An American Story

Featured image
Looking south from the edge of The Lake in Central Park towards the Central Park South skyline.

Monday, March 18, 2019. Bright sunshine with masses of clouds moving through on yesterday’s St. Patrick’s Day in New York. Temperatures were in the 44s with a brrr factor, after our heavenly past mid-week when they reached up into the low 70s.

NYPD marching up Fifth Avenue at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Saturday afternoon.

The social lions roaring this past week were decidedly a different cut than of any would-be Mrs. Astor. The party of parties (you could definitely call it that) was the opening of the enormous development project is called Hudson Yards this past Friday.

Its name comes from back in the day when railroads were the fastest link to anywhere, covering acres and acres of railroad tracks and their cars at briefly rest. Railroad tracks no more, it’s one man’s $25 billion dream development, and it’ll be mammoth when its finished. That man is Stephen Ross, known as a mega-developer who also created the Time-Warner Center. He also counts the Miami Dolphins as well as the Hard Rock Stadium, among his souvenirs of success.

There were about a dozen parties celebrating the “opening” of Hudson Yards, although it still has a long way to go.
The view looking east from Fifteen Hudson Yards.

I first heard about it earlier in the week when people were asking if I were going to the “opening.” These were people whose openings are usually the opera, the ballet or so-and-so’s party-of- the-year. Everyone seemed very excited about it. At first I thought they were kidding.

The project has been well covered since inception on the business pages. It is a real estate developer’s wildest dream come true. (Except maybe with the exception of a single NYC real estate developer named Harry Macklowe whose dream came true last week when he married Patricia Landeau. and celebrated with 200 friends and family on the 78th floor of his once “tallest building in New York” – 432 Park.) Mr. Macklowe didn’t draw masses of crowds of course since it was a wedding reception. Although he did garner national mega-media attention.

The happy couple.

I did not attend either of these mega-media “social” events but I know dozens and dozens who did. Mr. Ross’ “reception” was certainly the biggest draw of all. (Thousands.) One day, when finished, “the Yards” it will be a little city unto itself, the nabe of nabes.

Now, if we could fill up the hundreds and hundreds of empty storefronts all over the five boroughs including the internationally famous, super-luxury shopping lane called Madison Avenue, we should be all set.

Meanwhile, last Wednesday night at Cipriani Wall Street, Literacy Partners held their annual black tie, fund-raising Evening of Readings Gala. Literacy Partners was started in 1987 by Liz Smith, Arnold Scaasi and Parker Ladd is a charity that offers free literacy programs to adults and families.

I don’t know who had the original common sense idea first. Both Arnold and Parker told me stories about the results of their work. Arnold once told a good story about a man who thought he was about to woo a woman, sitting close together on the sofa in her apartment, when she suggested they play Scrabble at which point he had to tell her that he could neither read nor write. She shortly thereafter lost interest in him. His loss, however, spurred him to join classes run by Literacy Partners, and he turned his life around.

Guests about to take their seats.

There was also the UPS worker who took the mail home at night so that his brother could help him sort it. He always wore bandages on his hands, pretending that he had burned them, so that he never had to fill out forms in public. Then there was the bike messenger who couldn’t read street signs, and memorized the city visually. Parker even had a story about the CEO of a large company who could not read menus and only ever ordered the spoken specials.

The ingenuity of illiterate adults speaks volumes about their resourcefulness, and their daily shame. ‘What touches me,” Arnold recalled at the time, “is that they are usually very intelligent, intelligent enough to think up these excuses.”

In New York City alone, there are 1.2 million adults over 21 years old who cannot read and write at the 8th grade level. That’s 21% of the total adult population. Illiteracy is most common among older adults. However, immigrants in their 20s and 30s come to New York, fleeing impoverished, with minimal education in the language are candidate for Literacy Partners.

Thursday night I was host at the Evening of Readings, with 500 attending. The readers were, presented in order: Andrew Tisch, who co-edited with Mary Skafidas, a new book – “Journeys: An American Story” published in association with the New-York Historical Society, about a variety of essays by New Yorkers about their family’s immigration stories.

After Andrew came Tayari Jones, a professor of Creative Writing at Emory University who recently published the New York Times bestseller “An American Marriage” about a “moving portrayed of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple. Oprah Winfrey is producing the film version. Then Preet Bharara, former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009 to 2017 and is now Scholar in Residence at the NYU School of Law read from his new book “Doing Justice: a Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment and the Rule of Law.”

DPC at the podium introducing …
Andrew Tisch.
Tayari Jones.

Preet Bharara.

Sir Howard Stringer who once was a popular figure on the New York scene when he was Chairman of Sony US, introduced his old friend Lesley Stahl presenting her with the 7th annual Lizzie Award (named after you-know-who).

After Lesley’s thank you, there was an auction, ably and effectively led by Sotheby’s Co-Chairman Hugh Hildesley which raised $100,000. Then came dinner.

