The Legal Defense Fund (LDF) continues to promote and celebrate Black excellence.

During its recent 35th anniversary of the National Equal Justice Awards Dinner, the organization highlighted people and brands that have been committed to pushing the needle forward within the community.

With “The Future Is Ours” as the theme of this year’s dinner, it looks like the community is in good hands as its primary fundraiser raised a record-breaking amount that was upwards of $4.5 million.

The star-studded event, held in New York City, featured guests including legendary filmmaker Spike Lee, NBA superstar Carmelo Anthony, and a host of others.

Photo Credit: Slaven Vlasic

Additionally, renowned entertainer Ledisi curated the soundtrack for the evening with a string of performances.

Celebrating The Community

Although there’s more work to do, LDF President Janai Nelson says that there are a lot of accomplishments to be proud of.

Photo Credit: Slaven Vlasic

“The room in which the event took place was in a room that was unfathomable at the time that LDF was founded in 1940, in terms of its diversity, in terms of the level of achievement… both on and off the stage,” Nelson told AfroTech. “I think we should be extremely proud of the contributions that Black people in particular have made to this country to enable that measure of progress.”

She continued, ”When we talk about the American dream, even though it’s largely unattainable for many people, we have helped to breathe life and reality into that concept.”

Furthering The Mission

Nelson also highlighted the people and organizations that are helping to make progress possible.

“With Nike, The Jordan Brand, and Converse’s Black Community Commitment, which we think is something that all companies should consider in some form or another, they are investing directly in Black communities,” she said. “We are a very under-resourced community. We are an exploited community, and corporations have a duty and a real opportunity to improve our country overall by investing in Black communities.”

What’s more, she spoke about the achievements of billionaire Robert F. Smith, who was also celebrated during the event.

“Robert F. Smith has led with, I think, quite innovative philanthropy in a number of ways, by canceling the debt of Morehouse students in the graduating class of 2019, which sets an example of the bar for other philanthropists by focusing on the health of Black men and Black women, which is often overlooked,” Nelson explained.

The Future of LDF

As LDF continues to look to the future, Nelson also noted how technological advancements can assist with the movement… if used in good faith and good judgment.

“I think technology is like most things, something that can be used for good or weaponized for bad,” she shared. “We have a lot of concerns about AI, about the use of big data in ways that are often problematic for Black people in particular, because so much of the data can be tainted and biased as a result of racial discrimination. And when you put bad data in, you get bad data out.”

Nelson continued: “That being said, there are ways in which technology clearly can improve our lives and can create efficiencies and elevate a lot of what we do. And we must move forward with a sense of what ethical boundaries there are around AI, around privacy, around algorithmic bias and all sorts of other issues that are attending to our increasing dependency on technology.”