Social Justice Conference 2014

conference 2014 poster

This year's Bertha Justice Conference will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer by profiling global and domestic models of "movement lawyering"--lawyers and organizers working together within grassroots social justice movements to build power. We are honored to spotlight some of the most important movements of our time and the lawyers supporting them including: Stop-and-Frisk in NYC, anti-LGBTQ legislation in Uganda, stand your ground laws in Florida, Guantanamo, torture in Colombia, exploitation of laborers in New Orleans, and the Marikana mineworker massacre in South Africa. Our goal is to expose participants to the many different ways lawyers support social movements around the world, and to strategize together about how we can more effectively work for change. The event is located at CUNY Law School 2 Court Square, begins at 8:30 a.m. and will end with a 6:30 p.m. reception. 


Watch our playlist below for 15 videos of the workshops and speeches from the conference, including:

  • Welcome and opening remarks
  • Phillip Agnew, Keynote address
  • Vince Warren, Thanks & Closing Remarks
  • Harry Belafonte, Keynote address



Phillip Agnew, Executive Director, The Dream Defenders

Phillip Agnew Phillip Agnew is a native of Chicago, IL and a 2008 graduate of Florida A&M University. His life was changed when, in 2006, he joined a cadre of students from Florida A&M, Florida State University, and Tallahassee Community College in fighting for justice for 14 year old Martin Lee Anderson; who was murdered by guards at a boot camp in Bay County, Florida. He grew up poor in Chicago, and this was the first time that he felt true power and it was in the hands of the youth. It lit a fire inside of him and it is why he has chosen organizing and activism as his way of life.

He currently serves a the Executive Director of the Dream Defenders, an organization committed to bringing social change by training and organizing youth and students in nonviolent civil disobedience, civic engagement, and direct action while creating a sustainable network of youth and student leaders to take action and create real change in their communities. They fight the criminalization of our generation by directly confronting its sources, sponsors and supporters.

Harry Belafonte, Artist/Activist

Harry Belafonte Harry Belafonte was born in Harlem in New York City in 1927. Overwhelmed and intimidated by its ghetto streets and thinking the islands to be a safer place, his immigrant mother sent him back to the island of her birth, Jamaica. The island and all its variety became his cultural reservoir.

At the outbreak of World War II, his mother retrieved him from the island and brought him back to Harlem. He tried to adapt to his new environment, a process that came with great difficulty. Unable to finish high school, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served for almost two years as a munitions loader. After his tour of duty ended, he was honorably discharged and returned to New York City where he worked both in the garment center and as a janitor's assistant.

For doing repairs in an apartment (of Clarice Taylor and Maxwell Glanville), Belafonte was given, as his gratuity, a ticket to a production of HOME IS THE HUNTER at a community theater in Harlem - the American Negro Theatre (A.N.T.). The world that the theater opened up to him put Belafonte, for the first time, face to face with what would be his destiny - a life in the performing arts. He joined the Dramatic Workshop of the New School of Social Research under the tutelage of the renowned German director, Erwin Piscator. With classmates like Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur, Rod Steiger and Tony Curtis - just to name a few - Belafonte became thoroughly immersed in the world of theatre. Paralleling this pursuit was his interest and love of jazz. He developed a relationship with the young architects of the art form, the geniuses of modern jazz, and on the occasion of his first professional appearance, he had Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Tommy Potter and Al Haig as his "back-up band". Since that launching, Belafonte has sustained an inordinately successful career:

• His RCA album "Calypso" made him the first artist in industry history to sell over 1 million LP's.

• His first Broadway appearance in John Murrary Anderson’s Almanac earned him the coveted Tony Award.

• As the first black producer in television, he won an Emmy for his CBS production of “Tonight with Belafonte”.

• At the dawning of his cinematic film career, Carmen Jones took top critical honors and attracted Oscar nominations.

His many firsts in the overturning of numerous racial barriers in the world of culture in America is legend. Belafonte met a young Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his historic visit to New York in the early 50s. From that day until the leader's assassination, Belafonte and King developed a deep and abiding friendship that for Belafonte still stands as one of the most precious of his experiences. Dr. King 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. We are blessed by his courage and moral integrity."

Disturbed by cruel events unfolding in Africa due to war, drought, and famine, Belafonte set in motion the wheels that led to "We Are the World" on January 28, 1985. He contacted manager, Ken Kragen, and they, along with others, guided and directed the project known as USA for Africa.

Belafonte was prominent in the contribution 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.

Belafonte was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to be the cultural advisor for the Peace Corps. He served for five years.

