One of the honorees at Monday evening’s Figure Skating in Harlem (FSH) gala was Bernice DeAbreu, who is regarded as the “Godmother of FSH.” About 30 years ago, DeAbreu asked Sharon Cohen to take a few girls in an after-school program in East Harlem skating. After several years of doing the work informally, Cohen joined with members of the Harlem community to launch FSH, an organization that serves girls ages six to 18 with skating, educational support, mentoring and self-esteem building.

“Bernice [FSH’s dean of students] has been the heart and soul and deep roots of this organization,” said Cohen. “We’re letting everybody know how important she has been.”

This year’s event marked the launch of a new initiative for the organization’s alumnae ages 18–30. It began this past Saturday when about 80 alumnae gathered for their first-ever official reunion. Two tables at Monday’s gala were filled with alumnae. A couple of months ago photographer and program alumna Flo Ngala photographed 25 of the alumnae for something FSH is calling the Gems Project. A behind-the-scenes video was shown at the gala.

“I couldn’t feel more proud to see where they are today and how they look back on the impact of the organization. It shows that with a positive intention the kids blossom,” said Cohen. 

One of the alumnae is Daria Forde, who participated in FSH from age 6–13 and then went off to boarding school. She studied computer science at Barnard College and is now a product manager for Groupon. “FSH allowed me to know I could really do anything,” said Forde, whose goal is to build a computer science curriculum for current FSH participants. 

This year’s graduating seniors were introduced to the audience, and a few current participants were on hand to do a spoken word performance. Among them was 10th grader Mahlah Abudu, who is in her sixth year with FSH. “Something that’s kept me in the program is the sisterhood and all the staff that motivates you,” Abudu said. “We have classes on public speaking. I’m confident in myself and my abilities.”

In addition to DeAbreu, the honorees were cosmetics industry innovator Esi Eggleston Bracey, venture capitalist Lorine Pendleton, Whoopi Goldberg, Valerie Simpson and Nathan Chen. Members of the U.S. Olympic figure skating team were on hand as were former skaters who’ve been supportive over these 25 years: Atoy Wilson (the first African American skater to win a U.S. title), Tai Babilonia, JoJo Starbuck, Paul Wylie and Timothy Goebel. 

“Everybody comes together for the girls and there’s a sense of common community,” said Cohen.

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