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40 Women, 40 Years of Philanthropy

40 Women, 40 Years of Philanthropy by Darrion J. Beckles
Brooklyn, New York- When the phrase 40/40 is mentioned aloud, you may envision the swag social venue in Midtown Manhattan, run by the famous rap mogul – that‘s not the case in Bedford Stuyvesant.  Forty/forty now brings about thoughts of activism, philanthropy, feminism.  Forty years, forty women.

Forty, in the first instance, is a reference to the fortieth anniversary of Hattie Carthan’s 1960’s eco-cause becoming a neighborhood fixture- the Magnolia Tree Earth Center.

Last month, at a Von King Park celebration it represented also the remarkable determination — years of duty — by forty remarkable women philanthropists, who through their tenacity and hard work, are improving their communities forty-fold, women who, like the late Hattie Carthan, show love to their community through endless hours of activism and community service.
On Monday, March 29th, community legends like Mary Von King (activist and the wife of the park’s late namesake, Herbert Von King), Mama Leah, Mother Olatunji, and Alma Duke Carroll, as well as thirty six other queens on the community activist front were “immortalized” on the theater’s wall of living legends> And deservedly so.

They nurtured their neighborhoods with care and attention, and for that, before an audience of loved ones and supporters, they were honored.   The event, Von King Park’s 2nd Annual Women’s History Month Awards and Hattie Carthan award ceremony saluted sisters, mothers, wives, co-workers and friends. Two days before women’s history month came to a close, teachers, principals, executives, gardeners, council representatives, non profit women, corporate women, and community activists came from near and far to cheer and celebrate in “You Go, Girl” fashion. Broadcaster Ann Tripp delivered of New York soul station WBLS delivered a beautiful keynote urging women to be at the forefront of delivering messages of activism for a better earth.  It was an event prepared for the seasoned activists, but was powered by the spry enthusiasm of the future philanthropists. The youngsters weren’t just there to observe; they were involved.  Preparing a scrumptious brunch buffet for all of the award winners and guests, and entertaining the audience with a five course serving of spoken word doesn’t even begin to describe their level contribution.


Recipients and organizers sang praises for the youngsters, who that day, dispelled the stereotype of the aimless -minority- youth.  Honoree Carroll, community organizer, said she believes in the important of keeping the lines of communication between young folks open -and strong- with those who have been there before. There was a broad consensus in Von King Park’s Eubie Blake Theater that the torch, when passed, will be in capable hands, athlete Mary deSaussere told us.  They have proven themselves.  “Give them guidance, structure, and nurturing, you’ll have a solid foundation,” said ten -year volunteer and event organizer Charlotte Renee Mial, who was given one of the highest honors of the afternoon for her own work with the youth as head of the Culinary Arts Program..

In addition to the 40 women being awarded, four of Bedford Stuyvesant history’s most revered women were given high honors and acknowledgements:  education activist Almira Coursey, neighborhood and brownstone preservationist Ruby Ford, the Honorable Lucille Rose, the city’s first black woman Judge, and community icon and larger than life Brooklyn legend Hattie Carthan, the environmentalist.   Sidney Moshette accepted for the late Almira Coursey and announced there’s talk in the air of naming the Von King park ampitheater after Mrs. Coursey.  The award was named appropriately after one of Brooklyn’s toughest activists.   In Hattie Carthan’s day activism was as simple as taking action when your favorite tree is being threatened.  Many of these ladies were born and raised in a time of fire hoses, segregation, lynching, cross burnings, and segregation- America‘s apartheid era.  Every woman receiving the award sees Mrs. Carthan as a shining example.  She was the woman who planted the seed that allowed them to grow as community leaders, so it was an honor for them to know that they were following in the footsteps of one of the village’s greatest, most active philanthropists.    Lois Alma Gilliard, known throughout Brooklyn as Mama Leah, is a volunteer arts instructor, civil rights solider and community matriarch. She offered words of wisdom for the future forty as the crowd filed out of the auditorium: “The women that are here will just not sit back now; they will let this be an opportunity to be energized and refueled and not necessarily view anything different than what they have been doing.”
The event was about giving back to the community.  And that is what the creative mind behind the event, Charlotte Mial, did by organizing and composing the day.  It was her idea to involve the youth in the event preparations in celebration of the community heroes.  Recreation specialist Larry Banks, a composer and drama coach, and Center Manager Lemuel Mial recorded Banks’ original song, “Woman,” for the honorees; and John Llanos, a former archaeologist,  created -by hand- 40 vases without even the thought of credit or compensation. Both the CD’s and hand-signed Vases were available in gift bags, along with copies of March Essence Magazine and Vogue’s now historic issue with First Lady Michelle Obama on the cover. The givers received their just due from those who cherish and appreciate giving.

The atmosphere of the day was full of hope, enthusiasm, gratitude, excitement, pride and positive energy.  There was a subtle electricity in the air as recipients, guests, friends, families, supporters, and observers put it to a greater power in speech and in prayer for another forty years of excellence from the women of Brooklyn.  But as one of the award winners exclaimed before and after the stage was cleared, “if it aint in ya, then it cant come out.” The spirits of Hattie Carthan and Mr. Von King watched on, with a smile, with confidence, seeing their work gave birth to something wonderful.   (Darrion Beckles is a Brooklyn-based writer and community news reporter. He can be reached at )

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