Lesley Stahl accepting her Lizzie Award from Sir Howard Stringer.
Lesley Stahl at podium.
C. Hugh Hildesley

After dinner Andrew Levine of Scholastic, Inc., introduced Andrea Davis Pinkney, a New York Times best-selling author and also Vice President and Executive Editor of Scholastic. Ms. Pinkney read from “Martin Rising, Requiem for a King” — a poetic presentation of the final months of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, on which she collaborated with her husband, illustrator/artist Brian Pinkney.

Andrea Davis Pinkney.

To top of the evening, Literacy Directors Alina Cho and Jeff Sharp presented Gicela Jarquin who appeared on stage with her four small children. She spoke about having a difficult childhood. Her mother and grandmother never paid much attention to her. there was no love in the house. No one ever read to her growing up. She felt worthless.

Jeffrey Sharp and Alina Cho.
Student reader Gicela Jarquin.
Student reader Gicela Jarquin with her 4 children.

However, Gicela triumphed thanks to Literacy Partners. She reads to each of her 4 children every night. And when she was asked to be honored at Literacy Partners she was scared and didn’t want to do it but her 9-year-old son told her she had to do it and that she was very brave. She also talked about how much she cherished her own family. Sitting in the audience you cherished them. And their wonderful mother.

Corporate honoree Mike Steib.

The final words came from Corporate Honoree Mike Steib, CEO of XO group, who reminded us how many of us in the room were “born lucky” and when we have the opporountiy to help we must. Mike did just that by making a $100,000 donation to Literacy Partners. Talk about putting your money where mouth is.

The evening raised $1.1 million for Literacy Partners work.

Andrew Tisch, Wes Moore, Mary Skafidas, and Jonathan Crystal.

Roma Mansukhani, Kemp Steib, and Mike Steib.
Kierstin Lederer, Kemp Steib, Jenny Galluzzo, Sara Horowitz, and Lauren Epstein.

DPC, Paige Peterson, and JH
Tina Keane, Jesse Kornbluth, Lisa Schultz, Kelsy Claire Ford and Joe Ford
Lena Tabori, Dr. Ezriel Kornel, and Tina Keane

And last Tuesday night at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, in a concert sung in a chorales of youth of ages ranging from ages 6 to 16, completely a pleasure of watching and listening to The Young People’s Chorus of New York City (YPC) with its “Listen to the Music” Gala.

Hosted by Elizabeth Núñez and featuring more than 400 of YPC’s award-winning choristers, it was a spectacular evening of music and dance. All presented with the joy and freshness of youth. The evening was conducted by Artistic Director and Founder Francisco J. Núñez, in a musically diverse program directed by Jacquelyn Bird, which included an excursion back to the sounds of “The Seventies.”

Nmon Ford, YPC choreographer Jacquelyn Bird; Ashley Brown; Artistic Director Francisco J. Nunez; Assoc. Artistic Director and gala host Elizabeth Nunez; and Associate Conductor Sophia Papoulis
Francisco Nunez congratulates Alexa Suskin – executive director of The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation – on receiving YPC’s 2019 Humanitarian Award
YPC Chairman of the Board Adam Chinn congratulates Laura Schwab, president of Aston Martin The Americas on receiving YPC’s 2019 Corporate Leadership Award

Helping to celebrate the occasion, the choristers were joined by special guests Nmon Ford, fresh from his recent triumph in Bernstein’s Mass at Mostly Mozart last summer, and Ashley Brown, who originated the role of Mary Poppins on Broadway.

After the concerte there was a celebratory dinner in the Ballroom of the Mandarin Oriental, where Mr. Núñez honored the extraordinary generosity and support of two dynamic women. He first presented YPC’s Humanitarian Award to Alexa Davidson Suskin, Executive Director of The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation, whose support has made YPC’s home across from Lincoln Center possible and who is also supporting the work of YPC National.

YPC choristers and guest artist Ashley Brown perform a medley from “Mary Poppins,” the role Ashley Brown originated on Broadway
Guest artist baritone Nmon Ford performs excerpts from Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass”

Maestro Nunez then presented YPC’s Corporate Leadership Award to Laura Schwab, President of Aston Martin-The Americas. Because of their mutual commitment to excellence, YPC and Aston Martin are collaborating on a program to strength opportunities for young people.

To begin the evening, Adam Chinn, Chairman of the YPC Board, shared some exciting news with the audience: the announcement of YPC National, an independent non-profit organization to create and develop YPC-inspired youth choruses nationwide.

Click on this link for more information. The result that keeps us going back for more is the joy these children and young people share with any audience. Good for what ails ‘ya.

YPC’s littlest singers perform “Don’t Stop Me Now”
YPC performs “Dancing Queen”
YPC’s Young Men perform “Staying Alive”
The big finale with over 400 choristers on stage

Ben Rosser/ (Literacy Partners); Stephanie Berger (YPC)

Recent Posts