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Martin Luther King, III honors Jamie Mazzei with the Realizing the Dream organization's Champion of Hope award. LL Cool J and Jamie's father, Michael Mazzei, offer congratulations.

Jamie Mazzei was nervous prior to receiving the Realizing the Dream organization's Champion of Hope award from Martin Luther King III at his salon, nuBest, on Dec. 17. Mr. King was in town for a day and a half specifically to present the first of what will become an annual award. Other guests were local, including LL Cool J, 10 year Manhasset resident, who, along with his congratulations, added excitement to the evening.

Realizing the Dream, Inc. is a non-profit organization that continues the humanitarian work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King. Mazzei was being honored for traveling with his wife, Violet, to Uganda, Africa and returning with 12-year-old Jonathan Olunga, the Gift of Life International's 10,000th child to receive lifesaving open heart surgery. The child and his mother lived with the Mazzei family for six weeks while he recuperated. Realizing the Dream has created the Champion of Hope Award to honor individuals from around the globe who strive to make a difference in their community, despite hardships.

As guests were arriving Mazzei acknowledged, "One thing I can say is it's nice to be recognized, but by no means is that why I did it. I never dreamed or thought I 'd be this recognized by someone of the stature of Martin Luther King III. When I talk to people it's apparent they think what I did is a big thing but I don't feel that way. It didn't seem like it."

Lawrence Mazzei kicked off the speeches noting Jamie Mazzei was a vital force in the community and on this night his family friends and colleagues were very, very proud of him. He called upon Pastor Moody of the Shelter Rock Church to give an opening prayer. Town Clerk Leslie Gross remembered how Jamie Mazzei wanted to be part of the process in providing the child with lifesaving heart surgery. Gross related how, when in Uganda, the Mazzeis were charmed by the village children, and, like most tourists, began taking tons of photos, only to find themselves surrounded by villagers toting AK 47s. "I lost 10 years of my life," Mazzei laughingly interrupted-to Gross' quick retort that if he turned prematurely gray, he was, at least, in the right business.

Mr. King, making the presentation, said he wants to award the Champion of Hope in local communities, that the award to Jamie Mazzei is a first step. He noted we take so much for granted, then thanked God for Jamie and his family. And he thanked LL Cool J for choosing to come out for this event.

LL Cool J is a commanding presence, and, well, nice. Wearing his signature hat and sporting shades, he said in an affluent community how great it was to see someone doing something meaningful, not just running up credit cards at the Americana. LL Cool J said he was honored to be in the presence of Martin Luther King, III, "whose father's legacy paved the way for my reality." He congratulated Mazzei on receiving the award saying "it is my pleasure to support you--you earned it, you deserve it, be proud of it."

In conversation, LL Cool J said Manhasset is a warm community that has been a pleasant experience for his family. He is both a celebrity and then, on weekends, a soccer dad. He noted he and his wife participate and contribute to local charitable events with people in the community but that this was the first event held within the community. "People respect my privacy," the two-time Grammy Award winner said, "but I can't hang out at the SCA fair." Nearby, his wife Simone said she was happy to be at the affair, that she was glad her husband's schedule permitted it. With the four children she said she doesn't get to attend too many.

On a practical note, how did the Realizing the Dream organization become aware of Mazzei's altruism? At the podium King had commented, "As we looked for individuals we have to thank Jake and his relationship with the family."

Spencer Laden's son, Jake, is required to perform community service at Syosset High School in order to graduate, and it is important to do something charitable. Through the school program Jake became familiar with Realizing the Dream, New York, his dad knew Jamie Mazzei and his dad also went to school with Al Sharpton in Tilden, Brooklyn. Introductions were made, and history too.

When Mazzei, with his wife and son, took the stage he had to forgo reading his prepared speech when he teared up. He said choosing from among the pre-selected heart surgery recipients was so difficult because there could only be one. He witnessed the depth of despair of a parent knowing life saving surgery is available but that except for the luck of the draw, where you live, and what you have, your child will not have it. He can't help thinking of the hundreds needing the surgery. "I stepped out of my comfort zone to help others. One journey ended. Now is the beginning of a much longer journey. I know so many others are waiting for a miracle to bring them the gift of life."


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