There’s magic in the air, winter’s disappeared, green grass everywhere—it’s summer. Catchy as that sounds, I have to admit I did not make up the phrase. It’s the chorus from one of the Temptations’ hit songs, “It’s Summer,” from the album “Psychedelic Shake” (get back). I heard the song played on satellite radio, where radio DJ Jeff Foxx was rocking the box. DJs are legends, reminding us of indelible times in lives, evoking a smile, laughter or a tear. They spread the news, present a perspective and sum it up, like a cherry on top with a song.
In honor of the men and women who went to war and gave their lives for this country so that we may know freedom, this Memorial Day affected me more than most. Maybe it is because the first quarter of this year has caused me to expend an unusual amount of energy and emotion (which really isn’t different from any other year come to think of it). But whatever the reason, my energy level was especially low, causing me to sit back and relax, and so I did. People across the United States are confronted with so many issues that seriously affect our mere existence that we can’t remember what it is we’re supposed to be grateful for.
The old adage, “You never miss the water ‘til the well runs dry,” comes to mind as I compare our life here in America to life in other countries around the world. While “relaxing,” I read several articles in The New York Times about the reign of the dreaded Taliban and al-Qaida. What the war has done to the lives of people such as those from a tiny unknown province called Helmand, innocent women, children and men whose only desire is to live in peace, is unimaginable. Compared with our way of life, theirs is a nightmare. Hard to believe, we have the freedom to do something to proliferate Black Live Matter and #MeToo, and the list goes on. We have the freedom to fight the battles most meaningful to us, along with the freedom to decide the manner in which we chose to rebel. For others around the world, who must bear unconceivable atrocities, the only freedom they have is to do or die.
J. Kael Weston, a former State Department official, has authored a new book, “The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan.” I will admit, the reading is a little too heavy for me but I can respect his sympathies, remembering on Memorial Day not only Americans but also Iraqis and Afghans who have died fighting on the side of the United States. An Afghan general named Mohiuddin Ghori is described by Weston as a “vital link” in the fight against the Taliban, asking nothing in return for his help but a wheelchair for his disabled son. He was killed in a helicopter crash while flying from Herat Province to Badghis Province in 2016. Paying tribute, Weston stated, “In the Rocky Mountains of Utah and Colorado, the region I come from and returned to after the wars, I have carved some foreign names into the trunks of towering Aspen trees. They are names we should know and not forget.”
America has many wrongs that need to be made right. The balancing act between standing up for the many Americans who are hurt, suffering, denied, abused and oppressed and being grateful that we live in a nation where we have so much to be thankful for is a tough challenge. Nevertheless, it is a challenge we must accept, and so I gave thanks and said a silent prayer this past Memorial Day for all who gave their lives so that I can have mine.
The atrocities within foreign societies and against women are too horrific to follow on a continuous basis, and you can only take in a little at a time. We Americans have the freedom to turn our attention to the brighter side of life, such as the Royal Wedding. Besides making a monumental statement, marking a change in history to which we all can bear witness, to me, it’s a fairy tale come true. A Black choir, the invocation of Bishop Curry, a beautiful Black mother of the bride all put together by a beautiful Black girl—that’s history, that’s freedom.
Soon the first campers head off for an outer city summer experience, thanks to the Fresh Air Fund. Yes, it is that time again. The experience never gets old for the youngsters, their parents or the families that look forward to hosting inner city kids on farms, in the countryside or in the midst of fresh air. Thanks to the Jerome L Greenwood Foundation, every dollar given from now until the first day of camp, June 27, will be matched. You can do it—that’s freedom.
Not waiting until June 27, the Fresh Air Fund hosted its annual Spring Benefit. Welcoming more than 500 guests to the Ziegfeld Ballroom, nearly $1.7 million was raised to benefit the cause that serves nearly 1.8 million New York City children. Seen having a wonderful time were Darryl Rattray, former NY Giant Tiki Barber, Kimberly Steward, Georgina Bloomberg (the former mayor’s daughter) and William P. Lauder (Estee’s son), who is chairman of the board of directors.
Studio Museum of Harlem curator Thelma Bolden was spotted at the Whitney Museum Gala, where Lorna Simpson was one of the honorees and Cynthia Erivo performed. Only a few days earlier, Mary J. Blige performed for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s Hot Pink Party held at the Park Avenue Armory.
Congratulations to Ken Knuckles, who has been CEO and president of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone since 2003. Knuckles has officially announced he will leave his post and retire at the end of June. Knuckles picked up the baton and ran with it when he assumed the post 15 years ago. We both fondly remember the date as he was coming in to take hold of the reigns while I was leaving to get married, an exciting time for both of us. UMEZ has only continued to flourish and grow in its support and revitalization of the Upper Manhattan community. Knuckles has so much to be proud of because the accomplishments that have taken place under his watch are as extensive as they are inspiring. He is proof positive of what can be done if only you believe. Leveraging investments of more than $1 billion of private capital investment, providing more than $85 million in commercial real estate loans and giving $94 million in grants focused on arts, culture and workforce development have been the foundation for the underserved community to rise and stabilize. Approximately 10,000 jobs have been created during Knuckles’ tenure, and under Blair Duncan, the incoming CEO and president, who will assume the position July 1, we can only expect to see more.
Until next week…kisses.