Our Town

People and places that define Orlando




Tej’ai Sullivan says paying tribute to Michael Jackson is “all I ever wanted to do.’’

Photo By Norma Lopez Molina

Never Can Say Goodbye

Formed in Orlando, a Michael Jackson tribute embarks on ‘The Ultimate Thriller’ tour. By Chelsy Tracz

Who said there would never be another Michael Jackson? There will be thousands of them, moonwalking, crotch-grabbing, and “ooooo’in” and “c’mon girl-ing” for years to come. The King of Pop’s untimely and bizarre death only ensured that we can’t live without him, just as we can’t let Elvis, the King of Rock ’n Roll, rest 33 years after he died under strange circumstances, thank you very much.

Enter Tej’ai Sullivan. He has been mimicking MJ since age 2, and now at 28, with curly slicked-back hair and dressed in black leather pants accessorized with silver buckles on the legs, black shoes and white socks, he is The Gloved One in song, dance and shy persona. 

“That’s all I ever wanted to do—to pay tribute to Michael Jackson,” Sullivan says dreamily. “I didn’t choose this. It chose me.”

Actually, Orlando music producer Robert Hyman chose him. After Jackson’s death last summer, Hyman stopped production on a Carlos Santana tribute and focused on putting together a Jackson revue. “We started working right away,” says Hyman, 40, “and within 14 or 15 days I had the main cast together.” The group of backup singers, musicians and dancers are mostly from Central Florida. Hyman found Sullivan, who’s from Chicago, on MySpace.

“The Ultimate Thriller” tour made its way across Europe, then debuted in the United States on June 25, the anniversary of Jackson’s death. The tribute show has played before crowds of 2,500-4,000 MJ fans in venues from Charlotte to Tulsa, Okla., to, of course, Las Vegas, where Elvis lives as a cliché in perpetuity. Hyman, who also serves as drummer, says he expects the tour to eventually make its way back to Orlando for a performance.

During a recent rehearsal at a studio near The Florida Mall, Sullivan wowed a crowd of onlookers with such Jackson mega-hits as “Beat It,’’ “Billie Jean’’ and “Thriller.’’ Close your eyes and Sullivan’s sound was convincing enough; open them and he was a whirlwind of the classic herky-jerky MJ moves, all synched to the music and the backup dancers.

The dance moves Sullivan and his dancers execute with precision might have something to  do with Mic Thompson choreographing the show: As a dancer, he shared the stage with Jackson for nine years. Although the tribute show focuses on the ’80s, it also includes glimpses into Jackson’s career in the late ’60s and ’70s with the Jackson 5, complete with disco duds.
One of the group’s hits in its early years was “I Want You Back.’’ Chances are that fans will feel that way about Jackson for decades to come.

 


 

Making the Grade

With the help of a $5,000 scholarship from 100 Black Men of Orlando, Jones High School graduate Alfred Henderson, 18, will become the first in his family to attend college.

Family’s reaction: “They [his mother and sister] were really excited. My mom didn’t attend college so she always wanted me to. My mom is always emotional. She actually cried when I opened my acceptance letter.”

Where he’ll attend: Florida A & M University. “I was always going to go to college. I would have taken out loans or done whatever I needed, but this scholarship takes a load off my back.”

College plans: Major in accounting, join the Student Government Association as a senator and after graduation attend law school.

Behind the scholarship: Since 2003, the Orlando chapter of 100 Black Men of America has given more than $600,000 in scholarships to Jones students as part of its commitment to educate and empower African American young people. “I appreciate them for being a father figure, for helping me financially, for being a support team,’’ Henderson says.

Selection process: Six students are picked each year from Jones through recommendations and their activities at school. “I was selected in the ninth grade,’’ Henderson says. “My guidance counselor recognized my grade point average was good and recommended me for the program. She said this program would be a great benefit.”

The perks: In addition to a renewable scholarship to the four-year college of his or her choice, each student also received a laptop computer, printer, Versace watch and leather backpack at a dinner held in their honor.

Henderson’s advice to other students: Don’t overdo it when it comes to school activities. “I tried to do everything and I would get overwhelmed. Just do something you really like.”

—Kerri Anne Renzulli

 


 

Life of the Party

In organizing an annual gala to benefit Hospice of the Comforter, prominent lawyer Jill Schwartz disproves the view that ‘no one will come to a party about death.’ By Dave Seanor

Shortly after Jill Schwartz had committed her law firm to spearheading the fundraising efforts of Hospice of the Comforter, she began interviewing candidates to market her plan for a gala fundraiser. The advice of one in particular struck a chord.

