Press Release

AALDEF celebrates fifty years, honoring Don Tamaki, Simu Liu, and Sam Khichi with 2024 Justice in Action Awards

Image for AALDEF celebrates fifty years, honoring Don Tamaki, Simu Liu, and Sam Khichi with 2024 Justice in Action Awards
Activist and lawyer Don Tamaki accepts the 2024 Justice in Action Award, sharing the story of how AALDEF came to be fifty years ago. Credit: Lia Chang.

Founding director Margaret Fung introduces incoming director Bethany Li who will assume the new role in October

NEW YORK — Yesterday evening, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) celebrated a half century of public service at its 50th Anniversary Gala, where it presented the 2024 Justice in Action Awards to Sam Khichi, Executive Vice President, Chief Policy Officer and General Counsel of CVS Health; Simu Liu, actor and activist; and Don Tamaki, Partner of Minami Tamaki LLP.

Corporate leader Sam Khichi appeared on video where he talked about leaving India and coming to America as a young boy knowing barely two words of English.

“It’s about how we can fulfill the hopes and dreams of others — how we can help our community and society live up to those American ideals, so those opportunities are open to a broader, more diverse, more inclusive population,” said Khichi.

Don Tamaki was honored for a lifetime of service to the Asian American civil rights movement as an activist and a lawyer.

“We do our part by demanding truth telling at a time when our nation is so truth challenged. And we carry out AALDEF’s vision by supporting causes that dismantle systems that have churned out huge and growing racial disparities,” said Tamaki. “A deep bow to Margaret for a job well done.”

Simu Liu also appeared on video where he talked about growing up in a time where Asian communities were expected to keep their head down and to not cause a ruckus. 

“I wanted to show that it was possible that Asian Americans could be loud, unapologetic, and unwaveringly proud of who they were and where they came from,” said Liu. “I know that I’m in great company among people who think and feel the same way tonight, and I’m once again honored and humbled to be recognized among you.”

The three recipients of the AALDEF Justice in Action Awards join a venerable list of activists, artists, and changemakers honored by AALDEF in the past, including the late Congressman John Lewis, Preet Bharara, David Henry Hwang, BD Wong, Seymour Hersh, Dale Minami, Kal Penn, Harry Belafonte, Fareed Zakaria, Yoko Ono, and most recently, Congresswoman Grace Meng.

Tamiko Ooka of Soh Daiko, the first taiko drumming group on the East Coast, led her team of performers in a thunderous and powerful display of rhythm to kick off the festivities. Emcees Cindy Hsu and Sree Sreenivasan welcomed attendees, reminding them that the month of May is also AAPI Heritage Month, a time to raise awareness about Asian American contributions to this country. As a special gift, all attendees received AALDEF’s 50 Stories booklet, a collection of five decades of timeless stories about clients, cases, and daily life in the AALDEF office. 

Richard Kim and Phil Tajitsu Nash, co-presidents of the AALDEF Board, thanked guests for their generous support for the ongoing fight for civil rights for Asian Americans and others. “Since its founding, AALDEF has maintained a commitment to promoting the civil rights of Asian Americans, and to collaborate with other communities of color in advocating for social justice,” said Kim. Nash introduced AALDEF: 50 Years a short film by AALDEF and filmmaker ManSee Kong featuring early pioneers, important community partners, and the Asian American movement's next generation of activists.

Margaret Fung, the founding director of AALDEF, took a moment to honor senior staff attorney Stan Mark who has been serving the organization for over four decades, most notably leading its work on Japanese American redress. Mark will be retiring at the end of the year. 

Shifting towards the future, Fung introduced Bethany Li who will be assuming the position of executive director in October. “I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with Bethany for many years now, and I know she will lead the organization with creativity, hard work, and good humor,” said Fung.

“All of the stories that you will hear here tonight, that includes legends like Yuri Kochiyama, Gordon Hirabayashi, Corky Lee, and so many others standing with us on picket lines and challenging unjust laws with us, that is because of Margaret and Stan who dared to dream big,” said Li. “Thank you for the critical work we will be doing together, because this is yet another moment that demands, not only that we dream, but that we act.”

View the entire program here: