Magazine article The New Yorker

Night Out

Magazine article The New Yorker

Night Out

Article excerpt

One afternoon in the week before Christmas, the Christian Cultural Center, a megachurch in Canarsie, Brooklyn, hosted what was billed as a holiday concert for the homeless: one that would not merely raise money for some of New York's more disadvantaged citizens but provide them more directly with seasonal cheer. A few weeks earlier, an e-mail from the event's publicist had gone out, with the subject line "NYC Homeless Treated to a Night Out on the Town with Natalie Cole." The e-mail said, "This year, instead of receiving hand me downs from others, those attending the show will enjoy a night of star treatment, complete with gifts."

The concert, it turned out, was a dress rehearsal for a fund-raiser at Avery Fisher Hall, which was to take place the following night. "I would consider myself a laborer of love," said the singer and actress Pauletta Pearson Washington, who is the wife of Denzel Washington, as she waited in her dressing room before the run-through performance, clad in gray cashmere Donna Karan sweats ("I get cold on planes, and cashmere is so warm") and a diamond pendant in the shape of a heart which Denzel had bought for her as a birthday gift. ("It wasn't even a zero birthday, it was a regular-number birthday," she said.) Washington said that she'd first met the Reverend A. R. Bernard, the founder and pastor of the church, four years ago, when he officiated at the wedding of Star Jones. "The greatest thing about this event is that, wherever they come from, I hope they leave here a different person," Washington said. "Remember that Jesus Christ was born in a manger, and he was a king, the King. All these people will come to a beautiful, festive event--they will leave here kings and queens, princes and princesses."

By three o'clock, the scheduled start time, the members of the Manhattan Pops orchestra and the church choir had taken their places onstage, while four hundred or so guests were seated in the sanctuary. Many of the attendees turned out not actually to be homeless but, rather, to work for organizations providing services to the homeless. These included Cynthia Turner, a counsellor at the Bowery Mission, who explained that all but one of her twenty-odd clients were working--work experience is part of the Bowery Mission's program--and thus were unable to attend. There had been other glitches: some members of a party from the Brownsville Recreation Center had been under the impression that they were heading for Avery Fisher Hall. Karen Miller, who works as a security guard at the center, had taken her ten-year-old son, Dante, out of school for the day. …

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