More than 650 people from across the country attended AALDEF’s 45th anniversary gala on March 27, 2019 at Pier Sixty, Chelsea Piers, in New York City. This year’s Justice in Action Award recipients were Michael C. Wu, Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary of Carter’s, Inc., and Vanita Gupta, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
The emcees were Juju Chang, Emmy Award-winning co-anchor of ABC News’ Nightline, and Sree Sreenivasan, digital and social media strategis. Special guest Aasif Mandvi, actor and comedian, delivered a special message at the end of the awards ceremony.
Guests at the reception arrived in time to enjoy a beautiful sunset over the Hudson River. Several items in the silent auction drew special attention, including tickets to Shakespeare in the Park and the new Broadway musical “Ain’t Too Proud,” afternoon tea with actor BD Wong, and Mets-Yankees Subway Series tickets.
The reception ended with a performance by the 2d Line Jazz Band, based in New York City.
Several current and former AALDEF board members, staff, and student interns traveled across the country to attend this special event.
Eleven former Justice in Action Award recipients also attended, including several Asian American general counsels from major corporations.
AALDEF president Tommy Shi and AALDEF executive director Margaret Fung opened the program by acknowledging the dinner sponsors and thanking the hundreds of pro bono lawyers, volunteers, and student interns who have been an important part of AALDEF’s history.
Shi recognized 11 Justice in Action Award recipients who were in the room. Fung gave an overview of recent legal victories, advocacy for immigrant rights, and AALDEF’s multilingual exit poll of Asian American voters in the historic 2018 elections. She thanked members of the 45th Anniversary Committee, who have made a special commitment to ensuring AALDEF’s future.
Samuel S. Choy, partner at King & Spalding, presented the first Justice in Action Award to Michael C. Wu, one of the few Asian American corporate general counsels in the nation. Choy praised Wu’s efforts to expand the reach of the Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association and his mentorship of young attorneys.
In accepting the Justice in Action Award, Wu spoke about the struggle and sacrifice of his mother, who faced poverty and discrimination as a young girl in Hong Kong. He described how his mother’s own experiences had made her and the entire family maintain deep empathy for vulnerable youth and exploited communities. With help and determination, Wu’s parents were able to immigrate to the United States and find a better life for their children. Wu described how he continues this proud family tradition of supporting the community by building pipelines of future Asian American attorneys who will take action on behalf of people in need.
Ted Shaw, law professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law and former Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, introduced Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The Leadership Conference, based in Washington, DC, is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights coalition, founded in 1950.
Shaw described Ms. Gupta as “fearless, hard-working, and brilliant,” with an outstanding legal career that has included serving as Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, and staff attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Gupta spoke about the perilous times that we are facing now, in light of an administration that is overtly hostile to immigrants and communities of color. She urged the audience to recognize the urgent moment we are in, and that “now is the time to act."
The program ended with a special message from special guest Aasif Mandvi, a comedian, actor, and writer. Mandvi delivered remarks with much-needed humor, reflecting on the challenges facing activists in this chaotic national climate and the dramatic political changes since he came to AALDEF’s dinner five years ago to receive his Justice in Action award.
Mandvi urged the audience to stay involved and to support AALDEF more than ever.
The program concluded with a special live auction led by emcees Juju Chang and Sree Sreenivasan, including two house seats to the Broadway musical “Hamilton” and two VIP tickets to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Mandvi also made a surprise donation of his tie to the live auction. Finally, a very special giving challenge was put to the audience, as the emcees called upon dinner guests to support AALDEF’s most urgent work with a gift to ensure the next 45 years of protecting Asian American civil rights.
After the program, several guests stayed to catch up with old friends and colleagues and also sampled a variety of sweets at the dessert bar.
Special thanks to all of the benefit committee members, law firms, corporations, community groups, and individuals who supported our 45th anniversary gala!
For a complete list of sponsors and a historical timeline of AALDEF’s 45 years of righting wrongs, download the dinner program here.
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