Few figures in Brooklyn's business, political and philanthropic communities can bring a diverse group of professionals together for a worthy cause, year after year. DeCosta Headley Sr. is one of those rare, powerful individuals who never cease to amaze me.
His non-profit organization, Friends of DeCosta Headley (link) held its annual gala recently in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. High-profile supporters came out in large numbers to network and contribute to the community causes Headley spearheads. Former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson thanked Headley for organizing the networking event and for all he has done in the community. "I've known DeCosta for more years than I care to mention," Bill said. "DeCosta has been a pillar in the Brownsville and East New York."
A Brooklyn native, Headley grew up in the gang-ridden neighborhood of Brownsville. DeCosta, 66, was reared in a family of modest means, but navigated his way to college, graduating with a degree in behavioral science from Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C. He spent several years as a social worker, and in the late 1970s became the executive director of numerous group homes for troubled adolescents and established the Federation of Addiction Agencies in East New York and Brownsville.
A stream of important elected officials attended the gala, including Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and New York's longtime Democratic congressman, Rep. Edolphus Towns, whose district includes the neighborhoods where Headley concentrates his philanthropic work.
"DeCosta Headley has been a personal friend of mine and a friend to my constituents," said Ed, who recently announced his retirement from Congress after 28 years of service. "His get-togethers provide an excellent opportunity for elected officials to meet with community and business leaders to talk about how we could work together to improve our neighborhoods."
Throughout his adult life, DeCosta has committed to community service. He served on various local community boards and was the founder of his community's first local development corporation, resulting in over 3,000 new jobs. A highlight of his 16 years as a board member of Community School District 19 is his leadership in establishing the district's first bilingual education program.
On the festive occasion, catered at Giando on the Water with its panoramic views of the city and all three East River bridges, DeCosta honored a number of individuals for their contributions. With the Manhattan skyline lit up against the night sky, each honoree -- ranging from businesspeople and community leaders to physicians -- stepped to the podium to accept their recognition.
Brooklyn's legal community was also represented at the event. The well-known personal injury attorney and civil rights activist Sanford Rubenstein encouraged attendees in his remarks to remain vigilant against encroachments on individual rights. And several judges praised Headley for his role in helping them get elected.
Indeed, many of the judges serving in New York's court system, state legislators and city council members owe a debt of gratitude to Headley's grassroots organizing. He served as a district leader for the 40th Assembly District in East New York for sixteen years and played an active role in Brooklyn's political landscape. He successfully operated a number of political campaigns for candidates seeking seats in the city, state, and federal government. At the same time, he has trained hundreds of community resident interested in serving on campaigns.
As an entrepreneur, Headley owned and operated a successful contracting firm, Diversified Inch By Inch. He rehabilitated poor communities within the five boroughs, built local medical and dental facilities, and constructed new housing, including a multi-level senior citizens apartment complex for Berean Missionary Baptist Church.
I asked DeCosta what message was the most important to deliver to my readers. He told me:
When we launched Friends of DeCosta Headley the mission was to bring people from varying cultures, businesses including the arts, entertainment, politics, medical among others together to meet thus spurring new relationships and ideas. Through these annual events we have helped bridge many partnerships among leaders in a myriad of fields as well as raised funds for the Brooklyn community. We are a family of friends promoting acts of good will in Brooklyn.
After mingling with his guests throughout the evening, DeCosta stepped to the microphone and thanked the more than 300 attendees for making the event special. "Let's make every effort to become better people," he urged his guests before they departed onto the warm Brooklyn night.
Friends of DeCosta Headley earmarked proceeds from the event for several community projects. In the past, Headley's philanthropy paid for funeral costs, Thanksgiving turkeys, college scholarships and meals for seniors.
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