An Evening of Women and Excellence in Harlem

By: Gigi LaBelle

In honor of Women’s History Month, Harlem’s Riverside Church Theatre hosted an Evening of Excellence with Women in the Arts.  The event highlighted the incredible journeys of world-renowned artists and entertainers such as Jawole Willa Jo Zollar (founder of Urban Bush Women), Carol Maillard (co-founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock), Ntozake Shange (award-winning poet & playwright of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Not Enuf), Tamara Tunie (Tony Award winning actress) and Dr. Glory Van Scott (producer, performer, and civic activist).  Over the course of their careers, each of these women has left an undeniable blueprint for young people to follow.

Esther Armah posed the most amazing questions, that garnered such wonderful responses!

I had the undeniably wonderful experience of attending the Women of Excellence in the Arts Panel and Discussion at Harlem’s own Riverside Church on Monday evening.  Jewel Kinch, executive director at Riverside Church organized the event in commemoration of Women’s History Month.

Gigi LaBelle & Executive Director of the Riverside Church Theatre, Jewel Kinch

It was an evening of celebrating the lives and accomplishments of each woman.  The women were interviewed by award-winning journalist, author, playwright, and radio host, Esther Armah who asked poignant questions that revealed answers about each woman’s personal life story.  The panel discussion ended with surprise guest Ruby Dee.  Not only did she offer sage advice to everyone young, old, and in between, she closed the event with an illustrious poem that highlighted the inner strength that all women have.  “That inner strength that needs to be tapped into so that each of us can reach our heightened and enlightened path to success,” were her closing remarks.

Gigi LaBelle & legendary actress and activist Ruby Dee

Following the panel discussion was a cocktail reception where guests were able to socialize with panel members including the surprise guest, actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee.  Ruby Dee is well-known for playing in a multitude of films including Spike Lee movies such as Do the Right Thing, and Jungle Fever.  Along with her late husband Ossie Davis, she has also been a life long advocate of the African-American community.  At the cocktail reception that followed the program, I asked Ruby Dee what her definition of excellence in the arts meant.  Her response was “life itself is a form of art, and art is the essence of power.  So if you want to be empowered, excel at your God-given gift. This gift will be your own personal work of art, that you can use to help motivate others to reach their own personal excellence”.

Notable Poet and Playwright Ntozake Shange

The event was a huge success, and was well received by youthful members of the audience, along with members of the political and arts community of Harlem.  Also in attendance were Honorary Mayor of Harlem, Leslie Wyce, and producing director of the New Federal Theatre’s, Woodie King Jr.

Woodie King Jr. and Ntozake Shange

Producer and Director Extraordinaire Woodie King Jr. with Ntozake Shange

The Honorary Mayor of Harlem Leslie Wyce and Gigi LaBelle

The Riverside Theatre is located inside Harlem’s historic Riverside Church at:
91 Claremont Avenue
New York, NY 10027

Photo Credits: Gigi LaBelle


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