This year’s Harlem School of the Arts (HSA) Masquerade Ball and After Party, an annual benefit gala in support of the 54-year-old arts organization, surpassed expectations once again by raising over a million dollars, for the second year in a row. The event was held at The Plaza Hotel in New York City, and was hosted by Fox 5’s very own, Lori Stokes who shared the podium with co-host, 9-year-old Jayden Hairston, one of HSA’s outstanding student ambassadors.
The gala, which has become the organization’s main fundraising event, helps maintain the level and quality of programs the organization can develop and offer. Additionally, these funds ensure that students who need financial support to continue their training, can count on it.
Guests attending the event, were treated to spectacular performances by some of the school’s most impressively talented and gifted young music, voice and dance students, throughout the night. The evening opened with the HSA All-Stars and the Maynor Singers, taking on the Bill Withers classic, Lovely Day, under the direction of Yolanda Wyns, HSA’s music director. HSA’s dance ensemble under the direction of dance director, Aubrey Lynch, took the stage with two original dance pieces, choreographed by Leyland Simmons, a teacher at the school, titled “In Search of our Mother’s Gardens” and “Four Women.”
As in previous years, this was a night to honor and celebrate individuals who represent excellence in the arts and education communities. Actor Liev Schreiber, who recently paid a visit to the school and was thoroughly impressed with what he saw, was this year’s recipient of the Visionary Artist Award. Even though he had recently undergone back surgery, the star of the hit Showtime series, Ray Donovan, showed up to accept his award in person. In his speech, he talked about growing up on the lower east side of Manhattan, about his mother a taxi driver who had to file for food stamps on occasion, but who “understood implicitly, that the arts belong to everyone… and that no child should be deprived of their power simply because they were born into the wrong economic conditions.” Exactly the reason Dorothy Maynor, internationally acclaimed concert soprano, founded HSA at a time when the community was in desperate need of such a place.
The Visionary Lineage Award was given posthumously, to the late fashion icon, Amsale Aberra, who passed away in April of 2018, and to her daughter singer/songwriter, Rachel Brown. Amsale’s husband, Neil Brown accepted the award on her behalf and was visibly moved by the honor, by his daughter’s tribute to her mother, and by the evening and all it represented.
Outstanding young actor Caleb McLaughlin, an alumnus of the Harlem School of the Arts, and one of the breakout stars of the Netflix series, Stranger Things, was unfortunately not able to attend because of a conflict with the shooting schedule for season 3 of the series. But in a video message he thanked his teachers who played such a key role in helping him achieve the success he currently enjoys, and made clear the importance of keeping HSA thriving. This message carried throughout the night.
Two exceptional educators, former model Rashid Silvera, a Harvard Graduate with a master’s in education, who taught social studies at Scarsdale High School until his retirement in 2017; and Tsyala Khudad-Zade, known to her students as Miss Delilah, an immigrant, from the former Russian state of Georgia, who has been teaching piano at the school for almost 40-years, were both recipients of the Distinguished Teacher Award.
This year’s live auction did not disappoint and was once again a highlight of the evening. Among the items featured – lunch with Caleb McLaughlin, a hot item for the younger set; a visit with Liev Schreiber on the set of Ray Donovan, season 7; as well as a vacation at renowned author Ian Fleming’s former island retreat, Golden Eye.
The festivities spilt over to the After Party, held in The Plaza’s Terrace Room, with guest donning colorful masks and reveling to the monster mix and spin skills of DJ D-Nice until the witching hour.