Salt-N-Pepa, the pioneers of female rap, have held a special place in my heart ever since I crowded into Gainesville's old Central City club and danced to the uncommon female bravado they expressed in the legendary 1987 hit, Push It.
Years later, as I stood at the posh DeBartolo Family Foundation Gala amid current and former pro athletes, noteworthy entertainers and local personalities of renown, I could think of meeting only one luminary.
Sandy "Pepa" Denton was in the house at the A La Carte Event Pavilion.
I searched around a good part of the night, but hadn't spotted her. In the dimly lit ballroom, I turned to my friend Jeff Dunn and began babbling about how I wanted to meet her and how my night would be incomplete if I missed her and how I've been a fan forever and how Push It is one of the greatest rap songs ever and . . .
"Excuse me," a woman's voice called as she tapped me on the shoulder from behind. "Are you talking about me?"
I whirled around and there she stood, smiling at my inept rant. I wanted her to say, "Yo, yo, yo, yo, baby-pop, yeah you come here, gimme a kiss," but the simple greeting brought a big smile to my face.
That unforgettable moment came to mind this week as the family prepares for its 10th anniversary gala, which will be held on March 8 at the A La Carte, and the story reflects more than my lack of social graces.
You see, despite seeing Pepa and the imaginary glow that enveloped her, I held it together. I called her Sandy — smooth, right? — chatted for a few minutes and then allowed her to enjoy the evening.
This is the norm when the DeBartolos welcome big names. Folks may ask the celebrities to smile for the camera or sign a program, but they don't sweat the athletes and entertainers. Consequently, the celebs relax, mingle and have a good time.
"You can go there and just be yourself because you know you're going to have fun, and it's going to be top-class," said NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, who confirmed he will attend this year's event. "I think the more people in the city of Tampa know about it, the more they will want to be a part of it."
Eddie DeBartolo, the former San Francisco 49ers owner and Tampa businessman, sparked the creation of the foundation, but it's run by daughters Lisa and Nikki, who use their father's generous but down-to-earth approach as a guide.
"I think it helps that we treat them as normal people," Lisa DeBartolo said. "And my father has such a good relationship with so many of them. The good thoughts people have for him helps."
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For this year's gala, Lisa said they hope to create more of a party atmosphere, and it will help immensely that Grammy-winner John Legend (Ordinary People, Green Light) will perform, followed by DJ Samantha Ronson.
For tickets, visit allstarcharity gala.com.
The greater mission remains giving back.
The foundation annually donates more than $500,000 to Tampa Bay grass roots organizations. In 2012, it gave 31 $2,500 scholarships to graduating high school seniors.
It also annually presents three Spirit of Humanity Awards, a $25,000 grant, to worthy nonprofits.
Though the gala attendees are sure to have a good time, I'm sure it can't compare with the life-changing results the DeBartolos deliver.
They're creating smiles even bigger than the one I wore when I met Pepa.
That's all I'm saying.