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Mother-daughter celebs to be honored at gala

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Vivian Ayers, Pulitzer Prize nominee, educator and curator, along with her daughter Debbie Allen, Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner and acclaimed choreographer, will be honored during the ninth annual Dr. M.A. Lee Scholarship Gala on Saturday, Aug. 2, at Cornerstone.

Ayers and Allen were chosen to be the Dr. Maurice A. Lee Living Legacy recipients because, “they embody the spirit of legendary humanitarians who continue to create opportunities for others with no signs of slowing down,” said Lee, gala founder.

“Through their enormous contributions, they have blazed a path that makes it a little easier for others to accomplish their goals,” he said.

Since its inception, the gala has awarded nearly 90 first-time college students with more than $100,000 in scholarships dollars that can be used at the college or university of their choice.

During the gala, nine rising college freshmen will be awarded $1,000 scholarships.

The black, red and white semi-formal affair, which will begin at 6 p.m., will also feature celebrity appearances by Brian White, Denise Boutte, Keion Carpenter, Tyler Lepley and Syleena Johnson.

Lee said with the continuing shift of the “economy and the national rise in tuition and college expenses for students, it is imperative that we continue to invest in the lives of those coming after us.”

The event is more than just an evening of entertainment with a few Hollywood stars. It’s an effort to keep the community engaged in helping to offset the cost of post-secondary education for some of Orangeburg’s greatest minds and the nation’s brightest stars, Lee said.

“We all have a responsibility to assist students so that they can have a better opportunity at becoming productive citizens who will be able to pour back into their communities,” he said. “The country is in need of more initiatives and scholarship funds to prepare our students so that they can become a part of a global society.”

During last year’s event, Rosalie “Rose” Tingman-Rock, mother of actor-comedian Chris Rock, was honored with the inaugural Dr. Maurice A. Lee Living Legacy Award.

Lee, a local Walgreens pharmacist, recently wrapped up production on a short film about mentoring on the campuses of Claflin University and South Carolina State University.

A portion of the film, which features Orangeburg and regional actors ranging from ages 7 to 24, will debut at the gala.

Born into a family of educators in Chester, Vivian Ayers Allen has long embraced culture, language and their relationship to the arts.

Ayers-Allen has left a mark on the literary world with her Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1952 for her poem “Hawk” and in her 1972 work, “Workshops in Open Fields.”

She owns Brainerd Estates, which sits on the former grounds of the historic Brainerd Institute that grew out of an 1866 school built to educate freedmen.

Ayers is also the mother of Tony Award-winning actress Phylicia Rashad, who is best known for her role as attorney Claire Huxtable on NBC’s “Cosby Show” and jazz musician Andrew Arthur “Tex” Allen Jr.

With the mere mention of Debbie Allen’s name, the tune to “Fame” sticks in the minds of fans of the show:

“Fame! I’m gonna live forever, I’m gonna learn how to fly high.”

“Fly high” is what the legendary actress and cultural activist has done.

Allen was the only character to reprise her role in all three versions of the “Fame” franchise.

She has also worked as the choreographer for the Academy Awards several times, in addition to her work with Hollywood celebrities.

Allen was the first African-American woman to produce a major motion picture, 1997’s “Amistad” directed by Stephen Spielberg.

“Dr. Ayers and Debbie Allen-Nixon have both contributed to our communities on a national platform. The works that they have done individually and collectively speaks volumes,” Lee said.

“We invite the community to come support their work and the foundation and its scholars.”

Tickets for the gala are $35. Cornerstone is located at 1481 Chestnut St. in Orangeburg.

For more information, visit

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5552. Follow on Twitter @KimberleiDavis.


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