March 4: Juju Chang, Ronny Chieng, and Ann Mukherjee receive 2021 Justice in Action Awards at lunar new year gala
New York City . . .The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) held its virtual Lunar New Year Gala on March 4 and presented its 2021 Justice in Action Awards to Juju Chang, ABC News’ Nightline co-host; Ann Mukherjee, Chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard North America; and Ronny Chieng, comedian, actor, and Daily Show correspondent.
Returning as co-emcees were Cindy Hsu, Emmy Award-winning anchor and reporter at CBS2 New York, and Sree Sreenivasan, Loeb Professor of Digital Innovation at Stony Brook University. A virtual lion dance led by Grandmaster Norman Chin and the NY Southern Praying Mantis Kung Fu and Lion Dance Team kicked off the evening.
AALDEF board president Tommy Shi greeted the guests and thanked several generous sponsors of the group’s first-ever virtual event. AALDEF executive director Margaret Fung spoke about the organization’s activities in 2020, as the pandemic affected every aspect of its programs. She described how AALDEF helped hundreds of immigrant workers to apply for unemployment benefits after businesses closed during the lockdown and its response to the sharp rise in hate violence as Asian American communities were scapegoated for the coronavirus. Fung said AALDEF encouraged Asian Americans to exercise their right to vote in the 2020 elections. The organization conducted a multilingual exit poll and monitored polling places in 14 states, including the Jan. 2021 U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia.
Shi paid tribute to AALDEF’s long-time photographer and friend Corky Lee, who died of complications from Covid-19 last January. “He was a close friend to many of us at AALDEF, and his passing was a tragic loss. His photos have documented critical moments in Asian American history,” said Shi. “AALDEF: 47 Years of Righting Wrongs,” a short video describing AALDEF"s history, was shown during the program and included many of Corky Lee’s old photos.
Sreenivasan introduced the evening’s first 2021 Justice In Action award recipient, Juju Chang, an Emmy Award-winning ABC News’ Nightline co-host and long-time friend of AALDEF.
Chang said: “I am truly humbled to stand in the shadow of iconic defenders of justice like the late John Lewis and Preet Bharara and Harold Koh. I feel so much humility. As a journalist, I’ve never really seen myself as a warrior for justice, I see myself more as a bystander to history. I think during my 30-year career, I have, through my stories, been a good ally for justice in action.”
Hsu introduced the next 2021 Justice In Action Award recipient, Ann Mukherjee, Chairman & CEO of Pernod Ricard North America. She was recognized for her commitment to diversity and strong corporate leadership in addressing issues of racial inequity.
Mukherjee said, “I have a job to return on investment, but I think my bigger job is return on responsibility. . .I feel that we all have a responsibility to speak up and. . . to really push to bring people together in ways that are harmonious. Tonight is a reminder to me to keep pushing, pushing harder, and standing up for what’s right–my sense of what is return on responsibility.”
The final 2021 Justice in Action Award recipient was Ronny Chieng, a comedian, actor, and Daily Show correspondent. Hsu spoke of his commitment to promoting social justice with humor and challenging Asian stereotypes.
Chieng accepted the award, and also thanked AALDEF for its important work: “You’re the ones helping low-wage immigrants fight for back pay. You’re the ones fighting for people facing anti-Asian discrimination and harassment. You’re the ones challenging voter suppression laws. He riffed: “We can’t turn to Daniel Dae Kim’s abs to solve everything.”
Chieng concluded: “It’s not enough to want change. Of course, everyone wants things to be better, but just wanting it is not enough. We all need to work towards it. Every day. We all need the stamina to work toward change. Because it takes a lot of time and energy. And AALDEF is one of the community organizations that’s actually doing that, the daily grind of fighting for civil rights and for people who need help.”
After the awards presentation, Tony Award-winning actor BD Wong (“Awkwafina is Nora from Queens,” “Law and Order SVU,” “Jurassic Park,” and “M. Butterfly”) closed with a special message to the audience, encouraging viewers to support AALDEF in its unwavering crusade for civil rights.
Wong said AALDEF does “the heavy lifting throughout the year” and reminded viewers of the recent events such as the Presidential election, voting rights, immigration, and the unprovoked attacks on the Asian senior population as reasons for the community to support an important organization like AALDEF.
The evening’s program was sprinkled with video greetings from former Justice in Action Award recipients Preet Bharara, Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Margaret Cho, Dale Minami, Christine Choy, George Takei, Connie Chung, and David Henry Hwang. Community advocates Debbie Chen of OCA-Houston and Veronica Huynh of Center for Pan Asian Community Services in Atlanta spoke about their collaboration with AALDEF on voting rights cases and projects, and actors Perry Yung and Pamelyn Chee, from Eddie Huang’s new film “Boogie,” gave a shoutout to viewers.
The evening concluded with a video montage of AALDEF staff, board members, and supporters wishing everyone a happy lunar new year.
You can watch the entire lunar new year celebration here.