The scene bore the markers of a different time.
Donning decadent hats outfitted with intricate ribbon-work, the guests dined on standard tea party fare – cheese and crackers, finger sandwiches and pasta – as a string quartet played gracefully in the background.
Pastel-colored tablecloths and colorful daisy arrangements accented tables, each set with a white tea pot and matching cups. Young ladies dressed in their Sunday best carried silver fruit platters.
About 125 women and young ladies, and a handful of men, gathered at the tea social Sunday afternoon outside the African American Cultural Center, 350 Masten Ave. Performances from a quartet, a violinist, a poetry reading and raffles were featured during the two-hour tea party social, which helped raise funds for the center’s programs, including after-school tutoring and a youth summer program.
“It’s an excellent event. It’s a connecting vehicle for mothers, daughters and sisters,” said Alforna Evans, an instructor at the cultural center. Evans, who was joined by her own daughter and granddaughter, sewed flowers onto a wide-brimmed white hat in anticipation of the afternoon’s hat contest.
Young ladies ages 10 to 17 from the center’s Positive Productive Sisters group, acted as hostesses to help facilitate the social. The event was founded three years ago as a collaboration between the cultural center and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
The social also provides a venue to showcase prominent African-American musical talent, said Jessica Thorpe, a member of the Tea Social Committee who also conducts marketing for the center.
“In Buffalo, it’s important for cultures to collaborate,” Thorpe said. “It’s in, many ways, a very segregated city, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
The classical music imparted an added dimension to the afternoon, said Karen Curry-Beaudet, 58. The stylings helped expose the teenagers to culture beyond the immediate area, she said.
“They can look broader into their future, as opposed to just seeing the surroundings they’re accustomed to,” Curry-Beaudet said. “If you don’t see or hear something, how can you see how far you can go?”
Dressed in silver flats and a teal dress that wrapped around the nape of her neck, Nicole Caver, Curry-Beaudet’s niece, made the rounds as a hostess Sunday. Caver has belonged to the Positive Productive Sisters since its inception four years ago.
Beyond the tea social, Caver has helped donate teddy bears to cancer patients, planted flowers in the neighborhood and collected clothing donations as part of the Positive Productive Sisters.
“It helps you want to improve your lifestyle and express yourself,” she said of the group.
Mayor Byron W. Brown stopped in briefly to address the guests and echoed the importance of both the social and center.
“It brings people in the community together to celebrate and enjoy the arts while supporting one of the great cultural institutions in Western New York and Buffalo,” the mayor said.
In addition to the cultural significance, dressing up was also plain fun, guests agreed. Amella Johnson, 52, thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to break out her flowing purple dress and simple summer sun hat that swooped just over her eyes.
Invited to the annual social by a friend, Johnson said she’s already planning a return.
“It means a great deal. We don’t have a lot like this in the community,” she said. “I love it. I’m thinking about who I can bring next year.”