In 1987, Belafonte accepted the appointment as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, thus making him the second American to hold this title - the first being Danny Kaye, upon whose death Belafonte assumed the position. Belafonte has continued to devote himself globally to civil and human rights issues, focusing in particular on the United States and Africa.

Belafonte penned his much-anticipated memoir “My Song” released in October 2011. In conjunction with the release of the book, HBO debuted the critically acclaimed superior bio-documentary Sing Your Song, directed by Susanne Rostock, the same week. The film chronicles the life and times of one of America’s most groundbreaking entertainers and social activists through his own words, eye-witness accounts, FBI files and archival footage, and seeks to answer two profound questions about who we are, especially as artists and what meaning we find in our own commitments.

Both the film and the book not only tell Belafonte’s stirring life story, but place that life in the context of its times, and portrays it with the kind of depth and breadth that makes one wonder why it has not been told before.

Harry Belafonte has been honored many times by such diverse groups as the American Jewish Congress, the NAACP, the City of Hope, Fight for Sight, The Urban League, The National Conference of Black Mayors, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the ACLU, the State Department, the Boy Scouts of America, Hadassah International and the Peace Corps. He has received awards such as The Albert Einstein Award from Yeshiva University, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Prize, the Acorn Award from the Bronx Community College for his work with children, and, in 1989, he received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors for excellence in the performing arts. He was the first recipient of the Nelson Mandela Courage Award and was honored at the White House with the 1994 National Medal of Arts from President Clinton for his contributions to our nation's cultural life. He has received honorary degrees from City University of New York, Spellman College in Atlanta, Tufts University, Brandeis University, Long Island University, Bard College and most recently Doctor of Humane Letters from Columbia University and many others. And he is the 2013 recipient of the Spingarn Medal, the most prestigious award bestowed by the NAACP.

Belafonte has four children - Adrienne, Shari, David, and Gina. He boasts of eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Mr. Belafonte resides in New York City with his wife Pamela.

