New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom became a mecca for positive change and feel-good funk, thanks to the We Are Family Foundation Gala.
Founded by legendary musician Nile Rodgers, the non-profit organization highlights, honors and mentors young leaders of tomorrow through programs like Three Dot Dash and TEDxTeen, while also paying homage to high-profile movers-and-shakers who have made a change in the world through the power of their art and charitable efforts.
"I look for honesty, integrity, commitment to a cause," Rodgers told Billboard of some of the characteristics he admires in the foundation's award recipients year after year, later adding "consistency, longevity and bravery."
Among Friday night's (Apr. 28) honorees were NBA Hall-of-Famer Dikembe Mutombo, who was given the Humanitarian Award, and a posthumous honor rewarded to Nelson Mandela (accepted by his grandson Ndaba) for the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Peacemaker Award.
"If it wasn't for the support of family and friends from different walks of life," said the "gentle giant" Mutombo during his acceptance speech, "I would not have accomplished what you have seen." Some of the retired baller's charitable efforts include work with UNICEF, the Special Olympics and the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation. He also opened a hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, named in honor of his mother, Biamba Marie Mutombo.
Ndaba Mandela is not only following in his grandfather's footsteps by working to promote peace, he is also hoping that he can help groom the "next generation of Nelson Mandelas" and keep his grandfather's legacy alive through the Africa Rising Foundation.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it's in our hands to create a better Earth. It is in our hands," he confidently stated.
Hip-hop supergroup A Tribe Called Quest was honored with the Unity Award, which "honors those in the public eye who have made tremendous efforts and inroads into making the human condition better around the world through their work as artists."
"We put this up for Phife Dawg," said ATCQ-member Q-Tip in front of the ample crowd while accepting their award. "It's a great acknowledgement and one that we don't take lightly."
"When I first heard their [ATCQ] music, it was during the height of the East vs. West [feud], artists like them made us chill," explained Rodgers' appreciation for the hip-hop icons. "They perfectly embodied where we're coming from. When you're about artistry, you get respect from everyone.They talked about social issues, and they talked about things that made you think, not just things that make you react. I've just always adored them. They're great artists plus great friends."
In regards to how he believes his group encapsulates the word "unity," ATCQ's Jarobi White sees their vision of togetherness shining through during performances.
"I think that when you come to an A Tribe Called Quest concert and you look at the crowd, I think that stands as a true testament to the inclusive story we try to include in our music," he says of the group's diverse following. White also believes that tackling certain social issues is important for all artists to integrate.
"To whom much is given, much is required," he says. "To be given a platform, we not only have to entertain, we have to enlighten."
"[ATCQ] is the generation, they are that voice. They are the cultural leaders that people gravitate towards in a positive way," says hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Caz, of the Tribe's upstanding legacy in the industry. "They encourage a nationalist kind of view, being proud of ourselves, loving ourselves. Hip-hop needs more A Tribe Called Quests, more KRS-Ones, more Righteous Teachers, more Public Enemys to keep delivering that positive cultural message to us."
As for what longtime Tribe member Phife Dawg would have thought about the accolades? White believes that he would be thrilled by the support and the love from fans and critics alike.
"I know he's getting a kick out of all of this right now," he says with a smile. "I know he's having fun."
Of course, you couldn't have a proper party without Nile Rodgers and Chic bringing back some funky classics. The musicians brought out Cathy Sledge for Sister Sledge's hits "He's the Greatest Dancer" and "We Are Family," while tracks performed and penned by Rodgers such as "Le Freak," Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and "Good Times" (featuring interpolations of "Rapper's Delight" performed by Grandmaster Caz and LL Cool J) really got the crowd going.
Good vibes coupled with inspiring moments made the event a night to remember.