Young club president gets New York Rotarians jazzed up
When Manhattan’s six Rotary clubs decided to get together in August, Wayne Charles II, the 25-year-old president of the Rotary Club of Harlem, wanted to showcase the camaraderie among Rotarians of different generations and call attention to the revitalization of the Harlem club. Charles organized the social at the Apollo Theater with Susanne Gellert, of the Rotary Club of Wall Street New York; Taylor Eskew, of the Rotary Club of Chinatown; and Cecily Smith, of the Rotary Club of Metro New York City.
THE ROTARIAN: You drew a crowd.
CHARLES: We did. Over 110 at the Apollo, and about 80 at the afterparty. It was sweet.
TR: How did it come about?
CHARLES: It almost didn’t. We wanted one last summer social event. I suggested the Apollo, and afterward a party at the Red Rooster – one of the really happening places in Harlem. We figured about 40 people. The word goes out, and 40 jumps to 100-plus. The Red Rooster tells us they can’t accommodate that many. So now I’m thinking, OK, what do I do? I’ve convinced all the clubs to come up here. Luckily, I was able to rent out a private home near the Apollo at a reasonable rate. It was a real scramble, but we pulled it off. Barely.
TR: You thought about turning the social into a fundraiser.
CHARLES: Exactly. The terrible situation in Somalia had escalated right about then. But all the non-Rotarians who were going to show up expected a party, as advertised. So we made it low-key. I talked about East Africa at the beginning and suggested an optional donation. We raised about $1,000.
TR: At 25, you’re one of the youngest club presidents anywhere – and this is your second term.
CHARLES: I don’t like to dwell on the youth thing, because our older members are very active. They definitely tried something new by making me the president. I was a little reluctant at first, but I’ve been able to grow so much in the past year. I have the right support system in our members.
TR: What motivated you to join?
CHARLES: The way I was raised, I was taught that we’re all one, and that’s a large part of what drove me to Rotary. It’s not just an American organization. You can go anywhere around the world, in any culture, and meet a Rotarian who’s got the same dedication to service as you. A lot of people don’t pay attention to where someone else is coming from. I try to take those five seconds to step into their shoes.
In 2011, when the tsunami hit Japan, all the Manhattan club presidents got on the phone with the district governor and our counterparts in Japan, just as Japanese clubs came through for us on 9/11. We got that it could have been us. We raised $10,000, and we were able to create a donor advised fund. We will get to direct the funds to a club in Japan.
TR: What does your future hold? You have the makings of a successful politician.
CHARLES: But one major flaw as well: I’m way too honest. My next goal is to bring all the Manhattan clubs up to Harlem so we can host a viewing party for the New York Marathon [this past November]. We have a perfect vantage point. Thanks to the social, we’ve now got more cohesion than ever between Harlem and the other clubs in Manhattan. I want to build on that momentum, and continue to spread the word on what Rotary’s all about, especially to folks my age.