Conference Schedule


8:30 - 9:00 a.m.
Registration (Main Lobby)
Breakfast (Outside of Auditorium, Room 2-301)
9:00 - 9:25 a.m.- Welcome: Purvi Shah, Director, Bertha Justice Institute at the Center for Constitutional Rights (Auditorium, Room 2-301)
9:25 - 9:50 a.m.- Opening Remarks: Bill Quigley, Professor, Director of the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans. (Auditorium, Room 2-301)
10:00 - 11:45 a.m.- Morning Panels
Combating Hate: Challenging U.S. Right Wing Attacks on LGBTQI Movements In Uganda (Room 2/116)
Learn how organizers and lawyers have worked together to challenge rights-erasing attacks in Uganda. In 2012, CCR filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) against Abiding Truth Ministries President Scott Lively, a U.S.-based self-described expert on the “gay movement.” The suit alleges that Lively’s involvement in anti-gay efforts in Uganda, including his active participation in the conspiracy to strip away fundamental rights from LGBTI persons, constitutes persecution. This is the first known Alien Tort Statute (ATS) case seeking accountability for persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Moderator: Laura Raymond, Advocacy Program Manager, Center for Constitutional Rights
- Pam Spees, Senior Staff Attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights
- Pepe Onziema, Executive Director, Sexual Minorities Uganda
- Kapya Kaoma, Senior Religion and Sexuality Researcher, Political Research Associates
- Holly Richardson, Co-Director, Out Now
The Future of Work: Labor Rights, Retaliation, Corporate Accountability &  Worker Organizing (Room 3-301)
As markets continue to become transnational, so too are workers’ organizing strategies. How are workers using the law to defend fundamental labor protections and challenge corporate attacks on the right to organize? What did we learn from the 2012 massacre in Marikana that left 34 striking miners dead? This panel features lawyers and activists who support some of the most vulnerable and visionary workers in the world, including domestic workers, South African miners, communal Mexican landowners, and New York taxi drivers. 
- Moderator: Harmony Goldberg, Activist & Scholar
- Alejandra Ancheita, Founding Director, ProDESC (Mexico)
- Nomzamo Zondo, Staff Attorney, Socio-Economic Rights Institute (South Africa)
- Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director, New York Taxi Workers Alliance
-Haeyoung Yoon, Deputy Program Director, National Employment Law Project
Greatest City in the World? Actualizing Civil, Social & Economic Rights New York City (Room 1-205)
New York is often touted as the ‘Greatest City In the World’, but how great is the city for poor and working people? Five local activists and lawyers will dissect the landscape of civil, social and economic rights in NYC, highlighting recent campaign victories and challenges. As we look to the future, what does NYC need to actualize its greatness? And what should be the role of lawyers in helping us get there? 
- Moderator: Chaumtoli Huq, General Counsel for Litigation, Public Advocate for the City of New York (not in official capacity)
- Chauniqua Young, Bertha Fellow, Center for Constitutional Rights
- Jennifer Ching, Project Director, Queens Legal Services New York
- Hilary Klein, Chief of Staff, Make the Road New York
- Stephanie Rudolph, Staff Attorney, Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project  
Murder By The State: Accountability for Extrajudicial Killings, Occupation, Torture & Drones (Room 3-302)
How can we better use the law to support movements for truth and accountability in the face of state-perpetrated violence? From targeted killings of U.S. citizens abroad, to Colombian struggles to hold U.S. companies responsible for the disappearances and deaths of trade unionists, to crimes against humanity against former president Jean-Claude Duvalier, this panel highlights movements innovating international human rights law. 
- Moderator: Michael Ratner, President Emeritus, Center for Constitutional Rights
- Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti
- Soraya Gutiérrez Arguello, Staff Attorney, Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (Colombia)
- Pardiss Kebriaei, Senior Staff Attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights 
- Hazem Jamjoum, Policy Member, al-Shabaka/ Palestinian Policy Network
50 Years of Youth Movements Since Freedom Summer (Room 3-114)
Around the world, youth are standing up. South African youth are leading the struggle to undo class and race inequalities in education. Black and brown youth-led movements in the US have built powerful national networks that helped win deferred action for immigrant youth facing deportation and bring the Trayvon Martin case into the national consciousness. They are dismantling the cradle-to-prison pipeline, organizing “dream-ins” and other acts of civil disobedience, and demanding citizenship rights. How have today’s youth movements built on the lessons of Freedom Summer, and what do the next 50 years hold for youth organizing?
- Moderator: Steve Williams, Organizer and Co-Founder of LeftRoots
- Ahmad Abuznaid, Legal and Policy Director, Dream Defenders
- Dmitri Holtzman, Executive Director, Equal Education Law Center (South Africa)
- Brad Brockman, General Secretary, Equal Education (South Africa)
- Sofia Campos, Board Co-Chair, United We Dream
Defending the Accused: Storytelling, Community Education & Advocacy for Criminal Defense (Room 2/119)
Criminal defense attorneys who are part of social movements often build their cases with one eye looking far beyond the courtroom. Join criminal practitioners for a session exploring how to service individual clients while also building collective power.  In the Bronx, clients can now access a "holistic defense" model in which family support, social work, and civil legal services are woven into criminal defense.  Arab-American communities are working with lawyers to develop "community defense strategies" to disrupt the pipeline funneling individuals into the criminal system.  Modern day abolitionists are challenging solitary confinement on a macro level while also providing long-term, post-conviction support to prisoners, their families and allies.   Can the practice of criminal defense evolve to provide better support to individuals while also challenging the circumstances driving poor people and people of color into the criminal justice system?
- Moderator: Baher Azmy, Legal Director, Center for Constitutional Rights
- Ahmed Ghappour, Visiting Assistant Professor and Director, Liberty, Security, & Technology Clinic, UC Hastings College of the Law
- Kate Rubin, Civil Action Practice Managing Director, Bronx Defenders
- Linda Sarsour, Executive Director, Arab-American Association of NY
- Bret Grote, Co-Founder, Abolitionist Law Center
11:45 – 12:45 p.m.- LUNCH (Outside Auditorium)
12:45 – 1:30 p.m.- KEYNOTE: Phillip Agnew, Executive Director, Dream Defenders (Auditorium, Room 2-301)
1:30 – 1:45 p.m.- Break
1:45 – 3:30 p.m.- Afternoon Workshops: Political Education & Skills Sessions
Embodied Leadership Training (Room 3-301)
Is your leadership aligned with your core principles and values? Do your day-to-day work and actions represent of the kind of world you are striving to create? Often we find ourselves struggling to keep our humanity, our principles, and values at the forefront of our work. The daily stress and trauma of our important work can get the best of us and we find that we longer hold in our centers that which truly fuels are work. This interactive workshop will leave participants with concrete tools and strategies to strengthen their teamwork and leadership skills to ensure that our actions align with our values towards creating more balance in work and lives.
- Rusia Mohiuddin, Leadership Trainer & Somatic Coach, Universal Partnership
