Born and reared on the Lower East Side, Celeste Victoria was one of five children of immigrant parents from St. Thomas and Puerto Rico.
She grew tall, slim and beautiful and, as a young woman trying to find her way, was drawn into the world of fashion. She did some modeling for a time but soon ventured into a career as a paralegal, working mainly in the Manhattan courts.
Still discovering her place, Celeste eventually enrolled at New York University to study communications. At NYU, she believed she had found her calling. She joined the New York Association of Black Journalists to help further herself as a journalist. Early on, she signed up her then pre-teen daughter, Jasmine, for NYABJ’s annual high school journalism workshop and attended the weekly sessions, too. Celeste completed that program and then began taking on an array of tasks as an NYABJ volunteer, whether licking stamps for monthly mailings or getting glammed up and parking her smiling face at the entrance to an annual NYABJ dinner.
She also was a mainstay of NYABJ’s Media Watch Committee, helping to write scripts, secure guests and roll cameras for its monthly program on cable television. In an organization so often short of volunteers with real volunteer spirit, Celeste was rock-steady.
“She was a ray of sunshine,” says Yanick Rice-Lamb, a former NYABJ president now teaching journalism at Howard University.
Rice-Lamb said Victoria became an NYABJ member at a time when the chapter was experiencing some difficulties, including a major shake-up in its leadership.
“Celeste was instrumental in turning the organization around,” Rice-Lamb says. “People rolled up their sleeves to try to rebuild things and she was one of them. When people were pessimistic, Celeste was always being positive.”
Robin Stone, another past president, a freelance journalist and author, says she is honored to have known Celeste and was awed by the closeness of Celeste’s relationship with her daughter, now 20 and attending Duke University on full scholarship.
“It was just so wonderful to see a mother imparting her wisdom, but she was also exposing (Jasmine) to so many smart, pro-active people,” Stone said. “She was a treasure, a real treasure to the organization.”
She was a terrific behind-the-scenes person. Celeste did not wait to be asked to do a task but jumped right in wherever a need appeared.
“This is corny, but if ever there was a person that had a can-do attitude, that was Celeste,” Stone said.
And Celeste found she loved this new business she had entered. She wondered how TV and news shows were made and found her way to the Manhattan Neighborhood Network. Within a couple of years, she was writing, producing and reporting. Dawn Torres-Brown remembers how her sister glowed in front of that camera.
“Celeste loved the spotlight,” she says. “She could walk in a room and literally light up the place.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, Celeste was organizing a breakfast meeting for Risk Waters Group (Ed. now known as IncisiveMedia), where she worked in marketing, at the Windows of the World, the once famed restaurant at the top of Tower One of the World Trade Center. She was among those who died.
“Not a day goes by that we don’t talk about her or think about her,” Torres-Brown said.
The family held a memorial service for Celeste on Nov. 4, 2001. Her remains were discovered months later and Celeste was buried on Feb. 21, which would have been her 42nd birthday.
Carlise Cornelius is a past Chapter Service award winner and was one of Celeste’s best friends. She misses Celeste, Cornelius said, “her effervescence, her love of life, and of course, her beautiful smile.”
- source “Ikimulisa Sockwell-Mason - NYABJ”
NYABJ honors Celeste’s memory through a scholarship, which will be awarded to Jasmine to assist with college costs. Please send tax-deductible contributions payable to “NYABJ scholarship.” Write “Jasmine Victoria” in the memo portion of the check.
Jasmine Victoria Scholarship
New York Association of Black Journalists
New York, NY 10185