GRAMERCY — The former president of the Gramercy-based National Arts Club who was ousted for allegedly misusing club funds was named a "Man of Vision" for his "work in the community" by the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network.
O. Aldon James was one of 14 men and women recognized this year by NAN's New York City Chapter, which each year awards “Women of Excellence” and “Men of Vision” honors to local residents fighting injustice, chapter president Theresa Freeman said.
Sharpton, who founded the National Action Network in 1991, personally presented the "Man of Vision" plaque to James at an award ceremony held at the Astoria World Manor in Queens on March 30.
“The award is given to outstanding people who have done tremendous things to help people in the community,” Freeman said. “As far as the community is concerned, [James] put himself out there, and he continues to put himself out there.”
She particularly pointed to his work at Washington Irving High school, where James served on an advisory council and took students on a trip to Gramercy Park, "where the trouble started," Freeman said.
In January 2001, a group of children, parents and teachers filed a lawsuit against the Gramercy Park Trust for allegedly barring students from Washington Irving HS from having a lesson inside the gated park, even though they were guests of the National Arts Club, according to reports.
Gramercy Park is a private park that can only be accessed by nearby residents who hold keys to open the gates.
James, who was president of the club at the time, was a staunch opponent of then-chairwoman of the Trust, Sharon Benenson, who he accused of discriminating against minority children by asking them to leave, according to reports.
"He put himself out there for those kids at Washington Irving," said Freeman, who nominated James for the award.
"If I suggest someone, it happens," she said.
James, former president of the National Arts club, is currently being sued by the state Attorney General for allegedly using club funds to line his own pockets.
DNAinfo.com New York broke the story back in 2011 that Aldon James, his brother John James and lawyer Steven Leitner controlled at least four apartments at the National Art Club, charging themselves below-market rent. The James brothers were also accused of using the apartments to hoard personal property.
The award comes about a month after James' recent legal action against a local hardware store, which he sued along with the National Arts Club for changing the locks to his apartment during a battle over control of the club that led to his ouster.
Despite the recent legal issues, James said the award recognized him for his deeds and praised Sharpton's group.
“I support people who are in need,” James said. “I brought in the first African-American to the board of the National Arts Club.
“I find [NAN] very inspiring. It‘s not a pyramid. It’s more like a circle of people committed to making the American dream real to everyone,” he added.
The Men of Vision award has previously been presented to a variety of ministers, ministers' wives and activists in the community, including Susan L. Taylor, the former editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine who left her job to focus on a mentoring program she founded in 2005, Freeman explained.
"I just want people to know he's been out there," she said. "He still continues to be out there for everybody."