View photos of Susan L. Taylor and her famous friends »

The phrase “party with a purpose” has taken on a completely new meaning. Tuesday night, former ESSENCE Editor-in-Chief Susan L. Taylor and a bevy of her famous friends came out to celebrate the work she has done with the National CARES Mentoring Movement.

Anyone who knows Taylor, has religiously read her In the Spirit columns or has worked with her understands that giving back is like food to her soul, and mentoring is her fillet mignon. But no other friend could
have made the event more special than Oprah Winfrey herself.

The salute brought out an eclectic mix of people who all pretty much said the same thing: If Susan calls, you come running. I stopped to speak with workout queen Donna Richardson Joyner, who was honored to be there to celebrate Susan and spoke about her as the ultimate role model.

“Our young Black girls need to have positive women in their lives,” said Richardson Joyner. “Sometimes if you don’t have someone pushing you to help you build good self-esteem and confidence, you could actually be detrimental to yourself.”

I ran into Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, who mentioned that she recently met with Susan in Baltimore to begin recruiting mentors and matching them up with youngsters as a way of engaging Baltimore’s teens. She might be the mayor of one of our country’s toughest urban cities, but she’s a mother first. I asked Mayor Dixon about how mentors have helped her own children flourish.

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“My children are blessed. They have a mother and father who are engaged in their lives,” said Dixon. “I teach my kids that when something is given to you, you have to give back tenfold. My daughter is seeking mentoring opportunities now that she’s in college, and my son is involved in finding mentors in politics now that Barack Obama has won. In today’s society, it takes a village to raise a child is no longer just a saying.”

One of the best early moments of the evening was seeing Attallah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X, sneak up on Ruby Dee. Watching them exchange powerful hugs was so genuine; I could only imagine what Ms. Dee has meant to Shabazz for all these years. I’ve seen Shabazz many times before, but standing right in front of her, peering into those green/grey eyes, you’re instantly reminded of her father’s enormous presence. I asked her, growing up in a single-parent home for most of her childhood, ­who were her mentors. With a clarity and almost poetic eloquence she said, “First of all, I’ve never seen myself as coming from a single-parent household because I grew being shaped by the spirit of my father. My mother was defined by her union with my father, however, wishing that he were here, I lived my life making sure that that which was given to me, was not for naught. The mentoring they gave me allowed my life to have meaning.”

Along came Donnie McClurkin, the well-known pastor and gospel singer, who later on in the evening went to town singing with Yolanda Adams. Dr.Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College, was right behind, followed by rapper Common, who shared that when he talks to kids, he speaks to them like they’re his little brothers and sisters. “It’s part of our African tradition and still very much a part of who we are. My mother was a very strong figure in my life, so she would be the primary mentor, but then my uncle came in and taught me a couple of manly things and got me to start being a man.”

An hour or so after the first guests arrived, I spoke to Oprah’s best friend Gayle King who revealed Oprah rarely does stuff like this. In fact, she said Oprah doesn’t really do this at all, but for Susan, she made the exception.

The story goes like this: Winfrey has spent the last few days in South Africa tending to her students at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. When Susan called and asked her to spearhead this evening, she knew she would just be coming off an 18-hour flight back to the states. She asked Susan, what is it you’re trying to do? The goal for this evening was to raise half a million dollars. In a way that no one else but Oprah Winfrey could do, she nonchalantly offered to donate that amount to Susan. Of course the audience ate it up, because who else but Oprah would and could do such a thing. Later on at the tribute, she did even more. She pledged another $500,000 to the National CARES Mentoring Movement for a whopping total of 1 million dollars.

I caught up with Ms. Winfrey before things got started. “Susan Taylor is a shero of mine, because she not only talks it but lives in the spirit. She was one of the first voices out there saying, we have got to
learn to mentor our children. We have got to learn that when you get you give; when you learn you teach. I am here because of her and believe that unless we do stand up for our children, we will have another generation lost to itself.

“The problem is there was a whole generation of people who forgot to tell their kids who they really were. They were so happy celebrating the fruits of freedom and the Civil Right Movement that they forgot to pass on the responsibility to their children. The National CARES Mentoring Movement is all about that; we see you, we hear you and we care about you and we’re going to do something about making your possibility for success a possibility in the world.”

There are no better words that could have summed up this tribute. It was indeed a truly, awe-inspiring evening that indelibly left everyone with a better understanding of the remarkable life and impact one woman’s work can have on us as a whole.

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