On the 'A' w/Souleo: African-American Literary Awards Show Faces Questionable Future

10/29/2014 05:49 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

For the second time in its ten year history, the African-American Literary Awards Show [AALAS] has canceled its ceremony. The first cancellation in 2005 was due to Hurricane Katrina but this year the challenges appear to be internal.

The event -- set to honor the late Maya Angelou and James Earl Hardy -- was originally scheduled for September 27 but was postponed to October 26 at My Image Studios Harlem. Following the date change, AALAS President Yvette Hayward said she struggled to secure enough winners to be present to accept their awards. Last Wednesday, three days before the event Hayward canceled the show.

"I didn't want an awards show and have no winners showing up for it," she said. "I was trying to be loyal to my audience and make sure they got what they paid for. I couldn't go on in good conscience."

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Hayward denies that funding was to blame as for the past nine years she has covered production expenses largely out-of-pocket after unsuccessful attempts to secure major financial backing. Although she declined to give figures on the show's budget, this year's hired event producer, Musa Jackson of Musa Jackson Productions estimates it was around $18,000.

In an email statement Jackson noted that he believes money was a major concern writing, "Yvette Hayward couldn't come up with money for [a] down payment a week before September 27...but Yvette insisted the show must go on."

Ticket sales ranging from $100 to $150 will be refunded and winners will receive their awards in the mail. Hayward plans to forge ahead with an awards show next year in September in Harlem. Fortunately for AALAS, MIST Harlem would welcome them back.

"We would love for them to come back," said MIST Harlem branding and marketing director, Theresa O'Neal. "We are in the event business and there are times events get canceled for many reasons but we work with the community."

Meanwhile, Jackson plans to still honor Hardy -- whose groundbreaking book about black gay male culture B-Boy Blues celebrates its 20th anniversary this year -- with a separate event that is currently in the works.

"We should always honor our authors," Jackson said. "We have to do something for our literary community."

Immigration Equality puts the spotlight on women and new leadership

Caroline Dessert, the new executive director of Immigration Equality [IE], may have just started in her role but she is already beaming with pride at the work of the organization, which provides direct legal services to and advocacy for LGBT and HIV-positive asylum seekers.

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André St. Clair and Caroline Dessert of Immigration Equality were joined by New York City Public Advocate Letitia James at Shine/Courtesy: Immigration Equality

"There is no other organization like this. We serve the most vulnerable members like asylum seekers and women that survived horrific gender based violence, rape in detention centers, forced marriages and female genital mutilation," she said at the organization's women-centered celebration and fundraiser, Shine.

Supporters gathered at Housing Works Bookstore Café in New York City where the evening's honorees included co-founder and past president of the board of directors of IE, Suzanne B. Goldberg, ESQ. and Lorena Borjas, a transgender woman and community activist. During the evening there were numerous heartfelt speeches including an introduction by IE's major gifts and special events manager André St. Clair. She shared her personal connection to IE's mission as a transgender Jamaican. According to IE, Jamaica had 159 asylum cases last year and it is among the nearly 80 countries with anti-LGBT laws.

This year, IE reached a milestone securing asylum for its 600th client while maintaining a 99 percent success rate. Still Dessert noted the current challenges facing the organization and implored the crowd to provide assistance whether it is through pro bono legal services or donations.

"For the first time in 20 years we are turning clients away because our staff is beyond capacity. Clients know if we can't take the case there is nowhere else to run and that is unacceptable. The only way to live up to our mission is with your help," she told the crowd.

Those willing to take a stand are New York City Public Advocate, Letitia James. She shared her plans to recruit pro bono lawyers to represent undocumented children and will take on some cases herself. "All throughout my career I've focused on social justice issues and those subject to discrimination. Having tasted the sting of it in my life I want no one to suffer what I suffer," she said. "That's why I love and support this organization."

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The weekly column, On the "A" w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture entertainment and philanthropy in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company Souleo Enterprises, LLC.