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“Can everyone hug the person next to them and say, ‘You are my sister?’”
This is how poet, artist and activist Cleo Wade, started her speech Wednesday when she was honored at the Lower East Side Girls Club’s Spring Fling. She was recognized alongside actress Yara Shahidi and former editor in chief of Teen Vogue, Elaine Welteroth.
Female empowerment was the reigning theme at the organization’s annual fund-raiser, held at Chinatown’s Jing Fong Restaurant, which supports local middle and high school girls by providing a safe space and programs spanning from STEM and social justice advocacy to sewing workshops and DJ lessons. The fund-raiser brought together the likes of Ashley Graham, Freida Pinto, Piper Perabo, Rosario Dawson and Natasha Lyonne, among others, to support the organization.
“I feel like this is the kind of thing that creates the next generation of leaders,” said Perabo, who is starring in the third “Olympus Has Fallen” film out next year. “Now that I’ve been working with [the girls], I feel as this movement of youth leadership and female leadership starts to rocket into the present, this is the kind of organization that’s going to make those leaders the best they can be.”
Many of the club’s girls, who performed a dance routine before dinner, couldn’t contain their excitement as Shahidi, beloved for her roles on “Grown-ish” and “Black-ish,” arrived during the cocktail hour. Despite feeling too under the weather to speak with reporters, Shahidi happily posed for selfies.
At the step and repeat, Pinto showed her admiration for the organization. “It’s so important to do something that is local and something that’s accessible for everybody,” she said. “[The club] lifts these girls and gives them a sense of purpose that they are just as important as another girl that goes to a fancy school somewhere with a state-of-the-art facility. I love that equality.”
The evening brought in $500,000 in donations through an auction helmed by vice president and client relationship director at Christie’s Jennifer Wright.
“These girls are magic and the women who run this organization are magic,” Welteroth said, accepting her award. “But here is the thing, it’s a magic that you can’t fully appreciate until you walk through those doors and you look into the eyes of those girls and hear their stories and their dreams.”
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