Passing the Torch: 2016 Gala & Beyond
Associate Director Tiffany Johnson shares her thoughts on the 2016 Gala and the organization’s direction moving forward
I sat down today with our Associate Director Tiffany Johnson to catch up on the Gala. It’s been two days since the event, and although the fatigue in organizing such an enormous event is evident as she speaks in a mellow tone, she is nevertheless warm and dedicated to her work. There are few moments during which I’ve seen Tiffany catch some rest. In fact, most would believe she never does—the rare exceptions being her forced trips to the hospital for her neck acts up (she is in recovery for a herniated disc which she began suffering from last spring). Her eyes light up as we relive the Gala together and cover the highlights.
“We had expected anywhere from 300-350 people tops. The day before and the day of the gala our numbers went up significantly, to about 450.”
She’s excited to see the actual count which is roughly estimated to be around 500.
“Given that there were that many people there, the program went so smoothly. We were able to get our residents engaged by getting their photos on the red carpet which was phenomenal. The silent auction area was beautiful, elegant and very tempting to the eye, and I believe we sold the majority of the baskets.”
Indeed our Gala did run very smoothly given the remarkably high attendance this year. Furthermore, our 2016 Gala saw a number of high-profile celebrities and personalities visit and speak, making this year’s gala one of our most star-studded events yet.
“Kym Whitley, LisaRaye, Christine Devine (just to name a few) are very well-known, so for them to come and support the Gala and to celebrate our residents and to present them with awards—I think that was an inspiration to the women. To be presented this special award for the hard work that they’ve been doing was surely a proud moment for them, one that would encourage them to move further in their journey.”
Our honored 2016 Gala guests were active participants. They were not just supportive, but engaged. These relationships are helpful to an organization like ours. Tiffany briefly reflects on this:
“You never know how the relationships might unfold. Christine Devine — we know that she is this very prominent newscaster, but for her to share her personal story and the struggles that her family went through, the connection that brought her to ANWOL’s Gala is the same connection we have in the work that we’re doing. Seeing how her own family has faced incarceration, that shows me that it’s not just within the communities of color and the low-income communities… mass incarceration touches every sector of our society, and now that it’s being brought out, spoken on and fought against, I think more people will stand up alongside us.”
“…mass incarceration touches every sector of our society, and now that it’s being brought out, spoken on and fought against, I think more people will stand up alongside us.”
Carolyn Robinson and Vasanté Bailey were both presented with the Flozelle Woodmore Memorial Award, introduced by LisaRaye McCoy and Kym Whitley respectively. Lennie James was also at the event to receive the Industry Impact Award on behalf of Emma Hewitt. Tessa Blake shared some words on her behalf.
Rhyon Nicole Brown introduced our Community Champion Award, received by Dr. Cheryl Grills. Additionally, KPFK’s Margaret Prescod was present to give a moving and well-deserved introduction to Michelle Alexander.
“I think Margaret Prescod said it all when she introduced Michelle Alexander. I think she is one of our modern day civil rights movement builders. Having her was great—looking at her and hearing her, she presents herself in such a humble fashion and to me that speaks volumes about her as a person, and you see this in her work as well. Her book The New Jim Crow is crucial because it informs the public of our struggle against mass incarceration and discrimination against people of color. It’s a wake-up call and a call to action.”
“[The New Jim Crow] is a wake-up call and a call to action.”
Finally, Tiffany and I talk about the future of A New Way of Life, our direction and her selection as Susan’s successor.
“I am deeply humbled that Susan has chosen me to be her successor. As I said during the Gala, she has seen a promise in me and has given me the opportunity to become who I am and who I am destined to be. The transition in my eyes is going to be continuous, and I say that because I will always go to her as my mentor to help lead and guide me. In addition, we have a dedicated team at A New Way of Life—these are the champions who are doing the everyday work that needs to get done for our cause. I’m thankful and honored to be working with such a dynamic group of people and to stand side by side with them as we continue to make changes and elevate the quality of people’s lives.”
That’s the key here—that our work is constantly changing people’s lives and elevating their quality of life. Tiffany reflects on a moment during which she saw the fruits of our labor during a serendipitous encounter with a former client of A New Way of Life:
“This guy came up to me the other day when I was on my way to a meeting with the Board of Supervisors in downtown, and he came up to me and he said ‘thank you. You guys helped me with my expungment and that has meant the world to me.’ We spoke for a bit, and I learned that he works now with another nonprofit doing the same kind of work—giving back, and that’s what it’s all about. People just want an opportunity, a new chance to start fresh. And that’s what we do, we assist people in their new way of living.”
Lastly, Tiffany shed some light on the future and the direction our organization will take in the coming years.
“The core passion that has guided us up until now will continue strong into next year. That isn’t changing. We’re a passionate group of people. This is who we are and what we do, and that’s not going to change.”
ANWOL Communications Dept.