Black History Month
For the second year in a row, the Consulate General of France in New York celebrated Black History Month. Along with the Harry Winston Hope Foundation, the Consulate hosted on February 24, 2011 a reception and an auction which raised approximately 75 000 dollars for Harlem Academy. The auction featured jewellery by Harry Winston, an Yves Saint Laurent bag and three bottles of marvellous red burgundy and a weekend at the sumptuous Shangri-La hotel in Paris which has just opened. A trio from the Juilliard School performed at the concert held at the reception.
Speech by the Consul General of France in New York, Mr. Philippe Lalliot, on the occasion of the auction:
Madame la Ministre, Mesdames les Députées,
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends:
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the Consulate tonight for this reception in celebration of Black History Month. It is a tradition that we began last year and I intend with your support to continue this tradition in the years to come.
I would like to thank first and foremost the Harry Winston Hope Foundation and in particular Frédéric de Narp, the CEO of Harry Winston for their friendship, their availability and their great generosity.
As you know, this first part of the evening in entirely dedicated to Harlem Academy. Vincent Dotoli will tell you a bit more shortly but I wanted to say in a few words why I am so interested in this school.
I’m absolutely convinced of three things. First, that education will be at issue in the next few decades and that we will never invest enough in this field; it is the future of our societies that is at stake here and it is so from the youngest age. Second, if we want our societies to be peaceful and our economies to be dynamic, our first objective must be to fight against inequalities and make sure that our best schools are accessible to all. Finally, I believe that we should make more place for merit in our societies. Without that our speeches on promoting diversity makes no sense and too many talented people will be left behind.
You will say that I am a dreamer! Perhaps, but if we want to change things and make a difference, we must start now and we can begin by acting locally.
Harlem Academy can help us with this. The only criteria for recruitment at Harlem Academy is merit. Tuitions are adjusted based on the parents’ revenues with most of the students coming from underprivileged backgrounds. The school gives an education of exceptional quality which the students’ results show. However, even beyond academic excellence, it is the attitude of the Harlem Academy students which impresses me each time I meet them: they are curious of everything, open to the world and happy to learn. This also they owe largely to their school.
To help Harlem Academy continue it’s development you can buy tonight wonderful jewels by Harry Winston, a watch and a pair of earrings, an Yves Saint-Laurent bag, three bottles of marvellous red Burgundy offered by my friend George Sape as well as a weekend in the sumptuous Shangri-La hotel in Paris which has just opened.
A short auction thus, with only five items but all of exceptional quality for an exceptional school. The auction will be lead by Hugh Hiledsley of Sotheby’s who has generously accepted to be with us tonight. I remind you that the totality of funds raised tonight will be given to Harlem Academy.
Finally, my thanks to Louis Roederer Champagne and Pétrossian USA as well as Pierre Battu who helped us prepare this evening. I am also very thankful to Bruno Bich who was not able to be with us tonight but who has made a very generous contribution to the Harlem Academy.
A toutes et à tous, une excellente soirée.
Speech by the Consul General of France in New York, Mr. Philippe Lalliot, on the occasion of the reception:
Mesdames les Députées,
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Friends :
Last year, the Consulate General of France organized for the first time a reception to celebrate the historic links that unite France and the Black American community. This year once again, it is with great pleasure that I welcome you all for this cocktail in honor of Black History Month. I intend, with your support to continue this tradition each year.
This reception would never have taken place without the generosity of our sponsors, starting with Harry Winston. I would also like to thank Shangri-La, Yves Saint Laurent, George Sape, Bruno Bich, Champagne Roederer, Petrossian USA, Pierre Battu and Chet Whye for their help and generosity.
We wished to honor tonight a marvellous school in Harlem for which we have just raised 000 dollars. The Harlem Academy is indeed an example of academic excellence, solidarity, and social advancement. Recruitment to the school is based exclusively on merit. The results of its students are outstanding.
Each time I meet students from Harlem Academy, what strikes me the most about them is their curiosity, their openness to the world, their wish to learn and the obvious pleasure with which they learn. This attitude is perhaps the biggest success of the school.
At a time in which we speak of globalization, innovation, and tolerance, education is in fact in my eyes the biggest challenge in the years to come. We must thus make it so that as many children as possible have access to the best schools. To give a chance to children today is to inspire the same desire to pass on learning, to fight injustices and to construct a better world for future generations.
I am happy and proud to organize on behalf of France an event which recognizes the crucial role played by the Black American community in the history, culture and economic development of the United States.
Allow me also to recall the particular bond which unites African-Americans and France. My country will always be grateful of the bravery and the self-sacrifice of the “Harlem Hell Fighters”, the famous Infantry regiment which participated in the battles of the Marne, the Meuse and Champagne regions during the First World War. The Harlem Hell Fighters counted 1,500 killed or wounded amongst their ranks; 171 amongst them received the French Legion of Honor at the end of the war.
It is these African-American troops who introduced in France that then unknown music, jazz, which continued on and thrived in the 1930s with the “Negritude” or “Blackness” movement, spread by numerous African-American expatriates in France. I think of Josephine Baker or famous jazzmen such as Sidney Bechet, Charlie Parker or Miles Davis. The students of the Juilliard School give us the pleasure of continuing this grand tradition tonight.
On another note, we also remember several authors from Harlem who settled in Paris after the war: Langston Hughes, Claude McKay and Countee Cullen, who were in turn followed by Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Chester Himes, who established links with Albert Camus, Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
Of course when we speak of the Black community in New York today, we speak of the diverse community which includes African-Americans but also West Indians and Africans. I am very conscious that the history of relations between France and Africa and the West Indies has its high points but also it’s dark moments that must not be concealed.
We must try with honesty and humility to draw lessons from this past so as not to repeat the same mistakes in the future. The duty to remember is an essential preoccupation for France. That is why, each year on May 10th, France pays homage to the victims of slavery and the slave trade in taking on our share of responsibility for this tragedy.
Dear Friends :
We have thus between France and African Americans a shared history, although it is not well known. I am all the more happy to welcome you in this house, which in on French soil in the heart of Manhattan. I am especially happy to do so at the time when the United States celebrates “Black History Month” and the memory of events and the men and women who made African American History from the American Revolution to the election of Barack Obama without forgetting of course the struggle for civil rights and equality.
I wish you all en excellent evening.