Last week, the tony Four Seasons Restaurant was the hub where 400 leaders from New York’s financial, art, theatrical, philanthropic, political, and non-profit worlds came out to support — at $1,000 a ticket — the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. Monies raised from the annual benefit gala help enable the many community-centered programs of the nation’s first community development corporation.
Bi-partisan Senators Jacob Javitz and Robert F. Kennedy started Restoration in 1967 and which now celebrates 48 years
The senator’s son, board member Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. presented Harry Belafonte with the Robert F. Kennedy Leadership Award. Belafonte, of Jamaican and Martiniquan descent, is not only a singer-songwriter and actor, but is also recognized as a social activist. Due to a very last minute illness, Belafonte could not attend.
After Kennedy’s intro, by telephone Belafonte accepted the award and spoke at great length of his friendships with both Robert and President John Kennedy and his commitment with the African-American civil rights and social justice movements.
“Harry Belafonte sill has the power to inspire and hold people’s rapt attention,” said Restoration’s President / CEO Colvin Grannum. “I was so moved when (at age 88) he said he’s interested in returning and getting involved. His aspirations and generosity are limitless.” Belafonte visited Bed-Stuy Restoration more than 40 years ago.
Also honored at the gala were David and Janet Offensend, two New Yorkers who, from careers in finance, over decades, have devoted their endeavors to improve lives in the areas of education, culture and community revitalization. David has served on the Restoration board for 19 years and Janet, as well as David, serves on the boards of many education and other non-profit organizations.
The Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration plaza — Fulton St. near Marcy — is home to the organization’s headquarters and scores of local businesses, non-profits and government agencies, a supermarket, a satellite campus of the College of New Rochelle and Assemblywoman Annette Robinson’s office.
Its Center for Arts and Culture includes the Skylight Gallery that hosts art exhibitions, special events, workshops, and book signings. Restoration’s Youth Arts Academy offers 300 students instruction in dance, drama, and music; its a comprehensive arts education institution in the neighborhood. The Billie Holliday Theatre in its 43rd year produced four evening-length plays.
“Human development” has been a growing focus during Colvin Grannum’s 14-year tenure as president / CEO. He explains, “We asked people and they told us. People are most concerned about jobs. Restoration has built an infrastructure around jobs, quality jobs and qualifying people for those jobs.”
Grannum added, “In the last seven years, we also provide financial coaching, helping people reduce debt, increase savings and clear up financial issues in order to help people get jobs.” Additionally, there is a job readiness training program and also internships for youth.
In the area of housing (and Bed-Stuy has really experienced gentrification and increased real estate values) Grannum emphasized how Restoration is committed to mixed income housing and has worked to co-develop low-income and moderate housing. “A renovated low-income senior housing development with 150 units insured that some low-income long-term residents wouldn’t be priced out of the neighborhood.
Grannum reflects on achievements, “We’ve seen thousands who have been impacted by Restoration.” But it is complicated. “There are a lot of challenges,” he says. “We see a growing need in job training and housing. We need to be stronger and collaborative to see shifts and changes in the community.”