Last month, a group of celebrities, socialites and American figure skaters gathered in Central Park’s Wollman Rink for a benefit gala for Figure Skating in Harlem (FSH). This year’s event honored NBC Sports Broadcaster Andrea Joyce and Fashion Designer B Michael. Of the honorees, founder/executive director Sharon Cohen said, “Tonight, we are thrilled to honor Andrea Joyce and B Michael - two extraordinary individuals whose poise, intellect, strong work ethic and accomplishments have inspired our scholar-athletes as they forge their paths towards positive futures.”
FSH's Skating with the Stars, held on the ice, is an annual, signature event and a unique opportunity for guests to do exactly as the title states: skate with the stars. In attendance were Olympic and world class skaters Tara Lipinski, Scott Hamilton, Johnny Weir, Javier Fernandez and Christina Gao; fashion designers Vera Wang and Kenneth Cole; event chairs Kathryn & Ken Chenault; honorary chairs Tamara Tunie and Gregory Generet; actress Rhonda Ross; E! New York correspondent Alicia Quarles; and Mark-Anthony Edwards, co-founder and CEO of B Michael America.
A skate rental booth was provided on-site and “the stars” were certainly in abundance. Rhonda Ross, daughter of famed Motown singer Diana Ross, is on the advisory board and was the recipient of last year's Star Leadership Award. “I am a big supporter of Sharon [Cohen] and this organization. Any way that you can empower the next generation is so extremely important, but when you can add sports, exercise and outdoor fresh air to it, it is even better,” Ross told TNJ.com.
Fashion designer B Michael, among this year's honorees, says he has great regard for the organization and the work that it is doing with the girls. "We were introduced to the organization by our friends - Tamara Tunie and Rhonda Ross. And then we met Sharon Cohen and really understood what her vision is about and what she’s doing for the young ladies. We saluted them at one of our fashion shows during Fashion Week and now we really feel that we are like family. Totally connected. I walked on the ice thinking, I could do this, but I could not! And so I have heightened respect because it’s about discipline and the way you think. It’s an emotional discipline as well and so I think they are high achievers," he says.
FSH, founded in 1997, provides year-round opportunity, education and empowerment for 225 girls ages 6-18 in New York City’s most underserved communities. It boasts a 100 percent graduation rate with many of the girls going on to top colleges such as Brown University, Howard University and Spelman College. The girls are taken on field trips where they compete against other skaters. One of the girls, Jiordan Ali, is headed to Penn State to major in Criminal Justice in the fall and says she enjoyed her time in the program, “I’ve been in the program for 10 years and my passion for skating has really grown since I started. I didn’t know how to skate prior, but it only took me a month and a half to learn. I love the nurturing staff at FSH as well as the internships and the mentoring opportunities. On a field trip, we got to meet Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor!”
Zjana Ray, a student who has been in the program for eight years, shares Ali’s enthusiasm. “It’s a wonderful program where I get to come and do this extraordinary sport that is not very common, especially for young African-American women. It’s something that has become a constant in my life that I can rely on. I absolutely love figure skating. I started at 9. Now I’m 16. I didn’t know how to skate before I came to the program, but they gave me lessons. I went through the ranks quickly, faster than I expected. It becomes like a mini-profession at this age. I’m a skater and I love to show people what I can do,” says Ray.
Ray is a junior in high school and is “getting ready for the whole college thing”. On a non-skating event this year, the girls traveled to Washington, D.C., toured the White House and visited a few colleges. “It was nice to experience the city and get a good look at the colleges there. I’m really interested in a few of the schools there, especially George Washington University. They have a really good IT program, which is what I’m looking to get into,” she says.
Both girls say they plan to come back and volunteer as alumnae. “Even after I leave, I will continue to skate. You have to leave the program at 18, but I will definitely come back and maybe volunteer, help out on the ice, help out on the team and give back to the girls,” says Ali.