Gambles hosts sixth annual fundraising fashion show

The eloquent Grays Ferry event featured and honored celebrities like Bernard Hopkins while raising funds for Philly’s youth.

Last Thursday evening, Universal Companies, a local community enrichment nonprofit founded by prolific soul musician Kenneth Gamble and his wife Faatimah, hosted its sixth annual “An Evening of Style and Grace — School Days Edition.” Rick Williams, anchorman of 6 ABC, was one of the evening’s celebrity models. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

Dazzling the runway at Universal Audenried Charter High School, celebrities ranging from legendary boxer Bernard Hopkins to 6ABC news anchor Rick Williams strutted this season’s sleekest designs.

But the display denoted more than haute couture, as Universal Companies, a local community enrichment nonprofit founded by prolific soul musician Kenneth Gamble and his wife Faatimah, hosted its sixth annual “An Evening of Style and Grace — School Days Edition.”

Legendary boxer Bernard Hopkins was one of the evening’s celebrity models.(GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

The eloquent fashion show, which was held Thursday evening at the Grays Ferry high school, benefits the youth of Philadelphia, raising funds for an array of education and etiquette programs, such as the Universal Pearls of Wisdom, From Boys to Men Project and the Universal Audenried Culinary Academy. The star-studded evening also commemorated the 25th anniversary of Universal Companies.

Recognizing the expenses required to manage youth mentoring programs, such as Universal Pearls of Wisdom and From Boys to Men Project, the Gambles felt a fashion show would not solely help to satisfy costs but also allow students to witness style, grace and above all, success stories, on one stage.

“I love the Gambles. I love Kenny Gamble and Faatimah his wife,” said Fox29’s Good Day anchor and guest host Mike Jerrick. “They’re doing great things for our kids. … It is to give young people confidence. The confidence they need to go out into the world and be successful, and it starts with, well, some of it is how they look, but they also teach them how to go from being boys to men. And, they teach them how to be gracious and kind and have style and grace all at the same time. I mean, it’s a great, great idea.”

(GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

Featuring the latest pieces from local boutiques, including Les Richards and My Little Redemption, a slew of high-profile locals awed the crowds, such as Brittney Shipp of NBC 10, Cherri Gregg of KYW Newsradio and Bumi Fernandez of Odunde.

This year’s highlighted celebrity model was light heavyweight and middleweight boxing champion Bernard Hopkins, who says, ever since his recent soft retirement from the ring, he has been trying to give back to the community in his free time.

As a devotee to the Gambles, Hopkins told SPR it was nothing short of an honor to be featured in this year’s fashion show.

From what he’s learned inside and outside of the ring, he wanted the evening’s youth to walk away with one lesson.

“Discipline. Never giving up,” Hopkins said. “Never throw the towel in on yourself, and never let no one throw the towel in on you. But discipline and not just follow your dreams, because to me, in the definition, dreaming is sleeping, it’s not actually woke. So, I go into the realistic world of not only, as they say, ‘dream it, be it.’ No. Dream it. Do it. Be able to be really open to the multi-task mentality of life. More than one thing.”

Although this is the event’s sixth annual year, this is only the second time the show was held at one of Universal Companies’ schools.

The room of prominent guests, including council people and state representatives, was fed a medley of international fare prepared and served by scholars of the Universal Audenried Culinary Academy at the Universal Audenried Charter High School.

(GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

For students, hosting the event at the school elevates the essence of the evening, as guests can candidly see the product of their contributions while even offering some inspiration.

“I think it takes it backs to its roots,” said Universal Audenried Charter High School principal Blanchard Diavua. “I think it helps people to see that it’s real. That it’s not an event in some random venue. The fact that it’s in the school, it lets people know that it really is benefitting the kids. And, the fact we get to see the kids, dialogue with the kids, ask them about their aspirations, they know it’s an event worth supporting.”

In between bites of fire roasted pepper marinara sauce and Asian glazed breasts of chicken, the show, which was emceed by Wharton School of Business student Kwynasia Young and 14-year-old George Washington Carver School of Engineering and Science student Ramier Jones, three Philadelphia difference-makers received the 2018 Universal Community Service Awards. Recipients included Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, Chairman, President and CEO of “The Philadelphia Tribune” Robert W. Bogle and Anna C. Verna, the first woman in Philadelphia history to reach Council presidency.

For the Gambles, the show, coupled with Universal Companies’ quarter-of-a-century milestone, serves as a time of reflection, focusing on successes, as well as some failures, since starting this philanthropy in the early 1990s.

During the evening, Kenneth Gamble recalled to SPR when Universal Audenried Charter High School, which was formerly the Charles Y. Audenried public junior high, was considered one of the most problematic schools in Philadelphia.

The Gambles’ incessant efforts, accompanied with the community’s recent development, has led to the fruition of the charter school in the mid-2010s.

The music impresario says if audiences take anything away from the fashion show, he hopes they recognize the power of persistence when approaching the future of Philly’s youth.

Universal Audenried Culinary Academy students Amira Taylor and Roneyah Mitchell prepare and serve dishes for the evening’s honored guests. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

“What I’d like to see taken away is that it can be done,” he said. “It can be done if we work together and if we work in harmony with each other, and don’t give up. You can’t give up. You just gotta keep pursuing what your ultimate goal is. The ultimate goal is education. How do you educate those and make a school or a place that they love to come to, instead of education being such a trial?”

Follow Grace on Twitter at @GraceMaiorano