UPDATE: John Cirillo, PR person for the gala, e-mailed the media Sunday evening to explain Denzel Washington's absence from the event:
"Denzel Washington traveled to New York with the sole and joyous purpose of hosting the 100th Anniversary Celebration. On Saturday, he was wiped out by a virus, and despite making every effort, he was not well enough to attend. He is devastated at the unfortunate timing that disappointed so many friends from Mt. Vernon and Fordham, and the near 700 donors who supported the Gala. He appreciates everyone's understanding, and thanks his show business and sports friends like Danny Glover, JB Smoove, Leon (Robinson), Gus Williams, Scooter McCray, Shane Dean and ‘Talent’ for appearing to support the Gala.”
RYE BROOK, N.Y. – Celebrities and hundreds of guests mingled Saturday evening at the Hilton Rye Town Hotel in Rye Brook for a gala celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Boys and Girls Club of Mount Vernon.
Several celebrities, including host Denzel Washington, who grew up in Mount Vernon and spent their childhood at the Boys and Girls Club arrived to share their reflections about the club and how it influenced their lives.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” star J.B. Smoove grew up in the projects of Mount Vernon. When he entered the John Halsted Room at the hotel to greet the media, he started off in typically comedic fashion by pointing to the Boys and Girls Club logo, which depicts interlocking hands, and announcing that he created the image.
When he took the podium, the jokes continued as he talked about Washington.
“He’s okay. He’s done a few movies. You might have seen him in a few movies here and there,” Smoove said. “I don’t know if anybody really knows Denzel Washington.”
But when the time came to get serious, Smoove did just that.
“I’m not going to sit here and sugarcoat living in the projects. There were plenty of times I heard gunshots, plenty of times I’ve been chased home,” Smoove said. “But it’s good to have a foundation like the Boys and Girls Club, someplace you can escape. You can meet people, grow up, meet friends. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about keeping these doors open.”
The 46-year-old comedian spent 10 minutes at the podium telling stories and answering questions. He offered advice to children (“Stick with your family foundation”) and said that he still maintains “long-lasting friendships” with others he met at the Boys and Girls Club.
Smoove told Main Street Connect exclusively that he visits the Boys and Girls Club every time he comes into town and that events like the gala are steps in the right direction.
“Cities grow. Cities have setbacks,” Smoove said. “Being someone who’s traveled around the world, Mount Vernon is a city on the move. It’s a city that’s growing. It’s a city that’s ready for change. It’s a city that I’m looking forward to … where Mount Vernon is going to be. Everything we’re doing right now is setting up the next person to step in.”
YES Network announcer Ken Singleton told MSC that a gala such as the one Saturday and the notables who attended can help organizations including the Boys and Girls Club gain some notoriety and inspire people to contribute to their benefit.
Singelton said he has not really gone back to Mount Vernon since he left to play baseball, but he did take a few moments to revisit the place where he learned his values.
“I did last year, though, on a day off, I drove up to my old house where I grew up, and the people who live there now are doing a very good job. They’re taking very good care of it,” Singleton said. “The plants that my dad put in way back when are still going strong. He would be very proud of that if he were still around.”
Singleton was one of six award recipients at the gala. He earned the Denzel Lifetime Achievement Award in Sports for his work. WCBS 2 meteorologist Elise Finch received the Denzel Community Service Award, while New York State Sen. Malcolm A. Smith received the Historic Leadership Award.
John R. Branca posthumously received the Denzel Lifetime Achievement Award and Rosemary Cornacchio accepted the Lifetime Community Spirit Award for the Kiwanis Club of Mount Vernon. Boxing promoter Butch Lewis posthumously received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Denzel Washington encountered a delay and did not make it to the media room for interviews prior to the gala. But those in attendance received a surprise treat as actor Danny Glover arrived and spoke to the press for a few minutes.
Club alumni Leon, who starred in “Cool Runnings,” and former NBA player Gus Williams were some of the other distinguished guests at the gala.