Yesterday, Community Works coordinator Amanda had the opportunity to attend the ACLU of Massachusetts 2015 Bill of Rights Dinner honoring actor and activist George Takei. Read about the evening below: George Takei is a personal hero of mine and hearing him speak last night was a truly moving and inspiring experience. As a young, bisexual Asian American social justice advocate, it gives me courage to see a leader such as Takei speak out against injustice. If you don’t know a lot about him, I highly recommend watching his quirky documentary To Be Takei. He discusses his experience as a child in the Japanese American internment camps during WWII, hiding his sexuality for years, even after gaining popularity and fame on Star Trek, and becoming a social media activist and humorist. He brought these experiences to the room yesterday and discussed his appreciation for the ACLU’s involvement at the legal intersection of each event. Takei proudly spoke about his lifelong membership with the ACLU, even when their actions have sometimes been difficult to reconcile. He mentioned his struggle to understand why the ACLU would defend a neo-Nazi group marching through Skokie, Illinois, the home to a cluster of Holocaust survivors, and finally recognizing that fighting for the free speech of all people doesn’t end when you disagree with the person exercising this right. Overall, hearing such an impactful voice for equal rights share his experiences and critical thoughts was an experience I won’t forget. It would be difficult to find a better social justice activist to receive the ACLU of Massachusetts’ 2015 Roger Baldwin Award.
In addition, there were several other inspiring speakers at the dinner and I want to mention a couple of them here. ACLU-MA Staff Attorney Carl Williams and his clients, Addis and Edward Summerhill, spoke about their involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement. The Summerhills were arrested at a protest in Boston in response to acts of police brutality against black people across the country. They refused to accept a deal or reduction in charges and were eventually found “not responsible”. They knew they had done nothing wrong and chose to stand up for what was right. It was incredible to hear about their experience. One other speaker I want to mention is 11-year-old Leetka Katzenblackstein, who worked with Sarah Wunsch, ACLU-MA Deputy Legal Director, to fight for her right to organize a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Westford, MA without paying a fee for police detail and won. She stood up on the podium and, without hesitation, exclaimed, “We need to wake up and talk about racism and the war on drugs”. And I could only cheer and agree with this insightful young person. It was a moving night and I am so thankful to have heard from so many fierce advocates for justice, locally and around the world.