I’ve hosted hundreds of events over my 15 year career as a television personality and they can sometimes become indistinguishable in my memory. However this past weekend’s event for CityDance was one of my top 5 all time favorites that I don’t think I will ever forget. It has taken me a few days to process my feelings and zone into what made the experience so special to me. I’ll start by giving you a little background… First off, my weeks are pretty much packed with mornings either at Fox 5’s Good Day DC or recording The HeyFrase with Paul Wharton Podcast, running my beauty company and overseeing fulfillment which sometimes means rolling my sleeves up, writing personal notes to our clients and helping to pack and ship products across the country. Afternoons seem to consist of countless meetings and phone calls and then in the evenings, I am usually booked to host anywhere from 1 to sometimes 3 or 4 events each week. Last week was one of those weeks when I literally had to manage my energy level precisely. On those kinds of hectic weeks, I stick to a time for meditation in the mornings and evenings, a designated bed time, wake up time, how much time I get for TV (usually about 15 minutes in the morning to check the news and 30 minutes in the evening to flip around on Netflix), how much time I get to chill with my morning coffee (a cup and a half), my “walk windows” which I usually use to walk from my home to my office downtown and since we’re sharing here, how much bread, sugar and alcohol I allow myself to consume is drastically limited to help ensure my energy and attitude will sustain my obligations. I drink cold pressed juice and make all sorts of natural smoothies in the am and pm to curb my appetite and help me stay balanced. Even though I followed last week’s plan to the best of my ability, I was waiting anxiously for the physical and mental crash moment which seemed eminent. On Friday I woke up around 5:45 am, did my morning workout, showered and headed up to the station for hair and grooming which I have done at the studio. I am usually vibrating pretty high in the morning… But this morning was especially electric because the fabulous, the iconic friend in my head, Ms. Debbie Allen was going to be my guest on the show. In the midst of my blow out, the door to the make up room pops open and Debbie Allen walks in. I jumped out of the seat with my hair half blown out and went over to greet her. She was kind, required no special attention from my glam squad but I could tell she needed a few minutes to fully wake up from her west coast travel. By the time the last beach wave was set in my hair and I was powdered down, our instant connection had taken Ms. Allen to Aunt Deb before we walked to set. I was in love and I think the feeling was mutual.
Janae Collins, a young woman that has been in the CityDance program for 10 years joined “Aunt Deb”, Wisdom Martin and I on the couch to share her experiences with CityDance and how it has changed her life. JAnne spoke on the people she’s been able to meet and how the program has helped to build her confidence and prepare her for the next chapter in her life. Ms. Allen spoke on the importance of dance and how it unifies us regardless of our political party, color or any other extenuating factors, she said we needed it now and I couldn’t agree more. I later heard from a CityDance board member that my call to action during the interview, sharing ways that viewers could support CityDance resinated with the audience and resulted in increased ticket sales and sponsor support. I can’t tell you how happy that mare me. I don’t often bring this up, I actually don’t think I’ve ever shared this but when I was in middle school, I heard about The Duke Ellington School of The Arts. People used to say, it’s the “Fame” school. The idea of going to a school where more kids were like me and I would fit in and have the opportunity to be my singing, dancing, microphone grabbing, Oprah impersonating self, sent me into a state of day dream ecstasy. One day during my middle school years, I even skipped school and found my way from the Maryland suburbs where we lived to downtown DC in search of this school. When I finally found my way to the school, I just stood outside and looked at it. I hoped, wished and wanted so badly to go to The Duke Ellington School of The Arts but my Father had already planned to send me to DeMatha Catholic High School for boys. I don’t have many regrets in life, I actually don’t believe in having regrets and I wouldn’t say that I regret having gone to DeMatha, but rather if I did have a slight regret, it would be not having pushed harder with my parents to understand my deep desire to attend The Ellington School. Things worked out as they were meant to and now, many years later, I was given the opportunity to share CityDance’s message and let others know how they are giving kids the opportunity to dance that may not have otherwise had the opportunity. In that moment, I felt an immediate and visceral connection to that 12 year old Paul that stood outside of the Ellington School but didn’t quite know how to get in.
On the day of the gala, I was judging a “Fab Hat” contest on Members Hill at The Virginia Gold Cup so I got up bright and early to get ready again and head out to The Plains, about an hour and a half away in Virginia. I rushed home for a quick shower, 10 minute meditation and wardrobe change and then on to the Lincoln Theater to witness one of the most profoundly moving dance performances that I’ve ever seen. After many tears, laughter, exhilaration, a few more tears and wildly enthusiastic applause, I floated over to Mulebone where I would host the gala’s after party. The venue looked absolutely beautiful.
I noticed something as I stood there receiving guests… After working non stop all week, getting up early, going to bed late, getting up at the crack of dawn that morning, changing twice, driving 4 hours and shouting out winner’s names at the Gold Cup hat contest (the winner, Cynne Simpson got a pair of Christian Loubotin shoes might I add) without a microphone, some how, my energy, something that I have to manage carefully any other time to make sure I don’t crash, was somehow on F for FULL! I was vibrating on such a high level and everything about my week said that I should’ve been totally wiped out. The more the people came in, the more energized I felt. This party was morphing into a rare kind of celebration where no one was a stranger.
DJ Face, the event’s DJ who was spectactular at the event would play a song and people would run to the dance floor alone but instead of having that awkward moment of feeling embarrassed and then sheepishly backing off of the dance floor, there was always someone there to grab your arm and pull you further in. Our hearts had been opened by the power of dance and we all knew that the organization and the night was anything but ordinary.
Finally, it was time for Ms. Allen (“Aunt Deb”) and I to address the packed room on the microphones. I could listen to her speak all day. The wisdom from experience that she possesses, the grace and humility while still being strong and self assured is something to behold. I didn’t have anything prepared but the message that came to me and I was moved to share was something like this… “I often say that The DMV is the great equalizer… We are all the same at the DMV. You get a number and wait in line… But tonight, DANCE was the great equalizer and unifier. Watching the dancers share their talents on stage allowed each of us no matter what our age or physical condition to dream… In those moments of stark silence as we watched, anything seemed possible, we all felt that we could get up there and with a little work we could just about soar in dance. Even in our 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and beyond, after life’s sometimes cruel lessons, we still felt anything was possible. Now, imagine that same level of hope and boundless possibility that we felt tonight, being shared with hundreds and even thousands of underserved children in our community. Imagine what their lives could be if we shared this with them in their youth. This is why I support CityDance and encourage you to do all you can to support them as well.”
If you are in a position to help the cause, please visit www.citydance.org and get involved. You have the power to show a child that they can fly, leap and soar confidently into their future.
P.S. – I ran into my childhood friend Letitia Hayes at the event! See below!