Western Center’s Garden Party 2023 was a night for the ages. We gathered in community, indoor and outdoor, and virtually, on October 19th to celebrate social justice and anti-poverty trailblazers at the Ebell of Los Angeles. Our annual fundraiser contributes to our own work while giving us the space to shower glitter on colleagues and partners in this fight for a more just world.
Over 300 friends, colleagues, mentors, activists, and more gathered for this beautiful, heartfelt night. Crystal Crawford, Western Center’s Executive Director, opened the night by bringing our attention to the 60 anniversary of the March on Washington and the 60th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed 4 little Black girls in Birmingham. While highlighting the connection between these historic social justice moments and the founding of Western Center, she celebrated the progress that has been made with completion of the long-awaited final report of the California Reparations Task Force this year.
In addition to the spirit of celebration in the air in recognition of Western Center’s 56 years of legal and legislative victories, the night was also heavy with grief as we mourned innocent lives lost in Israel and Palestine. Honoree Gina Belafonte powerfully drew a throughline from colonization to slavery to the abject terror and violence happening in Israel and Gaza.
It’s a stark reminder of the people we’ve lost along the way for justice, for desegregation, for voting rights, for a right to live with dignity and respect. So many are not here with us today, but we can celebrate them, say their names, and honor them in our own fights.
Our emcee, Chike Robinson, highlighted several Western Center victories and drew our attention to the jump in poverty, the largest single year jump, due to the refusal of policymakers to continue lifesaving programs like eviction assistance, the child tax credit, and more.
But those paying attention knew this would happen. Ending poverty takes all of us, and it takes direct and meaningful action, not the status quo.
We were privileged to honor four individuals and one firm this year, all of whom have been amazing partners in this work.
Harry Belafonte was more than a musician, actor, activist, and philanthropist. He was a force. He was a freedom fighter. He was an anti-apartheid warrior. He was a movement mentor extraordinaire. He encouraged and challenged generations of artists of color to stretch the ways they moved within the industry and their communities.
Gina Belafonte is an award-winning Producer, Director, Actress, Educator, Prison Abolitionist, and Freedom Activist. She has been using art as a tool for over 25 years to communicate messages of hope and civic engagement.
Derrick Bell was a distinguished legal scholar, prolific writer, and tireless champion for equality. His work inspired the development of critical race theory, a body of legal scholarship that explores how racism is embedded in laws and legal institutions. Professor Bell was a co-founder and past Executive Director of Western Center.
Covington & Burling, LLP received the Max Gillam Pro Bono Award
Covington & Burling, LLP did 1,500 plus hours of extraordinary pro bono work in Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action v. the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). Covington worked alongside Western Center and our partners to hold the state accountable for multiple systemic failures in distributing Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds intended to keep people housed during the pandemic.
The Max Gillam Pro Bono Award memorializes preeminent litigator Max Gillam, who served as pro bono counsel when Western Center faced an attack aimed at shutting our doors and ending federal support for legal services providers
Eva Paterson, Civil Rights Activist & Social Justice Champion received the Earl Johnson Equal Justice Award
Eva Paterson is a civil rights champion and litigator with more than four decades of experience. Paterson co-founded the Equal Justice Society, a legal organization transforming the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts and served as its President from 2000 through August 31, 2022.
The Earl Johnson Equal Justice Award is named after and presented by Justice Earl Johnson (ret.), Scholar in Residence at Western Center on Law and Poverty, who served as an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, from 1982 to 2007. Both Justice Johnson and Eva Paterson are graduates of Northwestern and both made history when they served as Student Body President.
Yolanda Arias, Managing Attorney, Legal Aid Foundation of LA received the Mary Burdick Advocate’s Award
Yolanda Arias, Managing Attorney at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, was selected unanimously by Western Center attorneys to receive this honor. This award recognizes Yolanda’s extensive work as a litigator, trainer, and mentor in the field of public benefits, medical debt, foster care, and immigration.
Mary Burdick joined Western Center as a staff attorney in 1975, later serving as co-Senior Counsel, and ultimately, Executive Director. During her tenure, Mary argued two of the three U.S. Supreme Court cases ever argued by Western Center attorneys, Cabell v. Chavez-Salido, 454 U.S. 432 (1982), and Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552 (1988).
Throughout the night we listened to music by DJ T-Kay (Dublab) who blessed us with worldwide diasporic sounds including Brasilian jazz, African funk, and Latin soul.
And we ended the amazing night with singer and philanthropist Aloe Blacc performing “Someday We’ll All be Free” in a moving special musical tribute to Harry Belafonte.
A special thanks to the Western Center Development Team as well as their partners – the Ebell of Los Angeles, Carol Kono-Noble, First Option Entertainment, Designs by Her, Fotospark, Pablo Aguilar photography, and House of Printing for working tirelessly to make Garden Party 2023 a success.
We look forward to seeing many of you at future events and webinars, and we’ll see you next year for Garden Party 2024.