A storied Bedford-Stuyvesant community group raised a bunch of money with a star-studded benefit on the distant island of Manhattan on Monday night.
Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation held its annual benefit at Jazz at Lincoln Center, near the Grand Army Plaza-like Manhattan rotary known as Columbus Circle. The gala honored founding board member and former Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge William Thompson, Sr. Thompson did-game-changing work as an anti-poverty activist, the organization’s head said.
“Judge Thompson has a very rich history of achievement going back to the ’50s and ’60s,” said Colvin Grannum, president of the group, the first local development corporation in the nation. “He kind of changed the face of politics and economic development.”
The event, which attracted 320 guests and raised $600,000, also honored actor and activist Rosie Perez and Bruce Gordon, a businessman and former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. CBS news anchor Maurice DuBois hosted, and cinema icon and former Brooklynite Spike Lee presented Perez’s award.
Perez played an unforgettable role in Lee’s seminal Bedford-Stuyvesant movie “Do the Right Thing.” Perez grew up in Bushwick and had a difficult childhood, forced by her mother’s mental illness to bounce between an orphanage and relatives’ homes. She says a group similar to Restoration did wonders for her while she was a kid.
“When I was a young girl, no one believed in me or gave me a chance to accomplish anything,” said Perez, who published a memoir detailing her experiences earlier this year. “It was a local organization like the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation that changed everything for me and provided me with opportunities I never thought I would have.”
Senators Robert Kennedy and Jacob Javits helped found Restoration in 1967 to combat poverty in a declining Bedford-Stuyvesant. At the time, Grannum said, the organization focused on capital improvements to prevent commercial corridors from collapsing and neighborhood residents from leaving. Today the group focuses on programs that help low-income people stay in the area as private investment drives up the cost of living.
“We’ve gone from not at all desirable to a place that’s increasingly desirable,” Grannum said. “Now people are fighting to maintain their place in the community.”
Proceeds from the benefit are supposed to go toward job training, employment services, social service support, and financial training programs. Lee said the group’s work helps Brooklyn stay Brooklyn.
“It is incredibly important to support organizations like Restoration that work to preserve the cultural integrity of Brooklyn while also providing services to help families survive and thrive,” he said in a statement.