never forgot their warm hospitality and generosity.
Oh! You will never guess what I found? Wedding dresses, beautiful but slightly worn, at Housing Works located on Broadway between 96 and 97th Street. Some were so gorgeous it made me want to get married all over again. They also had shoes and elbow-length lace gloves to match. The prices were unbelievably low at under $100. And when I think about what I paid for my dress; I had the hardest time finding shoes and bridesmaid dresses. Yes, they even had bridesmaid dresses.
Now it may not be your ideal place to shop, but for the bride on a budget it’s good to know you can still look like a million.
Until next week…kisses.