Movement Lawyering: Sharpening Our Theory, Deepening Our Practice (Room 3-302)
Despite our best intentions, organizers and activists often recount examples of where legal advocates were in severe conflict, worked at cross purposes, and/or ultimately did more harm than good to political and social movements. In this interactive and participatory workshop, participants will have the opportunity to strengthen their understanding of how to work collaboratively with organizers and activists to build social movements that have the power to win. Specifically, in the workshop participants will: explore the range of roles legal advocates play & the competing tradeoffs of varying approaches; identify the core strategies, tactics, and skills of movement legal work; share real stories of cases/campaigns and constructively reflect on challenges and opportunities; and discuss power & privilege and the importance of an anti-oppression framework to movement legal work.
- Nikki Thanos, Consultant & Trainer, Bertha Justice Institute, Center for Constitutional Rights
- Meena Jagannath, Attorney, Community Justice Project, Florida Legal Services
- Jeena Shah, Cooperating Attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights
Palestine 101 for Social Justice Advocates (Room 2-116)
In the US, the Palestinian-Israel conflict has been framed as a national security crisis at worst and an intractable ethno-religious conflict between two peoples at best. While there are indeed national security and ethno-religious implications related to the conflict, this workshop will explore Palestinian social movements through an anti-colonial lens. How has Israel institutionalized Jewish national privilege by law and facilitated the steady and forced removal of Palestinians from within Israel as well as the Occupied Territories?  What role can U.S. advocates play in the Palestinian struggle for human rights and equality?   Deepen your understanding of Palestinian history, the Nakba, land confiscations, the Apartheid Wall, and international law with trainers committed to equipping you with practical tools for talking about Palestine. 
- Noura Erakat, Professor, Attorney, and Human Rights Advocate
- Radhika Sainath, Staff Attorney, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support
Political Economy for Lawyers (Room 2-119)
Social justice lawyers are tasked with representing individuals and communities dealing with the concrete impacts of systemic inequality--- be it poor families facing repeated eviction, immigrant workers struggling to get paid, or young people tracked into the prison system.  As we watch clients cycle through the legal system and hence our doors, many of us begin to wonder---why is the world the way it is? How do we dismantle the underlying systems of inequality---be it legal, political or economic—that shape our clients’ experiences? This interactive workshop uses case studies to explore how the legal system structures interactions between economic and political forces and how the law is used by the powerful and wealthy to legitimize exploitation and shroud their authority. A political economy approach to law can enable social justice lawyers not to shy away from developing macro-scale perspectives of political, social and economic dynamics and institutions. In particular, the political economy approach can enable the practice of law in ways that question and challenge the underlying distribution of bargaining power within given social, political and economic systems. No matter what kind of law you practice or what setting you work in, take home a new framework for understanding how your work fits into the bigger picture—and how you can more strategically scale up the impact of your work.
- Mazibuko K. Jara, Activist & Scholar
Storytelling, Film & Law (Room 1-205)
Despite the fact that humans communicate and interpret the world in diverse ways, social justice advocates often privilege analysis over narrative. Analysis uses critical reasoning and evidence to examine the world. Narrative uses story and emotion to engage how we experience the world and to expose why we act as we do. Lawyers often use analysis to persuade, despite evidence that people are effectively moved by stories. When it comes to getting people to take action, sometimes a well-reasoned analysis is simply no match for a well-told story. In this workshop, explore techniques for effective storytelling—be it images, words or film—and explore how stories can raise consciousness, mobilize resistance, influence public policy, and sway decision-makers.
- Omar Farah, Staff Attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights
- Ibraham Qatabi, Legal Worker, Center for Constitutional Rights
- Aliya Hussain, Legal Worker, Center for Constitutional Rights
- Adam Stofsky, Director, New Media Advocacy Project
Understanding the New Terrain of the Internet (Room 3-114)
The countermeasures utilized by the United States against “national security threats" have constructed a legal and structural framework for a “preventative" paradigm of security that is dependent on mass surveillance capabilities. The consequences range from community profiling, to initiation of law enforcement investigations on the basis of protected speech (such as religious practice or political dissent), to the targeting killing of individuals that do not pose an instant harm to the United States. During this workshop, experts will discuss the rise of the modern surveillance state and what it means for activists and movement lawyers. Drawing on experience in law, technology and activism, the panelists will discuss practical steps that can be taken to protect yourself (and your clients, witnesses and allies) when it comes to mass surveillance, and offer a framework for thinking about privacy on the Internet.
-Ahmed Ghappour, Visiting Assistant Professor and Director of the Liberty, Security, & Technology Clinic, UC Hastings College of the Law
-Nicholas Merrill, Executive Director, The Calyx Institute
-Jacob Appelbaum, Founder, Tor Project
3:30- 3:45- Break
3:45 – 5:00- Real Talk: Stories & Reflections from Radical Lawyers
Wind down the day with a reflective and intimate conversation with noted people’s lawyers. Presenters will share with participants about both the personal and political aspects of being an activist and people’s lawyer. Topics for discussion might include career paths and trajectory, reflections on movements past and present, successes and challenges of the work, how to maintain a work/life balance, and what inspires you. Participants will also have time to reflect on what they have learned throughout the day and voice questions about their fears and challenges. Together, we will surface solutions and strategies to maintain a healthy, vibrate and innovative community over the long haul.
Chuck Elsesser, Director, Community Justice Project of Florida Legal Services and
Vince Warren, Executive Director, Center for Constitutional Rights. 
Facilitated by Alana Greer. (Room 3-301)
Bill Quigley, Professor, Director, Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans and
Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. 
Facilitated by Jeena Shah. (Room 3-302)
Alejandra Ancheita, Founding Director, ProDESC  and
Katie Redford, Co-Founder and Co-Director, EarthRights International.
Facilitated by Terri Nilliasca. (Room 3-114)
Michael Ratner, President Emeritus, Center for Constitutional Rights and
Noura Erakat, Professor, Attorney & Human Rights Advocate. 
Facilitated by Nikki Thanos. (Room 1-205)
5:00 – 5:15 p.m.- Break
5:15 – 5:30 p.m.- Thanks & Closing Remarks, Vince Warren, Executive Director, Center for Constitutional Rights (Auditorium, Room 2-301)
5:30 – 6:30 p.m.- KEYNOTE: Mr. Harry Belafonte in conversation with Purvi Shah, Director, Bertha Justice Institute at the Center for Constitutional Rights (Auditorium, Room 2-301)
6:30 – 7:30 p.m.- Reception

