October 11, 2012
By Joy Childs
LAWT Contributing Writer
It truly was an artful night, as the Friends of the California African American Museum (CAAM) feted legendary actor Sidney Poitier and acclaimed artist John Outterbridge with Lifetime Achievement awards at the foundation’s seventh annual black-tie fundraiser this past Saturday. CAAM’s main hall was transformed into an elegantly glamorous and festive venue, with pristine white tablecloths and dainty bright burgundy flowers adorning the tables.
A diverse group of hundreds of dinner guests turned out to honor the two and to also support the museum, which is a huge source of community pride, at the event called “An Artful Evening at CAAM.” Celebrities who came out to salute the honorees and to support CAAM’s outreach missions — Mentoring Generations Program, the Young Docent High School Intern Program, and the Busses and Docents Program (the last of which provides transportation service for Title I schools that otherwise could not afford a field trip to CAAM) — included Larkin Arnold, Clarence Avant, Howard Bingham, Bernie Casey, Art Hillery, Dawnn Lewis and Larenz Tate.
The excitement that comes with being in the in-crowd and honoring an acting gem like Mr. Poitier was palpable — from CCH Pounder, the Emmy®-nominated actress who hosted the event and welcomed the crowd to former First A.M.E. pastor Cecil “Chip” Murray standing up for the requisite invocation to the scrumptious dinner catered by Wolfgang Puck.
A little while later, several young docents who’ll no doubt directly benefit from the fundraiser proudly shared their life-changing experiences and career goals.
CAAM Executive Director Charmaine Jefferson beamed with pride as she told of how the funds raised by CAAM and its 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization Friends of CAAM support the state-supported institution’s missions and goals. CAAM hosts around 10 in-house curated and/or traveling exhibitions and more than 80 public programs each year.
As Councilman Bernard C. Parks explained: “We work very closely with CAAM because they used to be in our district … This is a place that really is our legacy for this city and the nation. It’s the only place you can find the concentration of African American art, culture and history in one place … And for those who are unfamiliar or who came along after the struggle, this is the place for them to get a tremendous education about our past … ” Though he’d met Poitier only once, when jokingly asked about his favorite Sidney Poitier movie moment, Parks responded, “a scene in ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ ”!
The reigning grand dame of stage and screen, Diahann Carroll, who’s known Poitier since both were starting in the business (he was in the historic Negro Ensemble Company while she was in the Actor’s Studio: “I already knew how to be a Negro,” she quipped), says it was important for her to be there primarily because of him.
Her favorite Poitier movie moment? She said she’d seen all his movies and, because the two are friends, they’d discussed many of them, so she couldn’t name her absolute favorite, sighing, “There were just too many of them.”
Jackée Harry, the diva behind “227,” then “Sister, Sister,” told of meeting Poitier when he was in New York casting young people for a movie. She was 15 at the time. The star looked her straight in the eye and told her, “You know you’re going to be famous,” as she nervously shivered inside. Many, many years later, at a time that she would have sworn he didn’t know her from Tom’s house cat, she ran into him at an event and he said to her, “I met you when you were just 15!” She chuckled at the memory, going on to reveal that she’s just learned in an elevator ride with Poitier and Carroll that at one time the three had lived in the same building in Hollywood — Joan Collins too!
Talented actor Larenz Tate said his favorite Poitier movie moment was from “In the Heat of the Night” when Poitier declares, “They call me Mr. Tibbs.” As Tate saw the movie just recently, he noted: “It’s such a strong moment in the film but it was such a strong moment in our culture for someone to stand up and say, ‘Recognize who I am.’ ”
When called to accept the award, Mr. Poitier graciously thanked his forebears for giving him the strength to do what he’s done and what he will do — and, the actor added, it was always his intent to be famous!
Right on point!