Gina Prince-Bythewood, Carmen de Lavallade Honored at City College Awards Benefit

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City CollegeOn May 4, filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood and dancer/choreographer Carmen de Lavallade were among those honored at the City College Center for the Arts’ Awards Benefit held at Aaron Davis Hall.

Singer-songwriter Alexa Ray Joel and Grammy-winning pianist Arturo O’Farrill, who performed for the event, were also honored. Guests were treated to pre-concert cocktails and dinner and dancing. Stephen Byrd and Carole Haarmann Acunto served as co-chairs while Dr. Lisa S. Coico, president, The City College of New York and Karen Mackey Witherspoon, vice president, Government, Community & Cultural Affairs, The City College of NY-CUNY, served as honorary chairs. The chairmen were Alicia Bythewood, and Stewart F. Lane & Bonnie Comley.        

Terrance McKnight, WQXR Evening Host, presented the awards.

Prince-Bythewood, best known for the beloved ‘Love & Basketball’ starring Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps, told TNJ.com, “It was a cool event, but it was more about supporting the City College for the Arts program and the performing arts space at Aaron Davis Hall. It’s a way to inspire the next generation of artists.”

Her most recent film, “Beyond the Lights” starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker, was released last year.

Along with her husband Reggie Rock Bythewood, who is a film director, writer and producer, Prince-Bythewood says she has always believed that the arts can change the world. “We feel that we have a responsibility in that regard. We love to entertain, but we will never do a project that doesn’t say something to the world,” she shares.

And she means it. “For me, it’s all about the projects. I get offered a lot of them, but I don’t accept a lot of them. I had to fight to get Beyond the Lights made. But I believed in the cast and I was happy and proud with the results,” she says.    

Prince-Bythewood applauded Shonda Rhimes for “absolutely changing the game” in putting shows on the air with Black women in the lead. “It is the reason why so many shows now have a mandate to diversify their casts in order to reflect the audience,” she explains. She also credits Mara Brock Akil (Girlfriends, The Game and Being Mary Jane) for elevating the drama genre and “changing the perception of BET, which has been discovering some great new talent.” 
 
In an interview with de Lavallade, who was a principal guest performer with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company’s Asia tour and was married to choreographer Geoffrey Holder for 59 years before his passing last year, she shared her love for the arts and gave a few words of advice for aspiring young dancers. “Really love it. Really work very hard. Stick to it. It takes a long time to become a dancer. I did not start until the age of 14, which is late. But the dance world has dance changed a lot. She should study ballet and contemporary. It’s all infused now. At one time, it was separate. But now they are melding together, which makes it very interesting,” she says.

Last year, the California native, born to Creole parents, starred in a one-woman show, “As I Remember It,” about her career. In 2004, was honored with the Amas Musical Theater’s “Rosie Award.”

Hosted by CBS 2 News Anchor Maurice DuBois, the event was the Center’s inaugural benefit.

“This is our first fundraiser for the City College Center for the Arts and it’s the first time City College has managed its performing arts center. Aaron Davis Hall has been around for 40 years, but was managed by Harlem Stage. Our president, Lisa Coico, pushed for us to be able to manage it as part of her strategy to have a more thriving arts and culture component,” Witherspoon told TNJ.com.

According to Witherspoon, the Center has secured some critical partnerships with Classical Theater of Harlem, the Association of Dominican Classical Artists, Opera Ebony and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Artists, the latter of which accepts the Center’s students who go there to participate in training.

And they’re looking to secure more.

“People think we are supported by the city and the state, but we’re not. We’re always looking for sponsorships, contributions and grants. What helps is that we’ve been incorporated for three years now, which makes us more attractive to get for funding and sponsorships like a jazz program. We also have naming opportunities, which helps. For example, we have a smaller theater that we call Theater B. We would love to have someone to put the money up to have it renamed for the sponsor. Similar to our Marian Anderson Theater,” says Witherspoon.

Witherspoon says there was no specific financial goal for this inaugural event, but she is pleased that the checks are still coming in! 

(CLICK HERE to view photos from the event.)