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Harlem YMCA celebrates 50th year of scholarship gala

Harlem YMCA celebrates 50 years of awarding scholarships to local youth 02:26

NEW YORK - On Thursday, the YMCA of Greater New York held its 50th celebration of the Harlem Y's partnership with corporate sponsors, awarding scholarships to dozens of deserving local youth.

The 50th bai Achievers in Industry gala was hosted by CBS Los Angeles anchor DeMarco Morgan.

"This is the Y's first in-person event in over two years and it happens to be this event celebrating our achievers," said YMCA of Greater New York President and CEO Sharon Greenberg. "Celebrating youth, coming together is magical."

The signature scholarship is the Carrie Terrell Youth Achiever Award, presented this year by former recipient and current global manager at Conde Nast Khalia Braxton, whose path to success started here.

"It was like that one thing that I needed to prove to myself," said Braxton. "It wasn't even about paying off Spelman. It was just like, if you could get this one, you can get another one. If you get another one, we're on our way."

Braxton passed the torch to this year's winner Tabitha Ferdinand, a senior at Hillside Arts and Letters Academy, who plans to attend Brooklyn College next year. Ferdinand credits the Y for helping her find her voice.

"When I first joined, I got a reward for being the most quiet person," Ferdinand said, laughing. "Throughout the years, counselors have been a great attribute to my confidence."

During the pandemic, Ferdinand stayed active in virtual youth activities and started her own candle-making company, Scented By Tabs. Sharing her story on stage at Thursday's gala led to further funding to run her online business from honoree John Hope Bryant, founder of Operation HOPE.

"That package of services is worth $25,000. Congratulations," Hope told Ferdinand in front of the crowd.

Ferdinand is just the latest in a long line of scholars helped by the Harlem Y. For 90 years, the facility on West 135th Street has provided a safe haven for young people of color to thrive.

Beds have remained open to travelers, transients and those who need transitional housing. Its historic walls depict stories of community resilience. Today, member posters exclaim, "We Are Y."

Young members are learning the importance of having friends to lean on.

"They were very distant, not only among themselves, but there was just this distance to the whole fellowship, what it means to fellowship, what it means to be a teenager," explained Harlem YMCA executive director LaToya Jackson. "Because for two years they were basically locked up in their house."

That community is coming back together once again now, and it is just in time for summer camp season. Registration is open now at a YMCA near you.

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