Effecting Change One Life at a Time

September 30, 2016

CSQ C-Suite Quarterly

Looking beyond your company’s bottom line and examining its communal impact is not just important, it is essential.

As I write this, our country is experiencing a watershed moment in its history. It seems that almost every day there is news of outrage, bigotry, unrest, and violence emerging from many quarters of our society. As an attorney, social justice is a topic frequently in my thoughts. It is against this backdrop of conflict that I often wonder if one individual can truly effect change, helping neighbors, towns and cities, and our nation to move forward.

I find solace in the knowledge that many around us are quietly doing inspirational work every day. Recently, I had the good fortune to meet one such Angeleno, Naomi Ackerman. Naomi is the founder and executive director of the Advot Project, a grassroots non-profit organization that works with incarcerated youth while they are in the Los Angeles County probation lock-up facilities, and continues with them upon release. The Advot Project uses art and theater as communication tools to foster self-esteem, manage anger, promote healthy relationships, and prevent violence. The program’s goal is to help these at-risk youth, especially young women ages 13-25 to find their voice and gain self-worth – encouraging their self-empowerment by giving them opportunities to be heard, and helping them develop the capacity to exhibit greater kindness and compassion, first for themselves and then for others.

Naomi Ackerman and the Advot Project are truly effecting change, one young life at a time. On October 30, the Blank Rome Adopt-A-Center Program (founded in 1999 by my former law firm, Phillips Lerner) will celebrate Naomi’s work and honor the very first of the Advot Project’s graduates to attend college. At an event entitled Listen, the Advot Project will present a performance of dance, poetry, and song at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, featuring original works by Naomi’s students, and collaborations with other talented performers from the Los Angeles arts community.

The Adopt-A-Center Program is only one aspect of Blank Rome’s proud tradition of corporate philanthropy. My colleagues at the firm work on behalf of numerous pro bono clients all over the country, which include the homeless, the disabled, veterans, immigrants seeking asylum, Holocaust survivors, domestic violence victims, abused and neglected children, and low-income senior citizens. Here in Los Angeles, we provide pro bono services through many nonprofit organizations, such as the Harriet Buhai Center, Bet Tzedek, Public Counsel, the Alliance for Children’s Rights, and Levitt & Quinn Family Law Center.

More than 70 years ago, the firm’s founding partner, Edwin P. Rome, served as court-appointed counsel for Aaron “Treetop” Turner, an African-American laborer accused of beating to death a factory employee. Mr. Rome defended Mr. Turner over eleven years and through five separate trials during which he was convicted of murder five times, and sentenced to die four times. Ultimately, Mr. Turner was freed as a result of the decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on an appeal after the fifth trial. Current pro bono cases being handled by the firm involve claims of racial discrimination, civil rights actions, and death penalty cases.

Today, Edwin P. Rome’s tenacity and commitment to service are the inspiration for the firm’s involvement in Clemency Project 2014, one of the largest pro bono endeavors in its history. More than 100 lawyers and paralegals, from every Blank Rome office and practice group, engage in critical legal work to provide relief to nonviolent inmates serving disproportionately long sentences. And, in a tradition that began seven years ago, the firm sponsors a “Day of Service” on Martin Luther King Day, during which many of the firm’s lawyers and staff participate in service projects in their communities. In Philadelphia, Blank Rome volunteers assist low-income seniors in drafting and executing wills, living wills, and powers of attorney – planning their future and expressing their end-of-life decisions with clarity and dignity.

I hope you will join us on October 30 at the Broad Stage in. As in years past, we anticipate that our Adopt-A-Center Program will create a memorable experience that will enrich many lives.

Tickets to Listen may be purchased at www.advot.eventbrite.com.

“Effecting Change One Life at a Time,” by Stacy D. Phillips was published in CSQ C-Suite Quarterly on September 30, 2016. To view the article online, please click here.

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