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Inside the Gala Where Usher Was In a Bidding War Over a Photo

For a moment, the annual Gordon Parks Foundation gala felt like a church service.

The celestial voices of a choir echoed throughout, resonating from the marble floor to the vaulted ceiling of Cipriani on 42nd Street. They sang and stomped powerfully while patrons took their seats.

The service had begun.

The night included a reverent performance from Patti Smith, an auction that felt a little like tithing and something of a sermon from the artist Carrie Mae Weems celebrating the artist Mickalene Thomas — who was also in the crowd. It was capped off with a call to action from Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of the slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

Every year, the Gordon Parks Foundation, named for Gordon Parks, the famed photographer, director and musician, honors a community of artists and athletes at a gala to raise funds for fellowships and scholarships. Those who admire Mr. Parks, who died in 2006, get together to eat, dance, push one another forward in their activism and worship expression that spurs social change.

This year’s honorees, who were celebrated for their work in their respective fields, included Ms. Thomas; Ms. Evers-Williams; Alicia Keys and her husband, Swizz Beatz, whose name is Kasseem Dean; and Colin Kaepernick, the former N.F.L. quarterback turned activist. Richard Roundtree, who played the main character in Mr. Parks’s 1971 film “Shaft” and died in October, received a posthumous award.

Alicia Keys and her husband, Swizz Beatz, whose name is Kasseem Dean.Credit…Nina Westervelt for The New York Times

Usher, the R&B singer and songwriter, with Gayle King, the broadcast journalist.Credit…Nina Westervelt for The New York Times
Mickalene Thomas, the artist.Credit…Nina Westervelt for The New York Times

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