New York Urban League Hosts 58th Annual Frederick Douglass Awards Gala

Courtesy Johnny Nunez

With a mission to empower and elevate African Americans and their communities, the New York Urban League has been advocating and providing opportunities in a real and tangible way since 1919. With a spirit of unity and an unwavering commitment to economic empowerment, the organization has established a legacy that is grounded in helping workers and families gain access to educational opportunities, better employment options, and advancing future generations. On Thursday, June 6th, the NY Urban League held its 58th Frederick Douglass Dinner at the Ziegfeld Ballroom. Hosted by Good Morning America’s DeMarco Morgan, the night’s event was one of exhortation, excellence, and a timely “call to action.” This year’s gala theme was “Fight Today. Change Tomorrow” and further centered the messages that all people have a right to justice, fairness, access to a living wage, good benefits, and fair voting practices. Sentiments from board chairs, to business allies, and honorees all echoed the necessity to continue to fight for what the organization has dubbed as “D3”, which means: defend democracy, demand diversity, and defeat poverty. And, the spirit of collaboration that the NY Urban League operates in, was clearly on full display throughout the night’s festivities.

New York Urban League Hosts 58th Annual Frederick Douglass Awards Gala
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 06: <> attends the 58th Annual Frederick Douglass Awards at the Ziegfeld Ballroom on June 06, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for New York Urban League)

In keeping in remembrance of Frederick Douglass’s legacy and dedication to equality and human rights coupled with excellence and sophistication, the night’s honorees were rewarded for their contributions to elevating Black businesses, their ability to forge strong partnerships, and further connect the dots in the advancement of forthcoming generations. The prestigious honorees of the night included: Aurora James, George Gresham, Camille Joseph-Goldman, and Renee McClure-Mills alongside Honorary Co-chair Meagan Good. Other notable guests included Jonathan Majors, who arrived on the carpet with Good, Summer House: Martha’s Vineyard star Jasmine Ellis Cooper, and Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine among many others. The night began with the singing of the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” followed by an invitation to greet others at a neighboring table who you may not know already. Followed by uplifting remarks from Malcolm Ellis, Chair, Board of Directors of the NY Urban League.

During her speech, Arva Rice, President & CEO of the New York Urban League, challenged attendees to continue to carry Frederick Douglass’ mantle not just with words, but rather with action. She declared, “It is my privilege and pleasure to stand alongside you in service for a brighter, more inclusive future for all. I would also like to leave you with a quote from Frederick Douglass and I quote, ‘I prayed for freedom for 20 years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.’ For me, that says, we have to work, and we have to walk the talk.” The New York Urban League is currently putting this sentiment to action with its current renovation of its headquarters in Harlem and transforming its three brownstones into a modern haven that is to be the Center for Black Excellence and Innovation. The new NYUL space will include: The Small Business Solutions Center, after-school programming, Workforce Development space, office and creative spaces for Black nonprofits and much more.

The narratives throughout the evening echoed anecdotes centering on advocacy, social justice, and using one’s platform, no matter how big or small, to compel others to take positive action.

When speaking with ESSENCE on the red-carpet earlier in the evening honorees and guests were very candid about the timeliness of the gala’s theme. 

“We have to be out there and make our voices heard. It’s important to understand the power of our voice, the power of our vote, and to understand the power of educating ourselves. We need to know who is in what position, who has what agenda, and make sure that we help other people be aware of that, while we continue to educate each other. It’s a crazy time, but at the end of the day, these are the things that life is made of, and we all have to do our part,” Good tells ESSENCE on the necessity to fight for equality. “We’re all Americans, and we all deserve to have equal justice and to be treated fairly, and humanely. At the end of the day, if you are a person who loves other people and you want to do the right thing, then you must understand that everyone deserves the same respect, love, and opportunities across the board, and that includes their housing options, with their jobs, and whatever it may be.”

