You’re the highest of the high,” Maxwell croons as a group of investment bankers in thousand-dollar Barneys suits holds court with two fashionistas in Manolos and Richard Tyler. It’s ten o’clock at Aubette, a slick lounge on East 27th Street, and the Tuesday-night after-work soirée is in full swing. Cell phones are ringing, the handshakes and hugs are getting warmer, and the crowd begins to sway as D.J. Cosi cues up Sade’s “Smooth Operator.” In a candlelit corner of the dining room, Xavier Wright, a 28-year-old political consultant, and his friends hold up their martini glasses. “Let’s make a toast,” Wright deadpans. “To getting out of the ghetto!” The table erupts in laughter.
“When I go to a white place, I’m more sedate,” Wright explains. “I don’t want them looking at me like I’m crazy. But here, I can be loud, I can feel the music, and I know no one’s peering down at me, like, ‘Who is this?’ “
Black Diamonds Entertainment, a close-knit consortium of ten African-American promoters, has been organizing after-work get-togethers and other social events for New York City’s “black diamonds” – young, upwardly mobile African-Americans – since 1997. Within the past year, the group has thrown parties for NBA star Reggie Miller at Metronome and rapper Q-Tip at Speeed; sponsored a 7th on Sixth fashion show saluting African-American designers; and, most recently, thrown a celebrity-packed birthday bash for model Beverly Peele.
Unlike other successful promotional teams, many of which operate on if-you-can-pay-you-can-play principles, BDE doesn’t let just anyone into its parties. Those in the know usually hear about events from their colleagues. “We like to operate on six degrees of separation,” says Pam Pickens, one of BDE’s founding members. “The right people will spread the word. It’s like a little community.” Those six degrees of separation are often coupled with a strict door policy (“No jeans, no sneakers – you come correct or you’re not getting in,” says Derek Corley, head of BDE) to ensure that the crowd will be passing around business cards and not blunts.
Which is just fine by Kelvin Sparks, the 36-year-old owner of a computer-consulting firm, who’s grown weary of the ghetto-fabulous party scene served up at places like the Tunnel and NV. “It’s hard to find a majority-black event in the city,” he says between puffs on his Cohiba. “The average black person making money doesn’t want to hang out with – and I hate to put it like this – the rap crowd.”
“At things like this, I don’t have to worry about guys grabbing me and making me feel cheap,” chimes in Karen Walton, a 25-year-old contracts lawyer in knee-high suede stiletto boots. “I can actually have a conversation with someone on my intellectual level.”
It could easily be argued, of course, that members of BDE and those who attend their functions are nothing more than elitists, the type of people Lawrence Otis Graham rhapsodizes about in his ode to the black bourgeoisie, Our Kind of People. But don’t try to get a rise out of the black diamonds by suggesting that – they’ll just look at you like you’re standing outside with your nose pressed against the window. “Look, if this isn’t your style, go to Justin’s or the Shadow,” advises Corley. “But don’t knock us for trying to elevate ourselves.”