It was only fitting that a musical group called Brasuka entertained at the annual Wings of Spring gala benefiting Literacy Achieves at Dallas’ AT&T Performing Arts Center on Monday, April 25. After all, the “world music ensemble” boasts everything from reggae, samba and jazz to classical, funk and Brazilian rhythms in its repertoire. And a similar eclectic spirit powers Literacy Achieves, whose mission is teaching English and life skills to non-English-speaking adults and their young children — no matter where in the world they came from before settling in Dallas.
Originally scheduled to take place outdoors in the PAC’s Annette Strauss Square, the gala’s dinner and the Brasuka performance were moved inside the Winspear Opera House due to threatening weather following a packed and lively reception in the Square. But the celebration’s roughly 450 guests, among them Dr. Robert Haley, Marnie and Kern Wildenthal, Lottye Lyle, Caren Lock, Helen and Frank Risch, Diane and John Scovell and Lee Papert, didn’t seem to mind at all.
After an eloquent invocation by Rev. Virzola Law of Northway Christian Church, event Co-Chairs Jabeen Zaidi and Stephen Hurley welcomed everyone with separate talks. Stephen, who explained that he first became a volunteer teacher for Literacy Achieves nine years ago, noted how the non-profit promotes a “sense of community and belonging in American society” among more than 1,000 immigrant and refugee families each year.
Jabeen also applauded the group’s mission, recognizing the event’s Honorary Chairs, Alina and Ruben Esquivel, and Literacy Achieves staffer Heather Watkins for masterminding the gala program. A video tribute to the Esquivels followed, praising the couple, who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba as teenagers, for their longtime support of the non-profit. When some unfortunate glitches brought the video to a halt a couple of times, Ruben shrugged and displayed his good humor by quipping softly from his seat, “Maybe we can watch it on YouTube,” and later, “It’s silent now — that’s good.”
Next came a student testimonial by Marissa Silva, who told earnestly how learning English along with her son and daughter at Literacy Achieves had “made a big difference” in their lives. As she spoke, Marissa’s husband, Americo Silva, and the couple’s children Leonardo Silva, 5, and Sarah Silva, 3, looked on from a front-row table, beaming.
With that, it was time for presentation of the Marnie Wildenthal Literacy Legacy Award to Rabbi Nancy Kasten, a longstanding advocate for the work of Literacy Achieves and a champion of education, volunteerism and activism. The coveted award was presented to Nancy by Sarah Papert, the non-profit’s outgoing CEO, and George Mason, who will retire later this year as senior pastor at Dallas’ Wilshire Baptist Church.
Nancy has an affliction we should all aspire to, Mason said: “She has an enlarged heart, located a little to the left.” Accepting her award, Nancy said she was “standing on the shoulders” of many who came before her, including Marnie. She thanked George for giving her “a platform” — she serves as chief relationship officer for Faith Commons, an organization committed to promoting the common good, which Mason founded — and her husband, Rabbi David Stern (“I don’t always understand you,” she said of David, “but our love is never in question”).
The mission of Literacy Achieves is education, Nancy declared during her remarks, but its gestalt is love. As this year’s Wings of Spring event neared its end, everyone seemed to be agreeing with that.