An organization that has helped thousands of children by allowing many kids to have hope and faith in a solid caring figure in their lives, Big Brothers, Big Sisters celebrated its 60th anniversary at the Beverly Hilton with many moving stories.
Awards were given to recognize individuals who are inspiring and positive role models to our youth. Suzanne de Passe, Co-Chair of de Passe Jones Entertainment, was honored with the 2015 Sherry Lansing Award and William R. Davis received the 2015 Trailblazer Award. The 2015 Pioneer Award was presented posthumously to author Jackie Collins. Previous awardees William H. Ahmanson, Megan Colligan, Ann Daly, Roy P. Disney, Mark Goldston, Nancy Josephson, Sue Kroll, Sherry Lansing, John Lasseter, Jennifer Salke, Anne Sweeney and Ronald Tutor served as Honorary Gala Chairs.
Big Sister Sabrina, a senior at Gabrelino High School in San Gabriel welcomed the more than 450 guests, describing her role as part of the BBBS High School Mentoring Program which offers high school students an opportunity to meet with local elementary students, becoming Big Brothers or Big Sisters to the younger children.
Actor and host Wilson Cruz took a few moments to celebrate the history of BBBSLA, touching on its current legacy. “Today, Big Brothers Big Sister of Los Angeles is one of the largest mentoring organizations in Los Angeles County,” said Cruz, “set to impact over 1600 children and youth this year alone.”
BBBSLA President Tiffany Siart focused on the remarkable success rate that the organization imparts on young people facing adversity in their homes, schools and communities. “Our average high school graduation rate is 95%,” said Siart, “compared to many of the schools our ‘Littles’ graduate from with rates as low as 50%. More exciting, this fall 94% of our graduates entered a higher education program.”
Sabin Lomac, who many of us know in LA from founding Cousins Lobster (remember Shark Tank?) was applauded by his own Big Brother Marine Major Stephen Locovara who had flown in from Maine. Sabin shared his personal story of growing up with a single mom and not having a ton of money, and waiting two years for a Big Brother. At age 14 Saban’s life changed with his mentor who became like a real brother to him. Saban’s Big Brother not only showed up for the little things in his life, but also attended his college graduation, had him in his wedding, and named his son after him. Now, Saban has mentored for 3 years a high school student Lawrence here in LA hoping to make the same impact his Big Bro had on his life.
Big Brother Mitch Cardwell, VP of Digital Content and Design for the CBS Marketing Group was joined by his Little Brother Erick, to speak about the success of The Workplace Mentoring Program, providing one-on-one mentoring onsite at some of the city’s most influential corporations including Union Bank, PwC, NFL Network, Sony Pictures Entertainment and CBS.
Steve Soboroff, the Police Commissioner of the City of Los Angeles shared some sobering facts about how gangs are the most efficient off ramp to life. When he started at 18 as a Big Brother, he mentored Terry Williams, who shared tonight on stage how Steve was like a father figure to him, making him even send his homework to him while in jail. Terry said, “He was always there for me.” The others with no role models and no fathers weren’t so lucky. 3 are dead and 3 are in prison.
The night was amped as Steve Soboroff had us laughing as he raffled off and raised with his dynamic personality $35,000 for 2 separate winners to experience a ride along in a helicopter, hopefully in hot pursuit late at night. To increase positive engagement, we learned that the LAPD will ask 10,000 police officers to become Big Brothers to youth of color with their LAPD Protect and Serve Initiative. There were 1,700,000 calls for help last year and only 30 times did officers fire guns. Los Angeles has the most trained community serving police protecting organization in the world. Sadly, he expressed, “we have been tarnished by the media which is hurtful to morale of police officers of LA.”
Emmy Award-winning producer George Schlatter presented the 2015 Sherry Lansing Award to Suzanne de Passe, Co-Chair of de Passe Jones Entertainment. Beginning her career at the iconic Motown as creative assistant to company founder Berry Gordy, de Passe subsequently rose to President of Motown Productions, the company’s television and film division. During her years at Motown, she was responsible for discovering future superstars The Jackson Five, Lionel Richie and the Commodores, Rick James, songwriter/producer Michael Masser and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. As a producer and writer, she garnered an Emmy and Peabody in 1983 for Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. Her award-winning productions include Lonesome Dove, The Jacksons: An American Dream, Small Sacrifices and Buffalo Girls. In total, she has received two Emmys, six NAACP Image Awards, three Peabody Awards and a Golden Globe. De Passe was nominated for an Academy Award for co-writing Lady Sings the Blues and is an inductee into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. Serving on a number of Boards, including the Television Academy Foundation, the American Film Institute and the Los Angeles Opera, among others, de Passe has shared her considerable knowledge and experience with students in her role as the Time Warner Endowed Chair at the John H. Johnson School of Communications at Howard University and at Emerson College in Boston. She currently mentors and provides support to newcomers to the industry and continues to mentor many of those new to the entertainment business.
Sherry Landsing and Sarah Purcell, co-founders of the Future Fund Scholarship and BBBS Trustees, presented the 2015 Trailblazer Award to William R. Davis. Davis left a stellar career in the U.S. Navy where he spent six years as a nuclear submarine officer to tackle the world of big business, first with McKinsey & Company, a major management consulting firm where he consulted for Fortune 500 companies, primarily in the areas of strategy and organization. Five years after joining McKinsey, he partnered with Rick Greenthal to form Sentex Systems, Inc., a fully vertically integrated manufacturer of access control equipment and became a market leader in the industry. After fifteen years of continuous profitable growth, the two sold Sentex to the Chamberlain Group in 1997. Davis first became involved with BBBSLA in 1994 as a donor to the Future Fund. He went on to join the Board of Directors in 2008 and became Chair of the Finance Committee a well as becoming involved with the Strategic Planning Committee. He continues to remain a committed and active financial supporter of the Agency and the Big Brothers Big Sisters Scholarship Fund.
A highlight of Davis’ acceptance speech was his announcement of the formation of a new scholarship fund to replace the current Future Fund and build upon its success. “The new scholarship fund will be gender-blind,” said David, “providing scholarships to Little Brothers as well as Little Sisters and will be called the Big Brothers Big Sisters Scholarship Fund. Now all our ‘littles’ will have a chance to receive financial aid to pursue higher education.”
Comedienne Kathy Griffin presented the 2015 Pioneer Award posthumously to iconic author Jackie Collins. “It is my pleasure to honor my personal big sister and good pal, the great Jackie Collins,” said Griffin. “She so strongly believed in mentoring young people. After selling half a billion books around the world, she was the ideal ambassador to message to younger people that something as simple as picking up a pen and putting it to paper can become a career, regardless of your background.” Daughters Tiffany Sachs and Rory Green accepted on behalf of their late mother.
Prior to dinner, a silent auction unveiled a rare collection of 22 exclusive, never-before-seen photos of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, by celebrated photographer Bob Bonis, taken during the years he acted as tour manager for the two influential groups. Curated by Billboard, the prints were auctioned off with 100% of the profits benefiting BBBSLA. 25% of subsequent print sales from the collection, which can be purchased on line, will go to BBBSLA. Each photo features its own story and includes a certificate of authenticity from the Grammy Museum. Never before published or sold, this is the largest archive of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones from 1964-1966, documenting their meteoric rise and a pivotal moment in time.
The night truly sparkled as so many people have stepped up to give their time and make a difference in Los Angeles.