By Rebecca Henely
When more than 100 people came out to the Jacob Riis House Monday evening, they did so not only to witness eight members of their community be honored but to make a difference in the life of one sick little boy.
At 10-25 41st Ave. in Queensbridge, eight individuals ranging from civic activists to artists received proclamations from City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) in celebration of Black History Month. In conjunction with the event, Van Bramer invited Long Island City’s Icla Da Silva Foundation to hold a bone marrow drive for Lloyd Jones, a 10-year-old Florida boy now living in New York City with the rare and potentially fatal blood disease called hypereosinophilic syndrome.
Van Bramer said that for his first Black History Month celebration he and his staff brainstormed whom to recognize and ended up picking some who had been honored many times and others who had never been. Those chosen included East River Development Alliance founder Bishop Mitchell Taylor, Astoria/Long Island City NAACP President Marion Jeffries, 747 Seminars CEO Sharon Cadiz, NY1 news reporter Ruschell Boone, PS 111 Principal Randy Seabrook, NYC Ballet member Aaron Franklin, U.S. Army veteran John D. Smith and Woodside Senior Center President Yeteva Rich-Virgil.
“We wanted to get a real cross-section of people who are making a difference in their community,” Van Bramer said.
The event also featured a bone marrow drive. Andy Wurtele, board chairman of the Icla Da Silva Foundation, said the organization focuses on finding donors of ethnic minority groups. Lloyd, who is multi-racial, has been searching for a donor for several months. Wurtele said 17 people had signed up as bone marrow donors that night.
“His story helped bring some folks out and encouraged people to get swabbed,” Van Bramer said.
A number of the honorees thanked Van Bramer for the proclamation and spoke about their work and the communities they came from.
“I’m overwhelmed to receive this proclamation because I never thought I would,” said Smith, who is more than 80 years old.
In addition to the awards, there were also musical performances by the Queensbridge Senior Shakers and the Center of Hope Choir. Van Bramer and Taylor got in on the act. Both of them danced with the Shakers, and later Taylor sang a song he wrote, which he dedicated to Lloyd, who could not attend the event.
Van Bramer said he hoped visitors at the event took a sense of pride in the accomplishments of the black leaders in their community.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the amazing journey that black Americans have traveled and are still traveling,” Van Bramer said.
To donate to the foundation, visit icla.org.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.