Highlights from the 2013 Justice in Action Awards

 Congressman John Lewis, Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (Georgia), Jose Antonio Vargas of Define American, and Simone Wu of Choice Hotels International, Inc. were honored with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund's (AALDEF) 2013 Justice in Action Awards on February 19.

Since 1987, AALDEF has presented the Justice in Action Awards to exceptional individuals for their outstanding achievements and efforts in advancing social justice. The awards were presented by Rep. Grace Meng, the first Asian American to represent New York in Congress, Tony Award-winning playwright of M. Butterfly David Henry Hwang, and Gordon Smith, CEO of Consumer and Community Banking, JPMorgan Chase.

Juju Chang, Emmy Award-winning correspondent for ABC News Nightline, and Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer at Columbia University, both long time supporters of AALDEF, were the co-emcees for the banquet of over 700. They were joined at the end with a surprise appearance on stage from actor BD Wong, who urged the guests to show their support for AALDEF.

Among the guests at Pier Sixty in New York City were Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York, U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Acting New York Supreme Court Justice Debra James, and past Justice in Action Award recipients Don Liu, Parkin Lee, Alice Young, and Sandra Leung.

AALDEF Board president Tommy Shi wished the audience a happy new year and shared the story that, seven days before the 2012 election, with AALDEF's national poll monitoring and exit poll project at stake, Hurricane Sandy hit New York. AALDEF staff was stranded in outer boroughs and our office was without electricity. "We put out an emergency call for help," said Shi. "AALDEF staff and volunteers lugged boxes of voting materials down 12 flights of stairs in the dark. We were lucky that Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP donated temporary space with computers and phones for our staff and volunteers. And Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP opened its conference rooms to us. In the end, the Asian American Exit Poll surveyed over 9,000 voters in 14 states on Election Day, the largest multilingual survey of its kind."

Margaret Fung, AALDEF executive director, said that the three Justice in Action Award recipients had taken courageous stands on some of AALDEF's current priority issues: securing real immigration reform, expanding diversity, and defending the Voting Rights Act before the U.S. Supreme Court.

David Henry Hwang introduced honoree Jose Antonio Vargas as having "one of the great immigrant stories of our time." Vargas, an award-winning Filipino American journalist, publicly revealed himself to be an undocumented immigrant in a 2011 New York Times Magazine article. "Immigrant rights are human rights," said Vargas, who acknowledged the work of AALDEF and civil rights organizations by joking that the reason he "was still here" was that he was "all lawyered up."

Honoree Simone Wu, senior vice president, general counsel, corporate secretary, and chief compliance officer of Choice Hotels International, spoke about the need for diversity and inclusiveness. "So many Asian Americans do not get a chance to share in the model minority myth," said Wu. "At Choice Hotels we value diversity in all our decisions and our results are better as a result of doing that."

The evening came to a close with Rep. Grace Meng introducing civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis with a surprise video of the Congressman dancing "Gangnam-style" for the right to vote.

"The right to vote is precious, even sacred," said Congressman Lewis, who, in 1965, led over 600 peaceful protesters in the march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation known as "Bloody Sunday," and the senseless cruelty hastened passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. "I gave a little blood for the right to vote. But some of my friends gave their lives. We have made too much progress to stop now."


Credit for above image: Lia Chang for AALDEF

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The AALDEF Justice in Action Awards recognize exceptional individuals for their outstanding achievements and contributions in advancing justice and equality. Past recipients include the late civil rights icon Fred Korematsu, David Henry Hwang, Fareed Zakaria, BD Wong, Sandra Leung, Harold Koh, Mira Nair, Ivan Fong, Deval Patrick, George Takei, Salman Rushdie, Seymour Hersh, Larry Tu, Charles Ogletree, Jr., Nicholas Kristof, Sheryl Wu Dunn, Javade Chaudhri, Harry Belafonte, Margaret Cho, and Yoko Ono.

