By Meredith S. Auten, President of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation.
The Philadelphia Bar Foundation’s Access to Justice Awards Benefit on November 9th was a great success! Thank you to all our generous contributors and supporters! It was a privilege to celebrate Philadelphia’s incomparable Civil Legal Aid Community, the outstanding pro bono commitment of law firms throughout the city and our deserving award winners. While the event was a successful fundraiser for the work of the Foundation, on a more personal level, it was the culmination of the hard work of so many. And it helped me look back proudly on what we have accomplished during my time as President. The post-COVID environment has been difficult, but I am happy to report we continue to thrive!
It has been an honor to work so closely with so many people committed to the work of providing access to justice for all Philadelphians. At the Foundation, we are so proud to partner with and support over 35 non-profit civil legal aid organizations throughout the region. At this year’s Access to Justice celebration, WHYY’s award-winning journalist Cherri Gregg emceed with her characteristic intelligence and panache. Her opening remarks said it all: “One thing that we learned over the past few years is that civil rights matter, justice matters. It can be achieved.” Despite global challenges, I am proud that the Foundation has kept fighting the good fight. When Cherri mentioned the words “Justice Matters,” I thought of how the Foundation emerged this year with the Justice Matters Forum: a series of conversations illuminating equity issues in the law and the ways that community members work tirelessly to deliver on the promise of equal justice under the law. The series has provided stimulating conversation, brought groups throughout the region together, and has been garnering attention from many throughout the Commonwealth.
Setting the mood for our celebratory and inspiring evening, the Foundation’s Mary Mance, professional travelling spoken word artist, offered a stirring reading of her original work “Ode to Philadelphia.” Her poetry spoke directly to the work of the Foundation:
We make sense of the senseless and get people to listen
Every day we make these choices.
Raise our voices and hands for those who are voiceless and
We do this on Purpose.
With Purpose, Doing so much under the surface.
The Bar Foundation stands in its commitment to service. Not only is Ms. Mance a celebrated poet by night, she works by day for the Foundation our as Development and Programs Lead. I am proud that over my time as Foundation President, we have been able to successfully grow our great team as we work to support our over 35 non-profit partners.
The law firm of Holland & Knight received the Pro Bono Award at our Benefit for its extraordinary work helping refugees from Afghanistan - reminding us how our community extends beyond the city, the Commonwealth, and across the world. Many non-lawyers at the Firm also participated in Holland & Knight’s pro bono efforts, showcasing that entire offices can thrive through pro bono service. They should be proud of these efforts.
I am especially grateful to the Federal and State Judiciary for their support of the Foundation through cy pres awards and other means of generous support. I am also very grateful for our many law firm partners throughout the region who support the Foundation through Unified Giving. I have made many personal calls and had many personal meetings in my time as President and sparked numerous conversations to keep up with the growing needs of our neighbors. Low-income Americans do not get enough legal help for 92% of their civil legal problems, creating greater challenges to their finances, their health, their safety, and their families.
Distinguished legal scholar, professor, and public interest lawyer Seth Kreimer accepted the Philadelphia Bar Foundation Award for his steadfast advocacy for civil liberties and equal justice at our Benefit. He reminded us that “the struggle to bend the moral arc of the universe continues.” He concluded his remarks: “Progress sometimes comes because good lawyers win hard cases. And often it comes because good people take hard positions.” Professor Kreimer reminded us all how the legal community can, and must, join together to solve the greatest challenges to our community.
The words of Joanna McClinton, the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, brought the Access to Justice Benefit to an exhilarating conclusion. She concluded her remarks with an exhortation to continue the spirit of collaboration that I have fostered as President. “If we all work together each of us can do something to make a positive change.” I am proud of the positive change effected through the work of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation.
After my tenure as the President of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, I am very proud to turn the leadership of this wonderful organization to the trailblazer Niki Ingram beginning January 1, 2024. As we enter the Foundation’s 60th Year, it is in great hands with Niki. I will remain engaged as we develop a strategic plan for the Foundation moving forward. It has been an honor to work with so many people committed to the work of providing access to justice for all Philadelphians, especially through some of the most challenging times. The spirit of celebration and the inspiring words shared at the Access to Justice Awards Benefit made it clear that the work has made a difference.
I want to thank all of you for your commitment to justice and for your tireless support. As President John F. Kennedy, Jr. said: “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
My best wishes to all!