It’s here that the Divas come to strut their stuff: the gown, the hair, the make-up, the paparazzi. All this without the attitude- unless, of course, like me, you consider an unwavering commitment to serve others an attitude. So, yes, there was enough attitude to make even the Marlboro Man in a saloon lose his swagger.
In what is one of the most creative and moving forms of service to the many of us who face the formidable challenges of having a family member afflicted by mental illness, Simply Divas is a day full of astonishing acts of grace; a day when the generosity of spirit hovers over a poised but frenetic human activity. So, on that glorious last Sunday in April at The Great Hall and over the valley of looming sorrow, everyone spread their wings.
And the Divas soared. Recruited from the Etobicoke School of the Arts- that machine designed to churn out authentic talent- they performed songs by the Masters in front of an audience bursting at the seams of the hall. Lead by co-hosts, Danica Brown, and Rockstar-turned-Chef-turned-Rockstar, Carmine Accogli, and having lost three of their own this year (Etta, April, Whitney), they did what all Divas do – turn adversity into song. These young talents gave a resounding answer to the perennial question asked by Maya Angelou: Why does the caged bird sing?
There was the army of unsung heroes, whose efforts over the months, under the direction of Kristina Chau and Barbara Fraser, lifted an event from what was do-able to what could not be out-done. “Giving back to the community”, that prosaic euphemism too often used by those who contribute less, metamorphosed into song. What a marvel it was to be surrounded by those who will, with a dose of their own determination and a pinch of everyone else’s hope, become the leaders of the next generation, perpetually giving because they know that it flows from an overabundant source called Love.
Oh, and those chefs whom I admire most in the city, including the Rockstar himself, Carmine Accogli (The Big Ragu), Jose Arato (Pimenton), Pepe Hadad (Frida), Vanessa Yeung (Aprodite Cooks), Luis Valenzuela (Torito), Matt Basile (Fidel Gastro’s), Pedro Quintanilla (Bloom), Rossy Earle (SupiCucu) and Monja Chiaravalloti & Barb Accogli (CakeStar)- all lead by that great acapella duet of Mario Stajonac and Mary Luz Mejia (Sizzling Communications). That I was asked to share the stage with them left this Karaoke Cowboy feeling something he was unaccustomed to feeling: speechless. To be honest, when trying to harmonize, it was difficult to stay in tune with this great chorus of chefs.
None of this, of course, could have been possible without The Diva herself, Christine Cooper, affectionately known to all who love her (and everybody does), Mama Coops, the Executive Director of F.A.M.E (Family Association for Mental Health Everywhere). With her team, including the indomitably elegant Heather Turnbull, Mama Coops has been integral to assisting all of those- and they number in the hundreds of thousands- who are affected, directly or indirectly, by mental illness across this country. I know that I am in good hands as one of them.
I was moved and humbled by this experience, allowing me to put a genuinely proud feather on what until now was a near naked-cap. Thank you, Divas, for an inspiring day resonating with song. It has brought me one step closer to making a peacock out of my head.