Justice & Diversity Center Gala Raises Close to $400,000 for Legal and Diversity Programs
By Traci Mysliwiec
The Justice & Diversity Center (JDC) of the Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) has continued to serve the San Francisco community during this second year of more unprecedented challenges and uncertainties than ever. The 17th annual -and second virtual- JDC Gala on September 22 provided the opportunity for us to collectively take a moment to celebrate those impacts. Over the past year, JDC provided nearly 20,000 hours of legal services to the community — with the help of more than 480 attorneys and hundreds of additional volunteers.
The event raised close to $400,000 to support JDC’s Legal Services Programs, Homeless Advocacy Project, and Diversity Pipeline Programs, including the Bay Area Minority Law Student Scholarship program. This year’s Gala continued the tradition of showcasing JDC’s impact and sharing inspiration through client and student stories. Thank you again to all of our supporters as we’ve reached close to our all-time fundraising high for this event - even virtually, during an ongoing pandemic. Click here to watch the full JDC Gala program.
As President Marvin Anderson highlighted in his remarks (starting at 21:31 in full Gala video) JDC’s increased programming has awarded scholarships, increased educational access and expanded the Career Fair access nationwide.
Executive Director Yolanda Jackson acknowledged the increased demand for services and praised our supporters for their continued dedication (starting at 41:00).
“Thank you to all of our sponsors for always having our backs. You continue to support us in these uncertain times,” Jackson said. “You stepped up and you said yes when we called, readily appreciating that the need for our services has gone up during the pandemic.”
This year’s program spotlight speakers included Eliza Grosscup, a former JDC client who turned their life around with the support of the Homeless Advocacy Project services (starting at 29:23), and Irene Carbajal Perez, a law student who flourished through the increased access of our 1L Open Doors Job Shadow Program (starting at 50:44). Both bringing to life the importance of JDC’s work.
Following the main program, gala guests were able to choose among a variety of virtual experiences. Featured guests included the Coolerators, mixologist Rebecca Pinnell, and DJ D Sharp, the official DJ of the Golden State Warriors, while local legal leaders led our roundtable discussions.
The Impact of Hope panel discussion included observations around national social justice issues, as well as providing reasons to have optimism that the landscape is improving. The communities that JDC serves are the most powerless in our country, and what panelists refer to as “imperfect clients,” people who have been suppressed, mishandled, and traumatized. The panelists’ work seeks justice by ensuring the integrity of the systems and processes that supposedly exist to benefit everyone but don’t always do that in reality.
“Each day is a test of commitment and the belief that we are effecting change, even if it can’t immediately be seen,” Bao Tran Dang, Supervising Attorney of Eviction Defense Services with JDC’s Homeless Advocacy Project.
Gaurav Bali, a JDC Attorney who specializes in domestic violence cases, explained the focus of his work with survivors is navigating the often complicated family court system, obtaining restraining orders, and full-scope representation in divorce cases. The common denominator in his work is that all of his clients have dealt with some combination of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the problems that survivors face daily. Bali, however, remains hopeful.
“At my level, the impact of the JDC’s work gives my clients and their families immediate peace in their daily life, one family at a time,” said Bali. “We are helping a generation of young children avoid this infinite loop of violence witnessed in their own home by taking out the root of the problem, abusers.”
I find hope in the people who have the courage to challenge constitutional violations… In a system that puts up barrier after barrier, I find hope with the individuals who persist.”
Abby Herzberg, Supervising Attorney for JDC’s Federal Pro Bono Project, advises and informs unrepresented litigants through lawsuits, civil rights violations against law enforcement, and correctional officers. Many of their cases involve claims of constitutional violations by law enforcement or prison officials, lawsuits against police officers, sheriff’s deputies, correctional officers, and prison medical staff. They see claims of false arrest, unlawful search, excessive force, and denied medical care for prisoners. In a discussion about hope, Herzberg wants to acknowledge these are heavy topics that disproportionately impact communities of color. Where she finds hope is with justice.
”I find hope in the people who have the courage to challenge constitutional violations… In a system that puts up barrier after barrier, I find hope with the individuals who persist.” Herzberg also consistently finds hope in the pro bono volunteer attorneys who use their power to vindicate the rights of the people harmed by police and prison violence.
Julie Traun, BASF’s Director of Court Programs and founding member of the Criminal Justice Task Force, discussed what she and others are doing to work with the criminal justice system on the front end to prevent civil rights violations from happening. The Bar Association convened a task force composed of prosecutors, defense attorneys, civil rights attorneys, law professors, the judiciary, and members of law enforcement.
“The continuing discussion of these important issues puts the Bar Association of San Francisco at the forefront of cutting-edge discussions that are redefining what civil rights are for this country,” Paul Henderson, Executive Director, Department of Police Accountability, said during the discussion. “In today’s age, given the complexity of where we are coming from in the last administration, where we’ve actually seen civil rights rollback.” To read a full recap of the Impact of Hope discussion, click here.
In the Shifting Immigration Landscape discussion, retired Judge Polly Webber spoke about difficulties recent changes in laws have created. “The ability to apply for protection in the United States at the Southern border has been restricted severely in recent years by a combination of policies, practices, and regulations,” said Webber. “Together they form a barrier to asylum and due process for migrants that is unfair, inhumane, and a violation of long established U.S. and international refugee norms.”
Rachel Prandini, an Immigration Attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, talked about the work that is still necessary even though the constant turmoil of the last administration has passed.
“Although the Biden administration has taken overall a less criminalizing and dehumanizing approach to immigration, the problems with our immigration system are not resolved because we have a new administration. There’s an incredible amount of work and change that is necessary in our country,” Prandini said. “There are fundamental problems with how our immigration laws work. So we do need legislative change...in order to really address the problems with the system, and actually provide viable paths for people to get immigration status in the United States. So, as advocates, that’s where we are and we will keep pushing and hoping for change under this administration.”
If you missed this year’s event, you can access recordings of the program, including the inspiring client spotlight speakers, virtual experiences, and roundtable discussions at www.sfbar.org/gala.