Photo Essay: NY Metro-Manhattan Chapter of the Links Biennial Benefit Gala

Photo Essay: NY Metro-Manhattan Chapter of the Links Biennial Benefit Gala

sister-friends that Serve together, enrich lives together.

That bold truth was never clearer than on “Evergreen & Ever True to Harlem” 13th Biennial holiday gala hosted by the 34-year-old Metro-Manhattan (NY) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated – dedicated to enriching, preserving and safeguarding the culture and economic survival of African Americans and others of African descent in Harlem concentrated abroad.

Amidst monolithic columns, 70-foot ceilings with a Wedgewood dome, the breathtakingly grand Greek architecture of Cipriani Wall Street – once home to the New York Merchants’ Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange – served as the perfect backdrop for the evening’s gala soiree . As more than 700 guests sauntered in in their finest attire, they were greeted by an assembly line of nearly a dozen Cipriani employees, who donned white tuxedo jackets and black pants to efficiently screen overcoats. Inside, the illuminated green lights transformed the lavish venue into an emerald city, complementing The Links’ hues of green and white. Crowds of well-heeled attendees enjoyed an hour of cocktails before sitting at candlelit white tables with gold chairs and glass vases. Lush foliage of white magnolias, roses, green hydrangeas and camellia sprigs, designed by Marie’s Blooms owner Marie Jean-Baptiste, added a touch of femininity.

After a four-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Links’ purposeful party did not disappoint. Strategically placed flat screen TVs ensured guests didn’t miss a second, allowing them to watch from every angle. First up was Spoonbread award winner and owner Norma Jean Darden, who received the Entrepreneur of Excellence Award. She spoke proudly of her cross-generational connection to the organization. “My mother, Jean Darden, was a founding member of the Essex County (NJ) Chapter; my aunt Norma was a charter member of a The Links chapter in North Carolina, and my aunt Lillian was a member of The Links in St. Petersburg, VA. so it was a very poignant and proud moment for me as… my memories of her are working so hard to do good works in her [communities]’ shared Darden.

The evening’s second honoree was the Corporate Champion Awardee—Marcus Samuelsson of Harlem Eat-Up—owner of Manhattan’s Red Rooster & Hav & Mar, a Chelsea seafood restaurant with all-female management. “It was important to me to create a platform for women of color in leadership positions. That support begins in our communities, and The Links is a backbone by which the success of that mission can be measured,” said Samuelsson.

New York Mayor Eric Adams took center stage to present the inaugural Hazel Nell Dukes Social Justice Award to eponymous civil rights activist and NAACP New York State Conference President Dr. Hazel Dukes to present. “Hazel was a pioneer, an activist, a leader, a heroine and most of all a friend,” said Mayor Adams, beaming with pride. “She broke down barriers and inspired so many on the front lines of the fight for justice and human rights.” Dukes, a founding member for 34 years, explained what the recognition means to her. “What is so unique is the cross-generational spirit of this amazing sisterhood. This award renews and revitalizes my spirit to continue to be an advocate for the community.”

Soon after extra‘s Carlos Greer launched the text-to-give campaign and in a record 15 minutes, more than $40,000 was donated. Not only is it a testament to the resilience and reach of the Metro-Manhattan Chapter and The Links organization, it is also a blessing to the Harlem community. “I’m proud of their efforts and thrilled to celebrate their success,” said Ethel Isaacs Williams, JD, National President, The Link Incorporated and a member of the West Palm Beach (FL) Chapter. “When we combine their work with the efforts of our other 298 chapters in 41 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Bahamas and the United Kingdom, we can see the reach and impact that more than 17,000 members of The Links have in to communities around the world every single day. It brings to life our mission of friends transforming communities through service.”

After nodding respectfully to the Triple Threat award winners, the partygoers tuned in to classic hip-hop and R&B, spun by Harlem-bred turntablist DJ SNS. A mother-of-pearl base with The Links logo and the motto “Linked in Friendship, Connected in Service” made it easy for everyone to slide and groove to a musical gumbo, including “Never Too Much” by Luther Vandross, “Big Pimpin” by Jay Z Mary Jane Girls’ All Night Long and Drake’s Nice for What. Others stole a few moments to pose in one of the three photo booths, using various affirmations and declarations such as “pristine” and “time to celebrate” as props, before rejoining the crowd.

Longtime and new members praised the work of the Metro-Manhattan Chapter. “I’ve always had a heart for ministry,” says Erika Liles, Gala Chair and member since 2017. “What I love about The Links is we do the work We don’t outsource it. It is us interface with [the people]; whether we are in Haiti, a country we have adopted, providing toilets and food or teaching makeup to members of St. Mary’s Divas who are living with AIDS and HIV. We’re down.”

CEO of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agency and Chair of the NYC Racial Justice Commission Jennifer Jones Austin agreed: “I can participate and engage in the community with sisters working side-by-side without involving my CEO [hat] but walking and talking to people in the Harlem community. We can make programs and continue to make a difference, but we also need to change the structures that make those programs necessary in the first place… and we’re doing that on the ground by changing the laws and the way government interacts with people. To date, Metro-Manhattan’s service falls under the organization’s five programmatic directions: Service to Youth, the Arts, National Trends and Service, International Trends and Service, and Health and Human Service.

Yet it is the work of these selfless, professional women that Inez Dickens, member of the Harlem congregation, recognizes as the legacy of the chapter. “It’s women coming together, sharing ideas, making connections and quietly getting the work done,” she shared [people] and economic empowerment and growth within black and brown communities.”

After an inspiring and fun evening, DJ SNS announces the final song. The crowd groans in unison, not wanting the evening to end – they reluctantly shuffle on, still amazed at the grandeur they’ve witnessed. Metro-Manhattan Chapter President Kim Copeland also absorbed all of the positive energy of this enchanted evening as she reflected on The Links’ legacy. “I hope people will say we led with love because love just doesn’t fail, it’s too powerful,” Copeland said. “None of us are perfect, but if we strive for love, then we are will be all right. No matter what, that must always be the self-connecting mechanism [when serving], Am I acting out of love??” And this four-letter word always conquers everyone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *