The theme of the 2015 We Are Family Foundation (WAFF) Gala on April 23, 2015 in New York City was “epic,” and it was highlighted by a truly “epic” first time collaboration between two music giants, the founder of the organization, three-time Grammy recipient, Nile Rodgers, and ten-time Grammy winner Chaka Khan.
Rodgers presented the WAFF Humanitarian Award to Khan at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan, and in introducing her, he said, “She’s inspired me. She’s a pioneer. She has changed the world with her voice, her passion.” Khan was honored for her work with the Chaka Khan Foundation which assists at youth and women at risk in Los Angeles, California.
“I could not be more honored than to be part of the celebration with my brother Nile Rodgers,” Khan said. She expressed how special the recognition was to her. “I will keep this award in my house.” she stated. “Most of my awards are in my mother’s house, but I will keep this in my house.”
After presenting the award, Rodgers fulfilled a dream and performed with Khan, bringing the sold out crowd to its feet for rousing renditions of three of her classics. Grandmaster Melle Mel joined them for his iconic “Chaka Khan…Chaka Khan” rap on “I Feel for You,” followed by “I’m Every Woman” and “Ain’t Nobody.”
Beaming with joy, Rodgers proudly announced, “That was one of the highlights of my life!” He continued the euphoria with his Hall of Fame repertoire of songs, beginning with Chic’s “I Want Your Love” from 1979, and vaulting into the present with the first new Chic single in 23 years, “I’ll Be There.” Rodgers’ discography features a who’s who of music, including hits with Madonna, Diana Ross, David Bowie, and Sister Sledge.
The concert was a non-stop array of greatest hits, including “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down” (Ross), “Let’s Dance” (Bowie), and “He’s The Greatest Dancer” (Sledge). Rodgers is also a contemporary hitmaker, and he whipped the multi-generational crowd into a dancing frenzy with the 2014 Record of the Year featuring his distinctive guitar licks, Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” Add the 1970’s Chic classics “Good Times” and “Le Freak,” and those “lucky” enough to attend enjoyed the party of the year. The gala is a party with a purpose, and following an annual tradition, every audience member who could possibly jam onto the stage joined Chic for the WAFF theme and title song, another classic composed by Rodgers with the late Bernard Edwards, Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.”
With organization president Nancy Hunt, they have created a “family” of the most brilliant, innovative and enterprising teens across the world, united to address pressing global issues. WAFF’s programs Three Dot Dash and TedXTeen bring Global Teen Leaders (GTLs) together with adult mentors for amazing results.
The We Are Family Foundation has developed over 200 Global Teen Leaders from 40 countries and six continents. 28 GTLs were present at the gala, and two spoke on stage, Nicholas Lowinger, and Ryan Orbuch.
Through his Gotta Have Sole Foundation, 17-year-old Lowinger is providing shoes to 34,000 children living in shelters in 37 states. He said, “I see these shoes as providing hope.”
18-year old Orbuch is the founder of Finish, an app that helps people overcome procrastination. Used by over 250,000 students, it won the 2013 Apple Design Award. Already acknowledged as an expert on technology for teens, Orbuch has also founded Volley, a startup mobile education company.
Lowinger and Orbuch are glowing examples of one of the mottos of WAFF, “The power to make global change.”
Rodgers founded the WAFF in direct response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. His initial focus was education, and the foundation built 17 schools in impoverished nations, including 14 in Mali (West Africa), one in Nepal (South Asia) and one in Nicaragua (Central America). He was inspired by the vision of best-selling teen author and poet Mattie J.T. Stepanek who wrote, “Peace is possible…Peace begins within each person when we have our basic needs met.” Those basic needs–food, water, shelter, clothing, healthcare, education, and the environment are the focus of the WAFF and the GTLs.
Stepanek suffered from a rare form of muscular dystrophy and passed away in 2004 at the age of 13. His mother, award-winning speaker and NY Times best-selling author Dr Jeni Stepanek, is a member of the WAFF Board of Governors. Known as “Mama Peace,” she presented the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Peacemaker Award to the President of CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, Caryl M. Stern.
“I am humbled to be honored in Mattie’s name,” Stern said. “Mattie, I share your desire for peace.”
Maria Bartiromo from the Fox Business Network introduced the recipient of the Visionary Award, Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, the world’s business software market leader. He was congratulated via video by Bono from U2 who applauded McDermott for his commitment to fighting AIDS. McDermott directed his remarks to the youth in the audience, and cautioned them not to follow the popular trend of seeking immediate rewards in life.
“I vote against instant gratification,” he stated. “Young people, take the long road. The journey is the dream.” He also emphasized the importance of empathy. “Listen to the needs of others,” he advised. “You can get anything if you are willing to help others.”
Empathy is at the heart of the We Are Family Foundation. While having empathy for those less fortunate, Rodgers recalled that four years ago, he faced a life crisis when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. As he received medical treatment, he continued his career, and he began a milestone project that resulted in the highest reward. After being shut out at the Grammys for his entire career, on January 26, 2014 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, he took home three awards, including Record of the Year for “Get Lucky.”
It was the perfect song for Rodgers to finally receive the worldwide recognition he deserved after a stellar five-decade recording career. Now he is cancer free, and the lyrics speak to his personal mission, and the mission of the We Are Family Foundation.
“We’ve come too far to give up who we are, so let’s raise the bar.”
Each year, Nile Rodgers, Nancy Hunt, and the We Are Family Foundation raise the bar, higher, and higher!
Mattie J.T. Stepanek would be proud.