About CCR

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.
CCR believes that social movements, and the organizations within them, are the engines of social change. CCR uses litigation proactively to advance the law in a positive direction, to empower poor communities and communities of color, to guarantee the rights of those with the fewest protections and least access to legal resources, to train the next generation of constitutional and human rights attorneys, and to strengthen the broader movement for constitutional and human rights. Our work began on behalf of civil rights activists, and over the last four decades CCR has lent its expertise and support to virtually every popular movement for social justice.
History has repeatedly taught us that the hard-won victories of yesterday can never be taken for granted. As society changes, new threats to our rights arise, even as old ones are defeated. CCR will continue defending progressive movements for social change and devising new strategies to ensure that fundamental rights are the rights of the many and not just the few.

The Bertha Justice Institute

From understanding history and theories of social change, to navigating the courts and the media, to drafting legislation and litigation on behalf of individuals and organizations—being a movement lawyer requires more skills than ever before. Despite growing demands, there are few resources and trainings dedicated to law students and lawyers committed to social justice.
To meet this need, CCR launched the Bertha Justice Institute (BJI), an innovative training institute, to build the next generation of people’s lawyers. The BJI supports existing and aspiring lawyers through a range of programs including: post-graduate fellowships, internships, regional conferences, international exchanges, national training institutes and movement strategy sessions.
The BJI is part of the new Bertha Justice Network, a global initiative connecting innovative human rights legal organizations from around the world. Aided by CCR’s connection to the network, we are preparing talented and creative law students and lawyers to work on behalf of communities, grassroots groups and social movements around the world. Along with supporting lawyers in the U.S., the SJI partners with legal organizations across the world—in Haiti, Palestine, India, Colombia, the Philippines, South Africa and Europe—to build strategic partnerships, opportunities and experiences amongst social justice lawyers globally.


Bertha Justice Initiative: "The law has long been a crucial element in the struggle for social justice. Movement lawyers have shown us how the law can be used as a tool for change."

The Bertha Foundation believes that bright ideas, combined with resources and strong leadership, can create profound social impact on a local and global scale. The Foundation is committed to building the power of social activism to generate social, political, economic and environmental change. As a result, the Foundation believes in changing the world by investing in activists, lawyers, storytellers and social entrepreneurs looking to solve social problems. Ultimately, the Bertha Foundation is part of a movement addressing large scale social problems in groundbreaking ways.


Last modified 

August 13, 2014