Between the rousing welcome by the Impact Theater performers and the seismic finale by Valerie Simpson, Alyson Williams, and Vivian Reed, Susan L. Taylor was saluted with a bouquet of superlatives for her work as an inspirational leader of the National CARES Mentoring Movement, which she founded in 2006.
The shower of praise for Taylor–who was also celebrating her “70 turns around the sun,” according to the program that unfolded Monday evening at 583 Park Avenue– was extended as well to the thousands of mentors who have provided the transformative, educational mentoring for millions of children of color.
Many of those mentors and mentees, despite the ravages of a blizzard, attended the organization’s first “For the Love of Our Children Gala,” which raised more than a million dollars, much of it acquired during online pledges, orchestrated by television host Tamron Hall of MSNBC. Another television and radio host, Roland Martin, provided hilarious commentary during an auction that brought in thousands of dollars.
But for all the money raised, the celebrities sighted, illustrative performers, and delicious food, particularly the huge birthday cake, Taylor was the centerpiece, and the accolades bestowed on her were almost as endless as the evening. “She was not just mentoring young people,” said the emcee Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, famed public intellectual and professor at Georgetown University, “she is right in their midst…she is our queen of Black America.”
“Because she loved me, I started loving myself,” said Kaity Ferguson-Shand, one of the beneficiaries of CARES. She was joined on stage by two mentors Chicago policeman Harold Jenkins and Tracey Robertson-Carter, and another mentee Teonte Miller, whose moving testimony was well-received. He said the mentoring that changed his life, a life many perceived as hopeless “was not just for me, but for others. And I want to be a role model for others.”
One person who has been an enthusiastic supporter of CARES has been author/activist Asha Bandele and she unleashed a torrent of love and appreciation for Taylor and her unconditional love and devotion to the nation’s children. If not as spirited as Bandele’s praise song were appreciative remarks from Stephen Powell and Jayne Chu.
Taylor’s spirituality and passion was taken to another level of recognition by C. Sylvia and Eddie Brown, of Brown Capital Management, the recipients of the Harriet Tubman North Star Award. Mr. Brown noted Taylor’s “radiance of inner richness,” reminding the crowd of Taylor’s long-running column in Essence magazine during her tenure there as editor.
As for entertainment, there was an engaging recitation from 11—year-old Mikayla Williams of Brooklyn, who said “We want to live, not merely exist”; drummer Terrie Lyne Carrington led a band that accompanied Cassandra Wilson during her version of “God Bless the Child”; and dancer Camille Brown put graceful movement to Nancy Wilson’s recording of “Guess Who I Saw Today?”
There were a number of memorable moments, some scheduled like the Rev. Al Sharpton’s invocation, “not provocation,” he quipped, and unscheduled like the introduction of restauranteur B. Smith and her husband, Dan Gasby.
Before Valerie Simpson and crew closed the evening, Taylor and her husband, writer Khephra Burns lovingly embraced each other behind the podium. “There is no way I can express the love and gratitude of 30 years in 2 minutes,” Burns said, adding that it has been a “walk on a water of faith” with her.
Taylor closed by extending her thanks for the hundreds in attendance, her sponsors, including Verizon, who was represented at the event by Rose Stuckey-Kirk. “This work,” she said of CARES, “has been a work of the heart.” Then there were the unforgettable lines from James Weldon Johnson’s Lift Every Voice and Sing, “lest, our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world we forget Thee.”
If CARES continues its group-mentoring success—and there are no indications that it won’t—then there’s no way we will “forget Thee” or Susan Taylor.