Jasmine Ellis-Cooper understands the importance of positive imaging, and that’s why she was so thankful for her role on Summer House: Martha’s Vineyard, a show showcasing Blacks living it up in Martha’s Vineyard. While the show is currently on pause, she shared, “People deserve to see us flourish in our lives.” When asked about the show, and her increased influence, Cooper made it clear that she is not remiss of the importance of supporting positive narratives and causes.

I’m big on motherhood and I’m a history girl. If you’ve ever watched the show. History is so important for us to be mindful of, and [with my platform] I want to amplify beautiful nights like tonight. It’s such an honor to be here with the NY Urban League and support such an important cause.”  Cooper recently became a mom to a beautiful baby boy, and she has a new zeal to empower other mothers. “Right now, I’m all about motherhood and showing the beauty of it.”

Camille Joseph Goldman, VP for Charter Communications, “oversees government affairs in the northeastern US from Harlem to Bangor, Maine.” She became involved in politics at a very young age, having worked for Governor Spitzer and Governor Paterson during her undergraduate years, and later became the National African American Vote Deputy Director on President Obama’s 2012 Election Campaign. “I think it’s very important to realize that we can’t take for granted any progress that has been made. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors who fought so hard for us to do so much in the current moment. But, the time is always now to further action and to improve, increase and continue to uplift others for everything that’s been done previously. There’s so much more ahead of us and now more than ever given the stakes, we can’t take anything for granted.” 

When asked about the importance of getting out to vote, Joseph-Goldman quipped, “No one should be on the fence to vote, no matter your affiliation. We have an opportunity and a real obligation to let folks know that we are not taking for granted the freedoms that we have. We cannot at any moment stop from persisting and moving forward.”

Being an innovative changemaker is nothing new to Aurora James, founder of the Non-Profit advocacy organization Fifteen Percent Pledge, who has helped to move more than 15 billion dollars in annual revenue to Black-owned businesses. James’ organization has also helped to facilitate in putting more than 900 Black businesses on to the shelves of retailers all across the country. As the author of the memoir Wildflower, Creative Director and Founder of Vellies, among many others, James is committed to inspiring others, including White allies, to make a commitment to “increased diversity and representation across their business practices and buying habits.” When addressing the audience, James stated with conviction that it’s important to stay focused on what we are going to do as a community “moving forward.”

“I mean, all of us in this room. I’m sure a lot of you guys heard the news this week about the 11th Circuit Court and that they actually blocked the Fearless Fund from giving grants to Black female founders. We cannot let that get us down and we cannot back down. The law that they used was written in 1866 to actually protect us from discrimination.” She continued, “But what I also know is that we as people of color continue to do the work. We wake up, we take care of each other, we stay in community. And it’s that community that actually empowers us and fuels us to move forward. So, I’m calling on all of us in the same way that I call on my allies who are White to do what we do best in favor of those who have been historically excluded. What does that mean this year? We all have to do what we do best to make sure that our community shows up at the polls.”

As President and CEO of the NYUL, Arva Rice understands all too well that the call to action for all, is not a Black issue, but rather an American mandate. When asked about the current state of affairs in American politics, her response to ESSENCE was quite succinct. “The fight for social justice and equality is not just a Black issue, it is an American issue because we are all fighting for our rights. The reproductive rights, and our voting rights affect all of us. So, it’s important for us to have our voices heard, because if one voice is silenced, then that means others can be silenced as well.” 

When asked about the everyday ways that people of all backgrounds can get involved with elevating Black and brown communities, Rice readily offered, “That’s a great question. People can be involved in elevating Black and brown communities every day as they go to work. They should look around and see who are the people that are in leadership. They should look to support and mentor individuals who don’t look like them. If that’s the case, they should look at what they’re reading, what’s the literature that they’re sharing with their children, and make sure that that’s diverse. And, lastly, making sure that what they feel and experience as an American is also encompassing the experiences of African Americans.”

The 58th Annual Frederick Douglass Awards was truly a night of empowerment and community, coupled with a positive call to action. To learn more about the New York Urban League, its initiatives, and ways that you can contribute to their mission, please visit

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