UWI fundraiser to laud legacy winners

There are those who consider the annual American Foundation for The University of the West Indies (AFUWI) gala the most-anticipated black-tie event of the year.

Hosted by the charitable organization whose mission is to raise funds here to enhance higher education at the University of the West Indies (UWI), proceeds from the gala each year are earmarked to providing scholarships.

Last year 40 scholarships were awarded to deserving students for the academic year.

AFUWI’s total membership community comprise 16 member countries of the English speaking Caribbean — Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and Turks and Caicos Islands.

Perhaps it is the Annual Legacy Awards Gala that is most alluring to guests. Conferred on notable individuals or entities which represent high levels of achievement within their respective fields of industry and enterprise, it is probably the glitz and glamour akin to the Academy Awards that entices generous individuals dedicated to improving the quality of higher education in the Caribbean. With patrons the likes of actor Harry Belafonte, a dinner chair such as former NYC mayor David N. Dinkins and opera singer Jessye Norman insiders to the event, the 18th annual might well be the best-ever.

Slated to be held Jan. 28 at the Pierre Hotel, 61st St. (between 5th & Madison) in addition to pitching for cash for college, this year’s dinner will honor George Gresham, president of New York City’s largest labor union, 1199SEIU.

He will receive the 2015 AFUWI Special Award.

Allegedly, the union stalwart rose through the ranks to the helm of one of the most powerful trade unions. A strong advocate for the rights of health care workers and their families, Gresham is the fifth president in the union’s 75-year history.

Reportedly, after assuming the top post in 2007, two years later he directed the successful collective bargaining with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes on behalf of 135,000 New York metropolitan area members at 87 institutions.

In addition to expanding job security for its members, including part-time workers, it also secured a comprehensive health package with improved pension benefits along with a 10 percent compounded wage increase through 2015.

Gresham also serves as a vice president of the Executive Board of Service Employees Internal Union (SEIU) with 2.1 million working members in locals throughout the nation. He also co-chairs the 1199SEIU National Benefit Fund, the largest self-insured union healthcare plan in the nation.

Its Training and Upgrading Fund has employer contributions and grant funding of over $150 million per year, the 1199/Employer Child Care Fund, which covers over 50,000 children of members, and the 1199SEIU Pension Fund, which has nearly $7 billion in assets.

Although Gresham will get the top honor, among the other honorees are Debra A. Sandler, chief health and wellbeing officer for Mars, Incorporated, Adam Stewart, CEO of Sandals Resorts International and George Willie, managing partner of Bert Smith & Co.

Willie will receive the Caribbean Luminary Award.

Paxton Baker, executive vice president and general manager of CENTRIC (formerly BETJ) will be presented with the Vice Chancellor’s Achievement Award.

A few previous award winners include: Colin Powell, Shirley Chisholm, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Sir Arthur Lewis, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Ralph Gonsalves, Denzil Douglas, Louise Bennett-Coverley, Dame Nita Barrow, John Issa, CLR James, Stokely Carmichael, Eric H. Holder, Michael Lee Chin, Lenox Lewis, Cicely Tyson, Paula Madison, Rex Nettleford, Jimmy Cliff, Ruby Dee, Charles B. Rangel, Roger Touissaint and Gilberto Gil.

Tickets for the fundraising gala can be obtained by calling 212-759-9345.

For information about making a contribution to the foundation, please visit the website www.afuwi.org.

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