The 2013 Honorees

imageCongressman John Lewis is the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th congressional district, serving since 1987, and Senior Chief Deputy Whip. He was one of the 13 original Freedom Riders who challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South, and was a leader in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March for voting rights. By 1963, he was dubbed one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. For his lifelong commitment to social justice, he was awarded the highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, by President Obama in 2011. "Congressman John Lewis is a true American hero and a pillar of the Civil Rights Movement," said Margaret Fung, Executive Director of AALDEF. "We honor his commitment to securing human rights and civil liberties for all Americans."

imageJose Antonio Vargas is a Filipino American journalist who has reported for The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Daily News, and The Washington Post, where he was part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team. In 2011, Vargas publicly revealed himself to be an undocumented immigrant and has since been a leading advocate for a U.S. immigration system that promotes human rights for all. He is the founder of Define American, a project aimed at increasing awareness about the DREAM Act, which would help undocumented youth have a path to citizenship available to them through education or service in the military. "Jose Antonio Vargas has played a crucial role in changing the discourse on immigration reform," said Fung. "We honor his courage in speaking on behalf of the rights of immigrants everywhere."


imageSimone Wu is senior vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary for Choice Hotels International, one of the world's largest hotel franchisors. Prior to joining Choice Hotels, Wu served as executive vice president, general counsel, and secretary for XO Communications, a leading nationwide telecommunications corporation. Through her 20 years of legal experience, Wu has been committed to advancing diversity in the legal profession, including serving as chairperson of the board of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, which was founded to advance the hiring, retention, and promotion of diverse attorneys in legal departments and the law firms. "We honor Simone Wu's dedication to promoting diversity and equal opportunity in the corporate sector," said Fung.

The Lunar New Year Gala

Each year, AALDEF presents the Justice in Action Awards at its annual Lunar New Year Gala, a celebration of Asian Americans in civil rights, law, business, and the arts.

This year, the Lunar New Year Gala silent auction offered some wonderful items including tickets to The Dance and The Railroad and drinks and conversation with David Henry Hwang, afternoon tea at the Mandarin Oriental Tea Lounge with actor BD Wong, a Chef's tasting with wine at Oceana, 2-round trip American Airline tickets and 3 night stay at a Choice Hotel, tickets to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week shows this fall, a private tasting at your home led by a Johnnie Walker master of whiskey, 3 night stay at Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica, Macallan Single Malt Whisky Private Tasting, a visit to the set of the TV hit series, "The Mentalist," tickets to Late Show with David Letterman, a Jeremy Lin autographed jersey and much more. See the list of items available in our silent auction.

All proceeds from the Lunar New Year Gala will go directly towards supporting AALDEF's legal and educational programs in immigrant rights, economic justice for workers, voting rights and civic participation, language access to services, educational equity, housing and environmental justice, and the elimination of hate violence, police misconduct, and human trafficking.
The Annual #JIA2013 Social Media Raffle

Enter our third annual Justice in Action 2013 Social Media Raffle! We love our Facebook fans and Twitter followers, and we want to get some more and give back to the ones we have!

The Rules: If AALDEF reaches 1700 Facebook Likes and 1550 @aaldef Twitter followers by 11:59pm, Feb. 28, every single one of you (new and old fans and followers both) is automatically entered to win the prizes!

Grand Prize: A free pass for a Social Media Workshop by @Sree, Columbia's brand-new Chief Digital Officer and one of Poynter.org's "35 Most Influential People in Social Media," (value $150-$500). Non-NY winners: you can sign up for an online version.

Runner-Up Prizes: Five CDs (including an autographed CD) from Japanese American jazz-fusion band Hiroshima (for U.S. winners only).

Courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery, a gift token for 10 free beers at any of the open houses at the Brewery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

To Enter: Follow @aaldef on Twitter or LIKE our Facebook Page, http:bit.ly/aaldef (do both and double your chances!) If we get up to 1550 followers and 1700 FB fans by 11:59 pm on Feb. 28, everyone is entered!

Share the message with hashtag #jia2013. We will pick a winner and let him or her know right away.

Past Awards

Highlights from the 2012 Awards honoring Fareed Zakaria, Parkin Lee, and Jean Koh Peters

View a photo montage of award winners since 1987:
Page 1, Page 2

The full list of past Justice in Action Award recipients


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