While the New York charity takes a hiatus, some philanthropists and society figures are spending their time and resources during the coronavirus crisis.
Occupation: fashion designer
Favorite Charities: God’s love we deliver, New York Restoration Project
Where did you crouch down
For the first three months of the lockdown, my husband, Lance LePere, and I stayed at our Greenwich Village apartment. We never left the neighborhood. After that, when we finally got to TriBeCa, it felt like we were in another country.
Lance is the creative director for our women’s collection. We do everything together. We work together, quarantine, go for walks together. Our cat is thrilled to spend so much time with us. She is a long haired cat and very spoiled. It looks like it had a permanent wave.
Did your quarantine have an advantage?
I look at buildings in the village that I have never noticed before. I can still go to Li-Lac Chocolates, my favorite candy store, or around my corner to Three Lives, my neighborhood bookstore. They know me, they know my tastes. These are the places that we must support. We don’t want to wake up one day and find that everything is gone.
Tell us about God’s love we deliver.
I’ve been involved since the late 80’s. We were at the height of yet another pandemic. Neighbors, friends, family and employees were infected with HIV and AIDS. There was such a feeling of helplessness. The idea that you could go to someone’s home, bring nutritious food, and interact with people who were feeling abandoned immediately struck me as so brilliant.
What business hurdles did you face?
Most of the years during his time my entire team was in Italy. Our main factories are in Bergamo, a region that has been the epicenter for Covid-19. This year we weren’t. We worked through Zoom, designed it differently and presented the collection virtually to buyers and the press. I’ve learned that people are adaptable.
How has our new normal affected your collection?
New York City has been very well informed about the spring collection. I decided to find a way to show a mix of urban life and nature. I realized that everything had to be very versatile. Do we go back to an office or do we spend time on the beach? We do not know it. Everything has to be durable and worn in so many different scenarios.
What about the way You Dress?
I have a rotating wardrobe that is very focused: it depends on a black cashmere sweater or T-shirt and jeans or sometimes camouflage pants. For Zoom, I reach for something bespoke. I want to feel polished and comfortable. You won’t see me in a hoodie.
What did you miss the most?
I feed on the energy of the people on the street. I need the rush of sights and sounds. I miss all of this. I look forward to seeing a live performance on Broadway. Cant wait to get to a movie theater again. I miss travel badly. Once we’re safe and sound, I plan to walk every street in every city in the world.
Occupation: Robin Hood Foundation executive director, writer, television producer
Where did you seek shelter?
I live in Baltimore with my wife and children – a 9 year old daughter and a 7 year old son – in a house near Johns Hopkins University, my alma mater. When I was growing up, blacks and Jews weren’t allowed to buy real estate in the neighborhood. Before that covenant was broken, they literally just blocked us. But we are here. Our kids are up at their Zoom school right now.
How did you find your way around home school?
You did it well enough. I am incredibly grateful for how resilient our children are, and just incredibly sad about how resilient we force our children to do. We will continue to see inequalities in the way our educational resources are shared. There is no way we will have serious consequences. It’s not because students aren’t trying. It’s because we weren’t prepared and we didn’t prepare them.
How are you keeping up with your work?
We closed our offices in New York in the first few days of March. We saw very early on how significant the effects of this virus would be. Now I drive back and forth to New York to meet with community members. You can see how long the tail is on it. But the severity, the impact – these are things that no one could have predicted.
What is the Robin Hood Foundation doing today?
The relief work we have been doing has been focused on literally getting money into people’s hands for food, housing, legal aid, medical aid and all of those things. We saw early on that some of our government policy initiatives deliberately left millions of people out.
If you were undocumented, there was no assistance. If you were a student, even one who worked part-time, there was no support. We use our philanthropic efforts to help these people who are most vulnerable. For low-income communities and people of color, the urgency has never been so real.
Where does your social commitment come from?
I have seen in my own life how miserably the opportunity was shared. My motivation also comes from my family. I come from a legacy of teachers and ministers. This advocacy, this activism, this belief in the service, as my mother would say, I honestly got it.
You are a writer and memoir writer. Did you find time to write during the lockdown?
I just published a new book, Five Days. It was actually about the riots in Baltimore after Freddie Gray was killed five years ago. The publisher wanted to get it out in March, but I told them the last thing that came to mind was a book tour. They had a new arbitrary release date. The book appeared within weeks of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. People said to me, “Your book is so timely.” But name a moment when it wasn’t in time.
Have you found opportunities to take up new jobs?
I love hiking and fishing. My wife says, “You are the only person I have ever known who turned up in Baltimore and the Bronx who is a nature lover.”
What things don’t you miss
I don’t miss a trip. I was getting back time with my family that I couldn’t even ask for. I had come to fear Sunday evening. That was because I took the train to New York at 5 a.m. on Monday morning. I knew the kids would wake up and I would be gone.
I wrote a little letter every week before I left and left it in her room. It would include a quote or mention something we did that was fun over the weekend. My children kept every letter. One of the things we are grateful for is that I no longer have to write these letters.
occupation: Director of the Brooklyn Museum
Favorite Charity: the campaign against hunger
Where did you seek shelter?
We stayed at our Putnam County lake house for the first five or six months. Then I came back to New York. After living in the East Village for 21 years, I moved to Crown Heights to go to work. My daughter, her boyfriend and I have two stories in a brown stone. My great luxury is that we have a fireplace. I never thought I would have this in New York. I love brooklyn. After the election, hundreds of people spontaneously gathered in the Grand Army Plaza and on the streets
The museum served as a sanctuary for the community during this time. What motivates people to visit?
Looking at history through art can be a way of establishing us. What we are going through now, other civilizations have historically gone through. They feel that we can rise above it. Viewing art encourages people to turn to creative action in order to get through a difficult time.
Have you seen examples in your own life?
My daughter Paris Starn – she is 26 – comes to mind. She had a small, young fashion brand and struggled during that time. She now cooks, makes pop-ups in restaurants, and leads classes online. She is my best role model.
What is your typical day?
I work 12 hour days with consecutive online meetings. Everything is zoom, zoom, zoom. My daughter makes dinner every night. I can’t cook much more than spaghetti and meatballs. Last night she went out for dinner so I made scrambled eggs – no salt, no pepper, no nothing.
Can you explain how you expanded the museum’s mission?
We used to see museums as repositories for great art. The museum is also a place for community meetings and public service. Covid-19 made this all the more urgent. People used our campus outside for sports, so we made spaces available for socially distant yoga and sound baths. We made the museum a place for distributing food. We partnered with the Bed Stuy Anti Hunger Campaign to provide boxes of fresh produce and Thanksgiving turkeys for local families. That’s one way we turned.
What are others?
Our lobby has become an early polling station. People cast ballots against the backdrop of Ed Ruscha’s “Our Flag,” which showed the flag in ruins. We installed Constance P. Beaty’s portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg for inspiration. We were finally able to open our Studio 54 exhibition. People came en masse. It was great to see them all dancing through the hallways – when was the last time we danced?
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