Hope (and Patience and Fortitude) Spring Eternal at the NYPL Dinner

by Kelly Laffey Photographed by Angela Pham/
Friday, May 19, 2017

Storytelling was in the air as the New York Public Library celebrated its annual Spring Dinner on May 18, honoring justice reform advocate Glenn E. Martin. The event lauded lifelong learners and the impact that the library has had on people’s lives.

“I’m receiving an award that belongs to tens of thousands of New Yorkers who believe in justice,” said Martin, who was incarcerated in a New York State prison for six years. The experience, coupled with the library’s resources, inspired him to found JustLeadershipUSA, which seeks to cut the U.S. correctional population in half by 2030.

“I had a vision, and a vision stays as a vision unless other people believe in it and help move it forward. While I get to receive the award, it belongs to so many different people,” said Martin.

He attributes the library to helping him to acclimate into society after being released. “The New York Public Library has a document called Connection that is arguably the most up to date resource guide for people who are involved in the criminal justice in New York. It creates a road map for people who are re-entering society.” Connection introduced Martin to a re-entry organization that helped him to get his first job after leaving prison 15 years ago. His work with JustLeadershipUSA is just getting started, though he’s proud that Mayor Bill de Blasio has recently announced New York City’s policy is to move toward closing Rikers Island. “[But], there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said.

The evening commenced with cocktails in Astor Hall, with a dinner program and performance by Bernadette Peters downstairs in Celeste Bartos Forum.

Peters opened her set with There Is Nothing Like a Dame, from South Pacific, before taking the stage to talk about the library. Though born and raised in Queens, the first time she entered the New York Public Library’s flagship Fifth Avenue branch was two months ago for a party for Sunday in the Park with George. “I didn’t come in the side door,” she said. “I came up the front steps. I took a photo of myself in front of the building to make sure that everyone knew I did it.” She showed everyone the photo on her phone and talked about the importance of libraries to children before launching into Children Will Listen from Into the Woods.

As guests dined, the library showcased storytelling vignettes that emphasized how the library’s resources have helped New Yorkers in various endeavors.

Among the honorees was Ron Clark, who grew up in the Washington Heights branch. Library President and CEO Tony Marx explained that at the time, the library custodian—Clark’s father—lived in an apartment in the branch’s top floor. At a celebration for the opening of a new teen center and computer lab in the former apartment, Clark introduced himself. “He told me he would sneak down in the evening and have the library to himself. He felt like a millionaire,” said Marx.

Clark was introduced to the library’s storytelling campaign through his daughter, and he agreed to be a part of it. His story told of how he used the library’s resources to learn how to build a boat, which he did, taking it out to sea on such a clear night that the stars were reflected in the water. A recent favorite read is Battles that Changed History. “It answered a lot of questions I had about the Bible,” he said.

Among the other honorees were Adriana Blancarte Hayward, who described how the library helped her to become a U.S. Citizen this past January; Khadija Bhuiyan, who developed a love for reading and then education during the library’s summer program; and Nooria Nardrat, a blind patron who used the library’s resources to overcome her disability.

Patience and Fortitude, indeed.


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