2012 Acting for Justice Awards, October 2012

2012 honorees

Lifetime Achievement Award for Civil Rights: Charles J. Ogletree Jr.

Charles OgletreeOne of the nation’s most respected constitutional scholars and civil rights advocates, Charles J. Ogletree Jr., is the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and Founding and Executive Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. The Institute is dedicated to advancing Houston’s work to reverse the unjust consequences of racial discrimination. Under Professor Ogletree’s leadership, it brings together students, faculty, practitioners, civil rights and business leaders, community advocates, litigators, and policymakers in a variety of forums to present new scholarship, debate legal and policy strategies, and craft new solutions that can be widely adopted. Scholarship that emerges from the Institute is incorporated into the teaching and training of the next generation of legal scholars and advocates. Launched in November 2011, the Institute’s most recent project, One Nation Indivisible, harnesses the power of storytelling and strategic organizing to support people working to create, sustain and improve racially, culturally, linguistically and socioeconomically integrated schools, communities, workplaces and social institutions.

Professor Ogletree began his legal career as a criminal defense lawyer with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, where he was eventually appointed Deputy Director. In 1985, he began his teaching career at Harvard Law School and became tenured in 1993. Over the years, Professor Ogletree has litigated numerous landmark civil rights cases. Currently, Professor Ogletree serves as Special Counsel with the New York City civil rights law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP. Professor Ogletree is an accomplished author and editor of eight books and dozens of book chapters and articles, including his historical memoir, All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half-Century of Brown v. Board of Education. One of the original, featured moderators in PBS’s seminal series, Ethics in America, Professor Olgetree regularly appears as a guest commentator on nationally and internationally syndicated television programs. Professor Ogletree earned a B.A. and M.A. in Political Science from Stanford University and holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

FHJC is honored to acknowledge Charles J. Ogletree Jr. for a remarkable lifetime of achievement in civil rights and for his pursuit of a more just and inclusive nation.

Outstanding Leadership for Fair Housing Award: David J. Kennedy & Bernhard Blythe

About David Kennedy

As Chief of the Civil Rights Unit for the Office of the United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York (SDNY), David J. Kennedy has overseen the development and resolution of many significant housing discrimination cases since 2007. In May 2012, his office announced the settlement of a sexual harassment case brought against a Manhattan landlord that included the recovery of $2 million for victims of the harassment, a maximum $55,000 civil penalty, and extensive injunctive relief. In April 2012, the Department of Justice announced the filing of a federal lawsuit alleging that a large New York-based mortgage banking company charged African American and Hispanic borrowers higher rates on home mortgages than similarly qualified non-Hispanic white borrowers between 2005-2009. Several months later, the case was resolved with a $3.5 million dollar settlement that provides compensation to approximately 600 African American and Latino borrowers, a civil penalty, and extensive injunctive relief. Based on testing evidence provided by the FHJC, the SDNY Civil Rights Unit filed two cases alleging that the owners and managers of rental buildings located in Rockland County were discriminating against African American prospective renters. These cases were successfully resolved for damages, civil penalties, and extensive injunctive relief. In the area of disability discrimination, the Civil Rights Unit under Mr. Kennedy’s leadership filed four cases which alleged that building owners, builders, and architects had designed and constructed new multi-family rental buildings in non-compliance with the accessibility requirements of the federal Fair Housing Act. The FHJC referred the results of its 2006 testing investigation to the Civil Rights Unit, which ultimately led to these enforcement actions. All four cases have been resolved with remedies covering over 3000 rental units in New York City. The settlements include retrofits to make apartments accessible; a total monetary recovery of over $3 million for victim funds, an accessibility fund, and civil penalties; and extensive injunctive relief. It is with great pleasure that we recognize the outstanding leadership that David Kennedy has provided to all New Yorkers by ensuring vigorous and effective enforcement of federal fair housing and fair lending laws.

About Bernhard Blythe

As one of the founding FHJC Board Members and the Board of Directors’ second President (2009 – 2012), Bernhard Blythe provided outstanding leadership and guided the FHJC through its formative years. During times of fiscal austerity, Bernhard expanded the FHJC Board and kept the FHJC’s doors open. Bernhard’s commitment to fair housing is evidenced by his passion for fairness and his tireless efforts to ensure that the FHJC continued its work to defeat discrimination in housing and promote inclusive communities throughout the New York City region. We thank Bernhard for his unwavering dedication, inspired leadership, and tremendous service to the organization.

