Many philanthropists toil and make personal sacrifices—with pleasure—because of their commitment to improving the lives of others. Few realize the challenges and obstacles that some of us encounter in raising funds to support worthy causes. So, it’s always a great feeling when someone acknowledges these efforts.
I experienced such a moment a few weeks ago when I received a letter from the Friends of DeCosta Headley (FODH). The organization’s larger-than-life namesake, DeCosta Headley, wrote that he learned about my work with orphans, commitment to nurturing young leaders and other humanitarian activities – and wanted to honor me as Humanitarian of the Year at his upcoming annual gala.
After meeting with DeCosta and other honorees for dinner at a wonderful downtown Brooklyn restaurant, I decided to accept his invitation. The organization will recognize my humanitarian work with a proclamation from the iconic Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz on May 9 at Giando on the Water.
Giando is a splendid restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that offers a panoramic view of Manhattan’s skyline and all three East River bridges. The theme for the upcoming gala isCelebrating an Evening with Champions, Honoring the Exemplary Service of Today’s Leaders.
When I met DeCosta for dinner, I asked him why he selected me as an honoree. DeCosta told me that he’s impressed with my decision to end my Wall Street career and follow a higher calling to help those in need.
“Jim, your work on behalf of orphaned children is commendable,” DeCosta told me. “Individuals like you who look beyond color and creed to meet the needs of those who have no voice.”
DeCosta is one of Brooklyn’s most interesting figures. He’s a combination of a businessman, politician, powerbroker, philanthropist and community activist. Each year he brings a diverse group of professionals together for this networking event that is also a fundraising gala to support his organization’s work: scholarships to students from low-income families, resources to schools in poor neighborhoods and a truckload of turkeys to seniors at Thanksgiving.
A Brooklyn native, DeCosta, 67, grew up in the gang-ridden neighborhood of Brownsville, Brooklyn. Although reared in a family of modest means, DeCosta successfully navigated his way to college, graduating with a degree in behavioral science from Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C.
His annual fundraising galas usually draw an A-list crowd—a who’s who of Brooklyn’s political, business, medical and legal communities. Last year’s attendees included the borough’s longtime Democratic congressman, Rep. Edolphus Towns (now retired), mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, a Bedford-Stuyvesant native, and high profile attorney Sanford Rubenstein.
One of the reasons I connect with DeCosta is our common passion for helping young people. I have worked for nearly two decades to improve the lives of orphaned children around the globe. One of the fruits of my labor is Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW), which I founded in 1998, not only to help vulnerable children but also to implement my unique vision of replacing orphanages with our Family Care Model.
DeCosta, likewise, has worked to help vulnerable children. He spent several years as a social worker. In the late 1970s he became executive director of several group homes for troubled adolescents and established the Federation of Addiction Agencies in East New York and Brownsville.
We both invest our time and resources to nurture young people and support education. DeCosta has done that through leadership of Community School District 19 in Brooklyn for more than 15 years. One of his accomplishments on the board was to establish the district’s first bilingual education program.
Through the James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (link), I provide funding and assistance in education. One of my current projects is to attempt to establish The International University Center Haiti (Uni Haiti)—a project that began on the first anniversary of the catastrophic 2010 earthquake.
We share an understanding of what philanthropy often requires. As DeCosta stated, “We sacrifice our comfort zones, roll up our sleeves, and hold some little child’s hand to become that assurance to him or her that someone does care.”
“How wonderful to have a life testament that speaks to giving of one’s time, talent and treasure to make life a little more comfortable for those who do not know what it means to be even considered human,” DeCosta added.
Other humanitarians to be honored at the dinner include:
Dr. Abraham Bornstein—Man of The Year
Jewel Brown—Excellence in Community Service
Honorable Melba Brown—Excellence in Community Leadership
Dr. Stephanie Carter-Robins—Excellence in Medicine Award-Podiatry
Elise Conway—Woman of the Year
Rev. Anthony Graham—Ecumenical Leader of the Year
Trevor L. F. Headley, Esq.—Life Achievement in Law
Ernest Logan—Excellence in Education Leadership
Nnenna Onua—Rising Star Award-Legal
Dr. Edmond Ritter—Excellence in Medicine Award-Plastic Surgery
Dr. Sharon Smith—Excellence in Medicine—Internist
Aristotle Tuazon, owner of the Ugly Kitchen Restaurant—Business of the Year Award
Anthony Melikhov, founder of Bright Future International—Humanitarian Award
I hope some of my friends and supporters will join me at the upcoming gala in Brooklyn on May 9 at Giando on the Water. It will be an opportunity to mingle with some of Brooklyn’s movers-and-shakers while also supporting DeCosta’s efforts to improve the lives of people in his community – email email@example.com for ticket information. Join us!
Edited by Nigel Roberts, Managing Editor, The Stewardship Report.
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The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org) is the umbrella organization under which Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW) IS organized. If supporting young global leadership is important to you, subscribe to J. Luce Foundation updates here.