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Straight No Chaser: Whatever Happened To Spectrum Models?

gloria_winston_al-sarag2Op/Ed By Gloria Winston Al-Sarag


As Black History Month, the shortest month of the year comes to a close, I have begun to reflect on a group I formed in another life called, “Spectrum Models.”

I started thinking about the “Walk and Talk through Black History” we used to do this time of year.  That particular show had always been narrated by Dr. Walter Cooper, who read excerpts from black authors spanning periods from the early 1800’s until present day, as Spectrum Models displayed fashions reflecting the same time periods Dr. Cooper read about. We were the stuff.

Spectrum Models had been born the same year that Garth Fagan gave life to “The Bottom of the Bucket, BUT,” and an original member of his dance group, Nydia Padilla Rodriquez gave birth to “The Bourinquen Dances.”

Spectrum Models, in its seven-year existence, incorporated exposure through public appearances in and around the Rochester area. We had also traveled to, and been invited to open for, the Caribana festival in Toronto, on Olympic Island, for five years straight.

So, what happened to Spectrum Models?

The last show we did had been a Black Heritage Festival in Highland Bowl.

One of my models had been walking down South Ave., with his girlfriend, when he was confronted by a car full of demons apparently jealous of his performance on stage.

I say “apparently,” because no one knows for sure why they decided to attack this young man, destroy all of his clothes, and commence to beating him into unconsciousness. In fact, he had been beaten so badly, he was hospitalized.

Upon hearing the news, I, at first, suspected this had been the result of some possible beef at his school. The model had been a senior at Madison High School, at the time. However, what I quickly discovered is, my model had not even known these guys, and, according to other reports, they had been saying things like, “We saw you on stage,” “You think you are cute?” and, “Do you think you are better than us?”

From that day to this one, I have blamed myself for not recognizing the ugly that had begun to manifest itself in our community. It was an ugly which had sought to destroy anything representing what those who fell victim to the thinking thought that they were not qualified to do themselves.

That was the last show Spectrum Models did in Rochester, NY. I could not, in good conscience, jeopardize the safety of any Spectrum Model because of others’ jealousy or ignorance.

Originally, when I organized Spectrum Models it had been because, while working at the Monroe County Children’s Center with troubled teens, it had occurred to me that many had serious self-esteem issues. And, I recognized my self-confidence had been a result of caring parents, who made sure I had been exposed to the arts, and public audiences, all of which had helped to build my character.

In an attempt to give back, I had  begun Spectrum Models as a vehicle to not only help interested young folks hit a runway, while sublimely growing and building their self-esteem, but for them to recognize that they could do anything in this world they wanted to, if only they learned to believe in themselves.

I had never promoted modeling careers, but had always been pro-education.

We used to rehearse twice a week at Montgomery Neighborhood Center, with sometimes as many as 40 kids showing up. And, most of the shows we did had an average of 12 models per show. The criteria for participation, and being chosen for a show, began and ended with report card grades for high school students.

Yet, what was more than interesting to me was that I never recruited ONE person, and, in a seven-year period, over 175 young people had at one time participated in the group. Our first show was at the Club West Indies, and, I remember, oh so well, how William “Beau” Randall, Savoy Myricks, and Wanzo Wallace stole the show, because male models, at that time, were reluctant to join these types of groups due to the ignorance and stigmas attached.

The youngest model in that particular show was the now Rev. Darryl McCullough. I will always remember how he brought it down with his yellow tuxedo at two years old.

And, in addition to Spectrum Models performing at club venues here, and in Buffalo and Toronto, I thought it was important we perform in the prison system as well. I was intent on exposing the models to places I would hope they never wanted to reside. We not only performed in Attica, and other state facilities; we were invited by the NAACP to perform at a Men’s Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Conn., and at a Woman’s Federal institution in Alderson, W. Va.

When we used to travel to Toronto, every summer, it always amazed me how some of the younger models did not recognize we were leaving the country. Now, as I reflect and reminisce on our accomplishments, I often think it may be time for a Spectrum Model Reunion, because we were more than a part of history in the ROC, which seems to have been forgotten, or swept under the rug.

I don’t try to take credit for anyone’s station in life, especially their personal successes, but I feel honored when I encounter former Spectrum models who seek to remind me that their experiences with the group are ones they will never forget, and cherish.

Gladys Pedraza Burgos and I used to collaborate and produce shows with Spanish models as well.  They were shows that had highlighted and depicted our African and Hispanic cultures. She would commentate in Spanish. Spectrum Models had also created an annual dinner, and celebration of community, called “Unsung Heroes,” a concept which was later picked up by the city of Rochester under the Johnson administration.

We revived numerous honors and awards, and one of the most memorable was the plaque I had been given by Zeta Phi Beta, who honored me as their “Woman of The Year.”

Some of the models I am still in touch with, and sometimes express interest in having a Spectrum Models Reunion with, (to name a few) are Jerdine Johnson; Savoy Myricks; Christine Johnson; Carol Arterberry Wheeler; Claxton Wells; Dilynda Cassoni; Perdita “Dee Dee” Meeks; Monique Latimer Shorey; Willie Hooks; James Jackson III; Albert Hartzog Jr.; Beverly Walters; Ralph Wilson; Linda Johnson; John Little Jr.; Genevieve Larkins; Kimberly Penns; and Sandy Sizer. And, sometimes Joan Howard, and the late Albertha McGee. Representing the senior community, they would make cameo appearances.

Those who have left this dimension, but who also made major contributions with their presence, were Morris Doucette, Debbi Little and Larry Washington. I will be 70 years old this year, and what they say about the knees and the mind being the first things to go is true. Last names, in particular, have been beginning to escape me, but, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my first full-figured model, Cynthia. Cindy, Ralph, Karen, the Greer sisters, and Carlton’s last names escape me. I always hate to name names, because someone will no doubt take it personal if their name has not been mentioned. However, please charge it to my head, and not my heart, if I have failed to mention you by name. Every Spectrum Model has been important to me.

Local model Felicia Quamina, who made it to the international arena, modeling furs, was never really a member, but used to perform with us when she was in town visiting her family.

Maybe there are others who feel it is important to make sure Spectrum Models takes its rightful place in history. Let’s make it happen, the younger generation always needs to know whose shoulders they stand on.