BY CLYDE HUGHES, AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY â€“ Whoopi Goldberg loves Atlantic City and the city loved her back Thursday during a special unveiling of a portrait of the entertainer and talk show host at Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center for the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey.
The award-winning actress and co-host of ABC’s “The View” embraced the attendees at unveiling like long lost friends, signing autographs during three-hour event, where Ralph E. Hunter Sr., founder of the museum, was recognized for his determination of creating the museum and keeping it alive.
Goldberg, who arrived with Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam to Harrah’s Thursday afternoon was greeted by other dignitaries, including Pleasantville Mayor Jesse Tweedle, and Rev. David Mallory, as she unveiled a 10-foot-by-10-foot portrait of herself painted by renowned New York-based Israeli artist Yigal Ozeri.
The moment was electric as professional photographers worked to get positions to take photos with fans with smartphones in hand.
In an interview with Front Runner New Jersey.com, Goldberg said she learned of Hunter and the African-American museum, which has locations in Stockton University’s Noyce Garage in Atlantic City and Newtonville, from a friend at Caesar’s Casino.
“One of the things in the first conversations we ever had, she told me, ‘Well, we have an African-American museum,'” Goldberg said. “I said. ‘Where is it? Nobody knows it’s here.’ I went on (‘The View’) and said did you know? No one knew about it. Now that the word is spreading about it, I’m very happy.”
Ozeri told Front Runner New Jersey that he started the painting about 1Â½ years ago, travelling to Goldberg’s home to take photographs of her and talk about her life. He said it was her idea to not offer the painting to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., but to Hunter’s museum.
“This was the most important thing to have it here,” Ozeri said. “We could have taken it to the Smithsonian. This is more important to give it to the community here. This community is getting a present. I’m very proud that it’s here in Atlantic City.”
Goldberg and Ozeri donated the painting to help raise funds to help the museum maintain the integrity of its archives. The actress, the only African-American woman and one of only 15 entertainers to win the prestigious EGOT awards (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony), said that she wants to help Atlantic City return to one-time standing as an entertainment and tourists mecca.
“It is my desire to make Atlantic City the focal point of the East Coast again,” Goldberg told Front Runner New Jersey. “I want to make people understand this is the place you want to come to and play. We want to make things available that haven’t been available before.”
Goldberg said that she can even envision people traveling to Atlantic City to get married, the same way they do in Las Vegas now.
“We’re working on that,” Goldberg said.
Ideas like that was music to the ears of Gilliam, who spoke at the ribbon cutting of the new Stockton University Atlantic City campus Thursday, another catalyst to the city’s comeback story.
All photos by Meredith Winner, CEO of Mer-Made Photography.
“(Goldberg’s endorsement) tells us that Atlantic City is near and dear to a lot of people,” Gilliam said. “We are just fortunate enough to have a relationship with such an iconic individual like Whoopi Goldberg to have the world hear that. She’s been a friend of Atlantic City for a long time and it signifies that Atlantic City is on its way back into a much higher life.”
Goldberg first gave a shout out to the museum and Atlantic City on The View back in April. That was wen Caesar’s Shenita Ford, a customer development executive at Caesar’s, told her about how special the museum was in the community. Hunter said that it is the only museum dedicated to African-American culture in the state.
“I told her all about the African-American museum here in Atlantic City and she was blown away because she didn’t know about it,” Ford said. “It feels absolutely incredible. She’s a legend. Just to know that she’s here wanting to lend her support to Atlantic City and the museum artist is incredible.”
Ozeri said that painting Goldberg was his “opera” and he hopes to the portrait will represent caring and strength.
“Whoopi is a symbol in our society who fights for so many people,” Ozeri said. “Politically, she’s on the right side. She is a true artist and very powerful. She represents the simple people in life. This portrays represents the love, the good karma and smile that is so powerful. I factored all of those things in the piece.
“I think for me, she represents the best people in African-American society. She is an opera for me. She doesn’t deal in all of the glory, but is a simple person,” he continues.