In eight days (September 23), The St. Louis American Foundation will once again bring black glamour to America’s Center for the 30th Annual Salute to Excellence in Education Scholarship and Awards Gala. As per usual, hundreds of thousands of dollars will be given away to help students pursue post-secondary education. The shining stars within the field of education will get the praise they deserve for their tireless efforts of shaping the minds of young people to build the next generation of leaders. What those who have never attended might not know is that everyone will party like its 1999 once all the awards are distributed and attendance prizes won.
By now, readers are keenly aware of the awardees and honors that take place during the formal program. But since Salute has hit a milestone, I thought it would be fitting to give people who haven’t attended a little insight on the celebratory side of things.
I attended my first Salute in 2005, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew that it was a black-tie event, which I assumed meant stiff and proper. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Back then, I was a freelancer. I hadn’t yet made what I’m sure will be life-long connections I now have with the people that make up the St. Louis American family – which includes past employees, contributors and our invaluable team of event volunteers.
I hadn’t worn anything so fancy since my high school prom. Driving over and getting my 1998 Hyundai Elantra valet parked was a new experience to say the least. It was a few years before Drake’s “Fancy” record dropped, but that’s exactly how I felt. I can’t remember if the red carpet was there back then, but I’ve decided that it was – and I’m sticking with it.
Stepping into the space, the America’s Center had an extreme makeover that made it feel like prom to the tenth power. Back then, a celebrity keynote speaker was a part of the programming. For that year it was Dr. James P. Comer, professor of child psychiatry at Yale University. Honestly, I don’t remember what he said, but what I will never forget is the fabulous time I had.
Everyone was dressed to the nines, but nothing about the night was stuffy or pretentious – and the guests included people I had only read about and seen pictures of in the paper and on television.
That night in 2005, I learned that the dance floor of the Salute old school afterparty is the great equalizer. I won’t put anybody on blast, but I saw people who look like they shower in business suits cutting a rug and getting down. Whoever is in the room is fair game to connect with and have the kind of good time that you talk about for weeks or months on down the line.
As I was limping out – because my heel time expired long before I left the party – I thought “this was actually better than my prom.”
It was so much fun that it felt like it had to be an anomaly.
“Is it always like that,” I asked Mary Easter (who was Mary Winbush at the time) when I came to the office the following Monday after complimenting her on her choice of gown.
“Yes,” she replied. “We don’t play when it comes to Salute – and I always look nice.”
It was one of the first laughs we had. It’s even funnier now because it’s true.
Over the years, the party has never stopped. We’ve had nationally renowned talent and local favorites as part of the afterparty experience and jazz cabaret that takes place.
A couple of my favorite memories were when Doug E. Fresh moved the crowd as only he could and MC Lyte rocked the party with a set of her biggest hits as DJ Kut backed her up on the tables.
Oh, and Denise Thimes’ rendition of the Bobby Caldwell R&B classic “What You Won’t Do For Love” slays every single time she includes it in her cabaret set. I hope she works it in this year.
DJ Kut and Denise Thimes will be back again for year 30. Those who show up to celebrate with us can expect give a toast to educators and students – and to get down all over again when the formal program is over.
The St. Louis American Foundation’s 30th Annual Salute to Excellence in Education Scholarship and Awards Gala will take place on Saturday, September 23 at America’s Center. To purchase tickets, click here or call (314) 533-8000.