Exercise of Fair Housing Rights Award: Stephen & Melissa Fajardo, Vanessa Lee

About Stephen and Melissa Fajardo

In April 2011, Stephen and Melissa Fajardo were searching for an apartment in Brooklyn for themselves and their children. Mr. Fajardo called in response to an advertisement for a two-bedroom apartment and a real estate broker informed him that the landlord did not want to rent to children and that children make too much noise. The FHJC conducted a testing investigation and corroborated the Farjardos’ complaint. In that investigation, the same broker told an FHJC tester, inquiring about the identical apartment for his family with children, that the owner would not rent to him and stated, “He’s trying to avoid kids.” On May 23, 2011, the Fajardos, through their attorney, Eric Dinnocenzo, filed a lawsuit alleging family status discrimination. The Fajardos resolved their complaint with a monetary settlement that included payment of damages by both the real estate broker and owner of the rental property.

About Vanessa Lee

When Vanessa Lee, a federal government civil servant and a life-long Brooklyn resident, attempted to find an apartment to rent in 2007, she was asked over the telephone by a real estate agent if she was Jewish. Once Ms. Lee, an African American woman, said that she was not Jewish, she was told the advertised apartment was no longer available for rent. Ms. Lee contacted the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and HUD referred her to the FHJC for assistance. Over the next four months, the FHJC conducted a testing investigation by sending four matched pairs of African American and white testers to this Brooklyn real estate company. The African American testers were consistently told that they needed to make an appointment, no one was available to assist them, and someone would call them back. In short, they were refused service and never called back. In contrast, the white testers, who went without appointments, were immediately shown apartments and/or provided information about apartments available for rent. Still searching for an apartment, Ms. Lee went in person to the realty office and was told she could not be helped without completing a form and making an appointment. On the same day, a white tester went to the real estate office, without an appointment, and was shown apartments available to rent. In 2008, Ms. Lee, through Attorney O. Andrew Wilson of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, filed a federal race discrimination lawsuit against the company and its owner. The case was resolved in 2012 with a court-ordered settlement agreement that included $50,000 and extensive injunctive relief.


Special Guest & Master of Ceremonies

Special Guest: Harry Belafonte, Artist/Activist

belafonte-200 Mr. Belafonte has had an inordinately successful career as an artist and activist. His album Calypso was the first LP to sell over 1 million records. As the first black producer in television, Mr. Belafonte earned a coveted Emmy Award. Similarly, Mr. Belafonte is well known for his lifelong commitment to human rights around the world. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with whom Mr. Belafonte shared a deep and abiding affection, said of his friend, “Belafonte’s global popularity and his commitment to our cause is a key ingredient to the global struggle for freedom and a powerful tactical weapon in the Civil Rights movement here in America.” Mr. Belafonte was also a prominent contributor to the ending of the oppressive apartheid government of South Africa and for the release of his friend, Nelson Mandela after twenty-seven and a half years of incarceration. Harry Belafonte has been honored many times by many diverse groups, including an appointment as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1987 and a 1994 National Medal of Arts from President Clinton. Mr. Belafonte’s much anticipated memoir My Song was released in October of 2011, along with an HBO debut of the critically acclaimed bio-documentary Sing Your Song later that same month. Mr. Belafonte has four children – Adrienne, Shari, David, and Gina, eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren. He resides in New York City with his wife Pamela.

Master of Ceremonies: Darius De Haas, Singer/Actor

darius-200Darius de Haas is an award winning singer and actor whose career spans from Broadway to concert stages around the world. His Broadway credits include Kiss of the Spider Woman, Rent, Carousel, Marie Christine, The Gershwins’ Fascinating Rhythm, The Actor’s Fund concert stagings of Dreamgirls, and Hair, and Encore’s  Broadway Bash. He won an OBIE Award for his performance in  Running Man. His  television and film appearances include: Chicago, My Favorite Broadway: The Love Songs, In The Life, The View, and numerous TODAY shows. As a concert artist, among Darius’ credits are The Lincoln Center American Songbook (Billy Strayhorn and Stevie Wonder Songbooks), Duke Ellington Sacred Concert w/Los Angeles Master Chorale, Too Hot To Handel (w/Marin Alsop, Carnegie Hall), and many orchestras including the National Symphony, Cincinnati Pops, and Orchestra of St. Lukes. He has shared the stage with Marvin Hamlisch, Elvis Costello, Deborah Harry, Michael Feinstein among others and frequently performs with Vanessa Williams. His recordings include Quiet Please (w/Steven Blier, Bridge Records), Day Dream: Variations on Strayhorn (PS Classics), and many original cast recordings.

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