“Each of our honorees has changed the landscape of human and civil rights in sports, fashion, art, and philanthropy,” said Peter Kunhardt Jr., the executive director of the Gordon Parks Foundation. “Each has elevated a field that Gordon Parks has worked in and cared deeply about—for each exemplifies the commitment to inspire future generations.”
All who attended the event at Cipriani 42nd Street heaped praise on one of the most prolific Renaissance men of the 21st Century. Parks was a photographer, filmmaker, composer, poet and, most importantly, a standard-bearer of civil rights—a quality that was reflected in the night’s award recipients.
Wiley, whose portrait of President Barack Obama hangs at the National Portrait Gallery, is indebted to Parks’s work as an artist. “Gordon Parks made it okay for everyone to be in the great museums across the world. My work is inspired, and I stand on the shoulders of what Gordon Parks has done.”
Simons expressed how Parks’s work was able “to shape the world and make it liveable.” And as someone that “supports the arts big time,” the fashion designer appeared humbled by being an honoree. Contemporary artist Hank Willis Thomas, who was named one of the 2019 Gordon Parks Foundation Fellows, recounted how Parks was a friend of his mother’s, and how honored he was to be in the same breath as one of his childhood idols. “I could not imagine how his legacy would continue, and to be a small part of it—to be a fellow, be in the archives, engage in his work, and have my name alongside his—is really amazing.”
In addition to all the awards presentations, the event also celebrated the 20th anniversary of A Great Day in Hip-Hop, Parks’s monumental photograph of 177 music artists for the cover of XXL magazine. On hand were a number of its subjects, including Debbie Harry, who attended the evening with her Blondie bandmate Chris Stein. “We’re honored to be a part of the photograph,” said Harry. “We get a lot of accolades, but being a part of that was kind of special.”
The auction for a print of A Great Day in Hip-Hop, along with nine other of Parks’s work, helped raise 1.3 million dollars to support the foundation’s educational programs, fellowships, and the newly established Gordon Parks Arts and Social Justice Fund. In the past year alone, the organization has already awarded scholarships and prizes to 24 recipients from colleges across the U.S—further emphasizing its commitment to fostering a culturally rich tomorrow through the arts.
“His camera was his weapon of choice to fight racism and poverty,” added Kunhardt Jr. “He knew that art could be a powerful weapon, more potent than violence. And through pictures and words, he could open our eyes.”