Last week I reported the passing of Eric Von Zip, who has now been laid to rest, but not before going out in true Von Zip style. Once part owner of the Blackrock music label, Eric was proud to have songstress Aaliyah on his roster before she tragically died in an airplane accident in 2001.

As he was well-liked by many, scores passed through the doors of Benta’s Funeral Home to pay their last respects, including Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, Lil’ Kim and Big Joe. People flew in from as far away as California and represented the Midwest and Chicago as well. Anyone who passed by Benta’s on the day of his wake knew that someone “big” had passed away.

Following the wake, a horse-drawn carriage took him through Harlem, down Seventh Avenue to pass his old club, Zip Code, and then to the final stop at 118th Street, where it all began and had ended. The funeral was held at the mosque on 96th Street and Third Avenue, where Mike Tyson came to pay his last respects. The repast was held at the Hudson Grill, where the champagne flowed.

Left to cherish his memory are his sisters Elece and Sandra; his seven children Keisha, Earl, Erica, Martini, Eric Jr., Elan and Equan; his grandchildren; aunt Dottie; uncle Nat; and a host of cousins, nephew, nieces and, needless to say, friends.

Joseph “Joe” Fleming Esq., another popular and beloved community figure, also recently passed away. The funeral, scheduled for Monday, Sept. 10, at Abyssinian Baptist Church, had not yet occurred at the time of this writing. Details on the life and times of Fleming will appear in next week’s column.

Now that the summer madness is over, fall is finally in the air. While I’ve yet to taste one of the crisp, juicy apples that are usually in season by now, I have seen a pumpkin patch, made a delicious pumpkin pie, and–heavens, dare I say it–it won’t be long before the holiday season is upon us.

What is upon us is a slew of birthdays. Beginning with Sept. 1, there was Cleston Lord, Geddes Bux, Lisa Dale, Paul Raffizin, Deloris Coombs, Michael Dutton, Carol Chaoui, Brad Johnson, Dylan Means, Nina “Pooh” DeWees, straight through to the end of the month with Gwynne Wilcox on the 30th. Stuck in the middle of the month is Julia Angelee Mitchell, who turned 7 years old.

Celebrating with Julia were just a few close friends at Chuck E. Cheese on 124th Street. In attendance were Jordan Bracey, Miles and Jackson Dutton, Kendall Tillary, Autumn Rattray, Dylan and Amani Means, Kimora Latrece, Sydney Singleton and Harmon James. I don’t know how many of you have been to Chuck E. Cheese, but it is an experience. Served along with games, laughter, music and fun, the food was good and the chocolate birthday cake out of this world. I was hoping to take home some leftovers, but no such luck. Maybe next year I’ll order two cakes.

Apologies go out to our very own Dr. Gerald Deas, who personally gave me an invitation to the Labor Day weekend art exhibition opening of “How Great Thou Art,” featuring the bronze, clay, wood and metal sculptures of JA’CO. I was so sorry to have missed the exhibit, as I am sure the event was positively breathtaking. Not all is lost though, as you can visit the artist’s website for visuals of his work at Interesting.

Looking absolutely fabulous at the third annual Diversity Affluence Brunch & Awards were B. Smith and her husband, Dan Gasby. The event, held at the Sag Harbor restaurant bearing B. Smith’s name, honored three distinguished leaders in the area of civil rights activism, minority business and media entrepreneurship, and the advancement of diversity. Respectively they are Marc Morial, CEO, National Urban League; Donna Byrd, publisher,; and Laurence Boschetto, CEO and president, Draftfcb. The event was sponsored by Baume & Mercier, JPMorgan Chase, Draftfcb and Belvedere Vodka. So naturally, each honoree received a Baume & Mercier watch and the guests drank Belvedere Vodka. No, JPMorgan didn’t hand out checks–shucks!

Enjoying the fun were Dale Mason Cochran; style icon Shala Monroque; philanthropist Sherry Bronfman; entertainment attorney Kojo Bentil; Steven Board, executive director of 100 Black Men of America Inc.; Susan Taylor, former editor-in-chief of Essence magazine; designer Kevin Michael Barba; and Justin Troy of the New York Giants, just to name a few.

Fear and anxiety. They make us do things we would never in our right minds do. Listening to our first lady of the United States of America, I learned something we can all do to help when times of despair and hopelessness descend upon us. Rely on your values–on decency, dignity, integrity, honesty and doing the right thing.

Fear and anxiety makes us shut down. Refuse to shut down, open up, allow yourself to breathe, to trust, to stop and think. Before you know it, it will be Election Day. Now is the time to make sure you and everyone you know is registered to vote.

As our President Barack Obama has advised, together we can get through the hard economic times and help our country to grow rich in opportunity for everyone. In the spirit of the Republicans, you’re on your own. The choice is yours; choose wisely.

Until next week … kisses.

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