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NEW YORK — However singular her first fashion-show sashay may have been in the Sixties, Bethann Hardison was honored Thursday for championing racial diversity for decades.
When the activist and documentarian accepted a Frederick Douglass Medallion from the New York Urban League, two of her prodigies, Iman and Liya Kebede, were the first to bring the crowd to its feet. Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, Angela Davis, Drena De Niro, Audrey Smaltz, Lola Ogunnaike and Shiba Russell listened up as Hardison cited Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Stokely Carmichael as childhood heroes. “These are people who, when I look back, really made a change and weren’t afraid to go up against things. We need to educate people who think they’re educated.”
Hardison, whose modeling days are featured in the documentary “Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution,” is working on another documentary called “Invisible Beauty.” In the Eighties, through her own modeling agency, she shaped such careers as Tyson Beckford’s, and founded The Black Girls Coalition to raise awareness about a bevy of issues. Smaltz recalled how she and Hardison once relied on eye contact to orchestrate a Roseland Ballroom fashion show with two backstages, one loud band and no headsets. In recent years, Hardison has challenged the status quo of fashion shows that have overwhelmingly white models.
In presenting the award, Kebede said Hardison has been a confidante and a source of inspiration to Naomi Campbell, Iman, herself and countless others. “My friend Bethann shows what a revolutionary is all about,” she said.
Iman said, “Bethann has said many times, ‘Activism has to stay active.’ That’s true. It’s not something you choose because it’s hip or happening. You have to constantly be active.”
Closing her speech, Hardison shared a different memory. “As Iman said to me many years ago, ‘You never know when they’re going to stop honoring you, so you’d better show up.’”
Dinkins was one who was glad she did. Asked if he knew Hardison personally, he said, “No, but I would like to.”