The Metropolitan Black Bar Association held its 35th annual gala on Friday at Pier Sixty in Manhattan where it honored U.S. Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries and five people from the legal community.
MBBA President Jason Clark said that with over 640 attendees it was the largest gala the association has ever thrown, raising over $390,000.
“I was really excited with how it worked out,” said Clark. “It was an opportunity for the association to be able to celebrate some terrific individuals who are all in line with our theme, ‘I am a Solution.’
“We selected this group of attorneys to honor because it’s important for attorneys of color to be able to see others who have come from similar backgrounds and faced similar challenges who have made it.”
Jeffries was given the Public Servant of the Year Award.
Other honorees included Hon. Robert R. Reed, justice of the Manhattan Supreme Court, who received the Jurist of the Year Award. Donald Prophete, a partner at Constangy, Brooks, Smith and Prophete LLP, who received the Trailblazer of the Year Award. Sheree Carter-Galvan, vice president and general counsel for the American Museum of Natural History, received the Corporate Counsel of the Year Award. Amy Wollensack, partner at Covington and Burling LLP, received the Private Practitioner of the Year Award. Sonya Olds Som, partner at Heidrick and Struggles, received the Presidential Award.
“Justice Reed is someone who has been around and has been a mentor, been a stalwart,” Clark said. “He’s one of the only African American male judges in New York County. He’s been a solution.”
Clark explained that he was proud to be able to give the Presidential Award to Sonya Olds Som, a legal recruiter who he says has had a large impact on helping lift up other African-American and minority attorneys.
“A number of our past gala honorees, and others who have not been honored yet, but that we look up to, have been placed into their roles because of Sonya,” Clark said. “She has played a role in helping lift our community and has put people where they have been able to make a difference.”
The money raised at the annual gala is integral to running the MBBA, as well as its charitable organization, “Friends of the MBBA,” throughout the year and allows them to host a variety of different programs for attorney development.
Just this past year, the MBBA ran programs like the Justice L. Priscilla Hall Leadership Academy, a transactional bootcamp, and a TV show called “Raising the Bar with the MBBA” that allowed members to show off their areas of expertise while passing on skills to other attorneys.
Over the next year, Clark said that he wants the MBBA to continue to expand on the types of programs it offers to its members. This will include citywide legal clinics, a judicial training academy and a general counsel initiative that would help prepare member attorneys to take on some of the top legal jobs in the city.
“These things are important but they can’t happen without the institutional structures in place so that they can make a difference,” Clark said. “The MBBA is important because it can put things in place to let the next generation of African-American attorneys to do better than our generation.”
During the gala, the MBBA also gave out a scholarship worth $2,500 to Alea Roberts, a student at New York Law School.
“One of the things that’s important is making sure we’re investing in the next generation, folks who want to be lawyers, folks who need access to the people who came before them so that it can be easier,” Clark said. “We got here because people invested in us so we want to do the same for the folks coming after us.”
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