At its annual spring dinner in April to celebrate the accomplishments of alumni of color and support the next generation of public service leaders, the Black, Latino, Asian Pacific American Law Alumni Association honored Steven Hawkins ’88, executive director of Amnesty International USA, and Jenny Yang ’96, vice chair of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, with Distinguished Alumni Achievement Awards.
Hawkins has had a varied career in public interest law, from the NAACP LDF, where he successfully won the release of three black teens wrongly convicted in Tennessee, to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s successful campaign to end executions for juvenile crimes. He also advocated for social justice from the philanthropic side, directing Atlantic Philanthropies’ $60 million campaign targeting human rights and national security abuses.
Professor Alina Das ’05, in presenting his award, spoke of Hawkins’s inspiration for social justice stemming from meeting people when he was young who were incarcerated. “Steven Hawkins has had the audacity to act on behalf of those whom our society has chosen to lock up and throw away the key,” she said. “By bringing human rights home, he is breaking down the walls, not drawing lines between the deserving and undeserving, but recognizing the need to dismantle the racist and oppressive systems that infringe on all of our human rights.”
Yang was appointed by President Barack Obama to the EEOC and at the close of her first year named vice chair. Previously a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll and a member of its Civil Rights and Employment practice group, she worked on cases such as Beck v. Boeing Company, in which she successfully represented 28,000-plus female employees alleging sex discrimination. She also served as a senior trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
Inez Milholland Professor of Civil Liberties Burt Neuborne presented Yang’s award. Later, he said: “I thought she was a terrific student with a great future when she was a star in my Brennan Center seminar. I was right. During a distinguished career in private practice, and now as vice chair of the EEOC, Jenny has more than lived up to my very high hopes for her. She has become a formidable force for equality, decency, and respect in the law. And she’s only just begun.”
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