Audrey Bernard

*The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is ranked as America’s top legal counsel on issues of race.  Through advocacy and litigation, LDF focuses on issues of education, voter protection, economic justice and criminal justice.  The Fund pursues racial justice to move our nation toward a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all.

President Barack Obama once said, “The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is simply the best civil rights law firm in American history.”  The statement added luminosity to the distinguished defender for equal rights organization.

In 1986, LDF established the National Equal Justice Award Dinner (NEJAD) as its signature annual fundraising event to recognize leaders in the fields of business, government and law for their commitment to human equality and justice.

Since its inception LDF has honored eminent leaders of the legal profession, the business world and the civil rights community for their exemplary commitment to global diversity and inclusion.

On Wednesday November 4, 2009, LDF held its twenty-third annual NEJAD at the Hilton New York & Towers where a legion of staunch LDF supporters turned out to witness a successful event.

The verdict is in on the event and LDF won another case hands down as the gala raised close to $2.4 million dollars to benefit LDF’s mission and programs that encourages students to embark on careers in the public interest through scholarships and internship programs.

“The success of this event will allow us to continue to litigate and fight the issues that other organizations will not embrace, and to defend the rights of those that others will not protect,” conveyed the board co-chairs, David Mills and Theodore V. Wells, Jr., in a joint message.

In his welcoming message, LDF’s president and director-counsel, John Payton, expressed the importance of the organization’s mission to Defend, Educate and Empower.  “We are pleased you have joined us in this fight and welcome you to continue to work with us as we topple the barriers to the equality of our founders that we believe are the hallmark of our democracy.”

Payton also acknowledged a trio of firsts – the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president and the first African American; the appointment of the first African American Attorney General Eric Holder; and the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor as the first Latino Supreme Court Justice.

“Equally significant for us at LDF is the fact that President Obama and Attorney General Holder both have direct connections to our organization, the former as a cooperating attorney and the latter as an LDF intern.”

Payton then praised the evening’s honorees.  “LDF is proud to honor those who have shown a commitment to promoting the causes of justice and equality.”  Accordingly, LDF presented its National Equal Justice award to Ursula M. Burns, chief executive officer, Xerox Corporation; and Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive officer, JP Morgan Chase.

Kenneth I. Chenault, chairman & CEO, American Express Company, presented the award to Burns.  Richard D. Parsons, chairman, Citigroup, presented the award to Dimon.

Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., senior managing director, Lazard Freres & Co. LLC and senior counsel, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, and a longtime member of LDF’s board of directors, was the recipient of the coveted Thurgood Marshall lifetime achievement award.   Franklin A. Thomas, president, The Study Group, presented the award to Jordan.

The road to litigation heaven is filled with women objecting to the rules.  This festive event had an abundance of women making their own rules that led to this being one of  LDF’s most successful galas to date.

To start, the stellar program was manned by ABC’s vibrant correspondent, Deborah Roberts.  The commanding gala dinner chair and headmistress of the stellar steering committee was Judith I. Byrd from LDF’s board of directors.

The dynamic gala dinner vice chairs were Jeri DeVard, principal, DMG; Gabriella E. Morris, president, Prudential Foundation; and Marva Smalls, executive vice president, MTV Networks.  Their inexorable dynamism resulted in everyone having an unforgettable evening.  Objections overruled! (Photos by Stephanie Badini)

John Payton (LDF president & director), Richard Parsons (presenter), Ursula M. Burns (honore), Jamie Dimon (honoree), Franklin Thomas (presenter), Vernon E. Jordan Jr. (honoree

Judith Byrd (dinner chair), Jerri DeVard (dinner co-chair), Ursula Burns (honoree), Marva Smalls (dinner co-chair)


Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area