Attending the Minisink Gala are (l to r) Mannie Jackson, president, Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities Foundation; Elsie McCabe Thompson, president, New York City Mission Society, LTC Francis W. Kairson Jr. (Ret.), director emeritus, New York City Mission Society; and Cathy Hughes, founder and chairperson, Urban One, Inc. (261089)
Credit: (Photo courtesy of Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

While strolling through the park one day, in the merry, merry month of May, I was taken by surprise by a pair of roguish eyes, in a moment my poor heart was stole away (music and lyrics by Ed Haley). May Day, Cinco de Mayo, lilacs and gardenia plants, Northside Center’s annual gala, the official start of the summer social season, Memorial Day weekend—it’s all about to open.

Also happening was the 2018 New York City Mission Society Champions for Children Gala, held at the Mandarin Oriental ballroom. Complete with cocktail hour, dinner, presentations and dancing, this event had to be one of the most engaging galas of the season. It was as inspirational as it was entertaining. The excitement was raised right from the beginning as honorees graced the red carpet. Those having photo ops with Mission Society President Elsie McCabe Thompson, wife of Bill Thompson, included Cathy Hughes, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award, Mannie Jackson, who received the Dina Merrill Hartley Public Service Award, and gala Co-Chairs Katrina Peebles, Jean Shafiroff and Leah Rumbough.

Guests were ushered into the ballroom for dining to the drumming provided by the students of the New York City Mission Society GRIOT music program, followed by Alex Donner & His Orchestra. Master of ceremonies for the evening, with opening remarks, was longtime supporter WABC news anchor Bill Ritter. Special recognition was given to LTC Francis W. Kairson Jr. (Ret.), director emeritus, who recounted his early days as a participant of the Mission Society programs and camper at Camp Minisink. If you grew up in Harlem, you knew of Camp Minisink and of it being the highlight of the summer.

Kairson is a fine example of the type of character the Mission Society can build. Born and raised in New York City, he attended public schools before heading off to Howard University and Baruch College, earning degrees in electrical engineering and business administration. In 1968, he joined the U.S. Army and in a career of more than 28 years, he rose through the rank to lieutenant colonel, retiring in 1996. Among his many awards Kairson received the Black Heritage Civic Award from the New York branch of the NAACP. In 2009, he and his wife Barbara founded Franbar Associates, LP., which provides consultancy services in program evaluation, leadership training, proposal/grant-writing and development of community outreach programs. He is a member of the 100 Black Men Inc., Tuskegee Airmen Association and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Auctioneer, Hugh Hildesley, vice president of Sotheby’s, raised oodles for the cause as McCabe Thompson gave thanks for the support given over the years through the generations that has kept the NYC Mission Society thriving for more than 200 years. She also announced to the audience plans for the launch of the Minisink Charter School, which will be located in Central Harlem. According to McCabe Thompson, “The Minisink Charter School will offer a unique educational experience with small class sizes and standards-based, experiential learning, where each child is offered individual attention enabling them to achieve academic success. It will be a place where families are engaged in their children’s educational journey. This is an exciting, new chapter where we can truly shape even grander outcomes for our children.”

Speaking with heart-felt gratitude was Mannie Jackson, former professional basketball player and previous owner of the Harlem Globetrotters and now president of the Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities Foundation. Honoree Cathy Hughes was equally dynamic as having achieved remarkable strides. Hailing from Nebraska, Hughes is founder and chairperson of Urban One, Inc., the largest African-American owned and operated broadcast company in the nation. Her conglomerate spans radio, television and digital media. Her legacy includes being the first woman vice president and general manager of a Washington, D.C., station, where she revolutionized urban radio.

Hughes purchased her flagship station, WOL-AM, in 1980 and it has been all systems go ever since. She is credited for pioneering 24-hour talk from a Black perspective and served as the station’s morning show host for 11 years. By 1999, Hughes had become the first African-American woman to chair a publicly held corporation, launching Radio One into a multimedia company and urban radio market leader “with more than 60 stations,” ranking No. 1 in a major market. In 2016, Howard University named the Cathy Hughes School of Communications in her honor. Hughes couldn’t have been more gracious in her acceptance of the award, describing her humble beginnings before rising to the top.

Receiving the Corporate Profile Award was BNY Mellon. BNY Mellon is a global investment company that has provided financial services in 35 countries and more than 100 markets, for more than 230 years. Believing in the power of community, the company’s mission stands on three focus areas: “Our markets, our people and our world.”

International Flavors & Fragrances Inc., was also the recipient of the Corporate Profile Award for being a “leading innovator of sensorial experience that move the world.” According to their mission statement, “At the heart of our company, we are fueled by a sense of discovery, constantly asking, ‘What if?’ That passion for exploration drives us to co-create unique products that consumers taste, smell or feel…” The evening ended with a goody bag that included a gold plated bangle and a bottle of Estee Lauder perfume.

What you might not know about the New York City Mission Society is that the nonprofit has been a spring board for other nonprofits, dedicated to providing critical relief to families in need, such as the Fresh Air Fund, The Children’s Aid Society, the Community Service Society and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. Minisink Townhouse, located on West 142nd Street at Lenox Avenue (the site of the original Cotton Club) has a solid reputation for offering high-quality educational, youth-development and leadership programs. That is evident from its alum, who have gone on to become prominent civic and business leaders, athletes and artists both in New York City and around the world.

Just in case you missed that gala, it is not too late to attend the Take Wing and Soar Spirit of Excellence Gala Celebration & Awards, Saturday, May 5, noon to 5 p.m. at Lerner Hall Roone Arledge Auditorium at Columbia University, 115th Street and Broadway. The event is hosted by the board of directors, the Hon. Franc Perry, the Hon. Debra Ann Byrd and Stephanie Berry, along with honorary chairs, Voza Rivers, Barbara Montgomery and Tom Martin. The event promises to be an A-1 affair. Featured will be a red carpet photo and video press event, cocktail brunch and silent auction. Also featured will be “The Sable Series: The History of Black Shakespearean Actors.” Appearing will be Dathan B. Williams, Debra Ann Byrd and Tommie Thompson. Trezana Beverley and Michael Early are the mistress and master of ceremonies. Among the honorees are Stephen C. Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey, producers, Front Row Productions, receiving the Take Wing and Soar Community Leadership Award, and Condola Rashad, receiving the Jane White Woman of Excellence Theater Award.

Attire is festive. For more information, call 212-696-7222 or visit

Until next week…kisses.