On the evening of May 19 at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York, a fashionable crowd of around 500 guests celebrated the legacy of photographer Gordon Parks and raised over 2.2 million dollars to support the Gordon Parks Foundation’s educational programs and the Gordon Parks Art and Social Justice Fund, which supports today’s generation of artists in their creative endeavors.
Presenters from various industries introduced each honoree of the Gordon Parks Foundation Awards, singing their praises with beautifully poignant speeches: CNN anchor Anderson Cooper presented to Mark Bradford; minister and social activist Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II presented to Laurene Powell Jobs; Jackson Lee and Satchel Lee presented to their parents, Tonya and Spike Lee; musician and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center Wynton Marsalis presented to Darren Walke, and executive director of The Gordon Parks Foundation Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr. presented a special tribute to Cora Taylor with artist LaToya Ruby Frazier. Kunhardt began the award ceremony sharing his own memories and his father’s close friendship with Parks.
One of the highlights of the evening was a sermon from Rev. Dr. Barber II who reminded the audience how sacred our lives are and to make every moment count. Jobs followed with her beautiful reflection of Parks, pointing out how he embodied the notion of a multi-disciplinary artist. “Gordon was like multiple people, bursting with creativity that could not be contained by just one medium,” she said. Indeed, Parks excelled across media—photography, film, music composition and writing—and it is fitting that the room of supporters and honorees included talents of all kinds like Amy Sherald, Bisa Butler, Julie Mehretu, Jill Krementz, Henry Taylor, Lorna Simpson, Renee Cox and Radcliffe Bailey.
When accepting his award, Braford spoke from his heart proclaiming the importance of supporting artists at their highest and lowest points. Other touching moments of the night included heartfelt tributes to the late Maurice Berger, my former writing mentor who wrote extensively about Parks’s work, and Genevieve Young, Parks’s wife and accomplished writer and editor. The inaugural Genevieve Young Fellowship in Writing was awarded to Nicole Fleetwood, who shared her plans to highlight Parks’s impeccable aesthetic.
The evening concluded with an auction of select photographs from Parks’s portfolio. Kaseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean, Gordon Parks Foundation Awards co-chair, snagged the last photo in the lot, a striking image of Malcom X for $200,000. Parks’s famous shot, Segregated Drinking Fountain, from his 1956 Life magazine essay documenting segregation in the Jim Crow South, sold for a winning bid of $170,000. Cora Taylor, who was recently identified as one of the subjects in the photo, was also honored and shared a charming speech reminding all the women not to give up: “Y’all got it.” Taylor’s resilience and encouragement echoed the vibe of the evening and Black Thought’s musical performance brought attendees to their feet to celebrate each other and most importantly, the legacy of Parks.