“He told me, ‘No one will come to a party about death,’ ” Schwartz recalls, her eyes flashing with indignation. “That was like waving a red flag in front of a bull.”

She thanked him for his time and charged forward. Seven years later, Schwartz’s “party about death”—Life. Art. Music.—is a fixture on the Orlando charity calendar. In other words, a ticket to die for.

Life. Art. Music. has raised more than $1 million for Hospice of the Comforter since 2003. Hospice House, a $5.7 million, 16-suite facility in Altamonte Springs, opened in February 2008. Schwartz has maneuvered the gala, set for Aug. 21 at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, to a top-tier social event partly by landing brand-name musical entertainment, including The Pointer Sisters, Three Dog Night and, for this year’s main attraction, Kool & The Gang. About 650 guests usually attend the fundraiser, making it one of the more popular events on the local charity party circuit.

Gargantuan is the word Bill Avery uses to describe the efforts the diminutive Schwartz, a prominent employment-law attorney, puts into Life. Art. Music.

“Jill and her team at the law office dedicate hundreds of hours a year to Hospice,” says Avery, vice president of development for Hospice of the Comforter, a care facility for patients with a life expectancy of six months
or less. “It’s like she has two full-time jobs, and she doesn’t work just 40 hours a week to
begin with.”

Schwartz first experienced hospice 15 years ago, when her father died in Baltimore. “I was overwhelmed by the kindness and compassion shown while he was in hospice,” says Schwartz. “I stored it away, thinking when I’d reached a certain point in my career, hospice would be something I’d like to be involved in.”

That point arrived in late 2002, when her firm, Jill S. Schwartz & Associates of Winter Park, began reviewing new charities to support.

“We were looking for a bricks-and-mortar project,” says Schwartz. When she learned Hospice of the Comforter did not have a free-standing facility, she told Avery, “OK, we’ll have an event and build Hospice House.”

Since taking on the charity gala, she has networked on Hospice’s behalf to raise its profile. “Thanks to Jill,” says Bob Wilson, CEO and co-founder of Hospice of the Comforter, “we’ve been connected to a lot of folks in the Orlando area we wouldn’t have been otherwise.” He and Avery estimated Schwartz has brought in $200,000 in donations separate from the annual fundraiser.

Says Schwartz, “I gravitate toward things that get me involved with lots of people. I guess that’s the essence of my personality.”

Which is why, when Life. Art. Music. is in full swing, Schwartz can be found at the center of a packed dance floor.

 


 

Status Symbol

Magic say their new logo will stand the test of time.

Why did the Orlando Magic change their logo, dropping the “whimsical” type treatment in favor of a bold, no-nonsense look? Because, front office boss Alex Martins says, it is time for the 21-year-old team to grow up and hang with the elites of
basketball.

Up until the Magic changed their primary logo in June, the way their name was printed (the “word mark”) stuck out as cartoonish in comparison with other NBA teams: A star symbol represented the “a” in “Orlando” and “Magic” (and a big star was set above the last two letters in Magic). The logo also featured curvy upper- and lower-case letters, which went against the standard league style of all-upper-case team names paired with a secondary iconic image, such as a graphically enhanced basketball.

“The former logo was a bit more whimsical. It signified our adolescent years,” says Martins, the team’s chief operating officer. The new logo, he adds, represents the team’s goal of maturing into a marquee name in the NBA. The last two seasons have seen the team rise to a title contender, playing in the NBA Finals in 2009 and in the Eastern Conference Championship this year.

“We focused on those sports brands in particular that are associated with excellence,” Martins says. “In our league, the Lakers and Celtics, in other leagues, folks like the Cowboys and Yankees. I wouldn’t characterize them as whimsical. We wanted a logo that would stand the test of time.”

While the word mark got a makeover, the team kept its secondary logo intact. Martins says the soaring basketball with the tail of streaks and stars “has a lot of brand equity to it.” His hope is to see that icon stand on its own to represent the Magic just as the star and “NY,” both in navy blue, signify the Cowboys and Yankees, respectively.

The latest logo is the Magic’s third, with the previous two each lasting about a decade each. The process to change the logo began in earnest about three years ago, Martins says, with the NBA having final say on the new look. The NBA owns the rights to all team logos and needs two years to notify merchandise licensees of changes. The Magic rank seventh in popularity of merchandise.

—Mike Boslet

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