A galaxy of stars descended on Sotheby’s recently to dine and bid on items auctioned to benefit the reforestation and rebuilding of Haiti.
On the invitation of actor Sean Penn, designer Donna Karan, super model Naomi Campbell, Academy award winner Leonardo DiCaprio, Tony-award winner Neil Patrick Harris, director Bennett Miller, singer Ellie Goulding, and Bravo TV’s Andy Cohen and a long list of New York luminaries responded to a call to benefit his J/P Haitian Relief Organization.
J/P HRO is a non-profit organization founded by Penn in response to the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
J/P stands for Jenkins-Penn — a reference to Sanela Diana Jenkins — whose foundation supported initial relief efforts, with the actor.
According to Wikipedia “It became camp manager of the Petion-Ville and Cité Maxo camps, supporting nearly 60,000 internally displaced persons. By the end of 2013, J/P HRO achieved a significant milestone in the successful relocation of all remaining camp families.”
Penn’s brainchild “employs nearly 350 people, 95 percent Haitians in order to provide health, education and community development, housing and economic opportunities.”
The charity he established has hosted six annual gala fundraisers in Los Angeles, California called “Haiti Rising.”
Earlier this year in January, he raised $37 million to benefit Haiti.
However this month for the first year Penn — who is the founder and chairman of the board of J/P HRO and ambassador-at-large for Haiti — brought his cause to the Big Apple.
The fundraising effort is part of a broader campaign known as “Haiti Takes Root” a 10-year, $300 million partnership to support local agriculture on the Caribbean island.
“The goal of J/P HRO is to support the residents of the camps we managed and surrounding areas transition from vulnerability to resilient, sustainable, and prosperous communities,” Penn said.
“In Haiti, having trees is a matter of life and death,” he added.
“They give food, they protect the soil, and they provide shelter from the storm. If we can’t reverse deforestation — and do it now — the deck is going to continue to be stacked against Haitians already struggling to survive.”
“Haiti could be an example of not how bad a country could be, but how it could rise up from its current situation and achieve something better. And if it can happen in Haiti, it can happen in the rest of the world, and that becomes an example to the rest of the world on how hope and renewal can be found in the face of death and devastation.”
The 56-year-old Oscar winner has consistently demonstrated a passion for Haiti -- volunteering personal time when a hurricane and later an earthquake devastated many towns and cities there. He has advocated support of the embattled people and enlisted many of his celebrity friends to assist or contribute.
“Haiti was devastated by Hurricane Matthew,” Penn said as he explained the new initiative, “and I watched from another country as news organizations said no one is doing anything for these people.”
Fully focused on the Caribbean cause, Penn is reputed for many philanthropic efforts.
On Oct. 18, 2002, Penn placed a $56,000 advertisement in the Washington Post asking President George W. Bush to end a cycle of violence.
In September 2005, Penn traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, to aid Hurricane Katrina victims.
Also in 2005, Penn visited Iraq to witness humanitarian work, and presented Sister Helen Prejean with the Chief Justice Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award for her work opposing the death penalty.
Penn owns a three-bedroom house on the island which he shares with 20 people.
Committed to continuing what he started in 2010 when he devoted months living on the island, Penn asked his friends to pay $5,000 for a ticket to his dinner and auction.
His Hollywood colleagues doled out figures upward of the ticket price to bid during an auction on items which featured VIP experiences with celebrities.
Among them a soccer experience with Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, a trip to Monaco for the Grand Prix, an art and culinary trip to Denmark with Noma chef René Redzepi and a private tour and dinner at James Turrell’s Roden Crater, led by Michael Govan, CEO, and Wallis Annenberg, director, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
DiCaprio who is also an activist and no stranger to Penn’s fundraisers helped to hike a bid by adding himself as incentive for purchasing one of the auction items. A dinner experience with Penn and former President Bill Clinton was going for $200,000 when DiCaprio said aloud he would also join the dinner if someone would make it $225,000.
In a matter of seconds a dinner with three stars was bought and sold.
“This auction is about getting at these root causes of Haiti’s challenges,” Penn said. “It’s about giving the Haitians the tools they need and planting the seeds for a better future.”
Dreamworks film moguls David Geffen and Creative Artists Agency’s Bryan Lourd hosted the fundraiser.
Emceed by CBS-TV Morning Show anchor Gayle King, the dinner and auction also featured works of art by Ed Ruscha, Henry Taylor, Deborah Kass, Thomas Houseago and Jonas Wood. Wood, Audra Day and Damien Rice performed at the star-studded event.
Next month the People of the Sun Middle Passage Collective along with a number of student unions at Medgar Evers College will continue the tradition of honoring African ancestors with an afternoon of ceremonial rituals at Coney Island.
The noon to sundown 28th annual slated for June 10 will celebrate the lives lost in the Middle Passage during slavery as well as recently deceased Caribbean poet laureate Derek Walcott, Medgar Evers College’s Leola Maddox, Mr. Nick and Professor Don Quinn Kelly, sound engineer, Henry Hawkins and Professor Dr. Mary Umolu.
Held in conjunction with the Office of Student Life, the student government and the Crown Heights Youth Collective, the cultural, free-for-all established a tradition of presenting music, spoken word and dance honoring Africa and Africans.
The Brooklyn assembly often find participants dressed in white or African garb who take bouquets or bunches of flowers to the Coney Island boardwalk (between 16th and 17th Streets) and throughout the usually sunny afternoon celebrate the contribution of Africans who have recently transitioned or perished during the treacherous journey from the continent to the Americas.
As the sun descends at the end of the day, participants led by drummers, slowly walk to the edge of the ocean to place flowers on the water in honor of those lost in the Middle Passage.
There at dusk, they linger and dance in homage to the ancestors.
Many wade past the shoreline as the flowers drift out to sea.
This year, the tribute will be hosted by poet Ras Osagyefo and Habte Selasse, host of “Labbrish” a program aired on WBAI-FM.
Performances by Shanto, Ras Atiba & The Sarabita World Band, Congo Square Drummers and others will highlight the tribute.
Organizers invite drummers to take instruments in order to participate in what is usually an orchestra of master drummers and percussive music.
For more information, contact Akeem @718-659-4999 akeem
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