Special Guests

Standing Strong Together
NYC Fall Benefit 2017

Monday, October 30th, 6:30pm - 9:30pm, New York City


5:30-6:30PM VIP Pre-Event with Playwright/Performer Sarah Jones
Jones will share an excerpt from her newest work, The Foundation, followed by a brief talkback moderated by Honoree Gara LaMarche

6:30-9:30PM Cocktail Party and Evening Program directed by Leigh Silverman (Well, Violet)


Gara LaMarche is President of the Democracy Alliance (DA), providing overall leadership, strategic vision and management capacity for the organization. Prior to joining the Alliance, he served as Senior Fellow at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and previously, as President and CEO of the Atlantic Philanthropies. At Atlantic, he led the foundation’s efforts to embrace a social justice framework for grantmaking, and spearheaded the largest-ever grant made by a foundation for an advocacy campaign – over $25 million to press for comprehensive health care reform in the U.S. Before joining Atlantic in 2007, he served as Vice President and Director of U.S. Programs for the Open Society Foundations (OSF), launching the organization’s pivotal work on challenges to social justice and democracy in the United States. A longtime advocate for human rights at home and abroad, he has held various positions with Human Rights Watch, PEN American Center, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

LaMarche is a frequent commentator on progressive issues in the news, and is the author of numerous articles on human rights and social justice issues, which have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, The Nation, and American Prospect, among many others. He has taught courses on philanthropy, public policy, and non-profit leadership at NYU’s Wagner School, as well as courses at the New School University and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. A Westerly, Rhode Island, native, he is a graduate of Columbia College at Columbia University in New York.


Susan B. Plum is the founding director of the Skadden Foundation, which awards two- year grants to 28 public interest attorneys per year. The foundation was established in April 1988 and has made grants to 791 attorneys who provide civil legal services to the poor. Prior to joining Skadden, Ms. Butler Plum was the director of the Botwinick-Wolfensohn Foundation and program director of the Booth Ferris Foundation. She also was the associate director for the Environmental Defense Fund. She is a graduate of the University of Miami.

Among her board affiliations are trusteeships of the Stella and Charles Guttman Foundation, where she is president, and of Deaf Legal Advocacy Worldwide, which was founded by a former Skadden Fellow. Ms. Butler Plum is also a board member of Justice Labs, a Hong Kong-based public interest legal organization.

Plum is also a member of the Foundation Board of Stella and Charles Guttman Community College of CUNY, the International Advisory Council of the Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative, the Harvard Law School Venture Fund Advisory Group, and the New York Weill Cornell Council, and a trustee of the Community Opportunity Fund.

In 2008, she received the annual North Star Award, Honoring New Yorkers Committed to Social Justice. In 2013, she received a special Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York Law Journal shared with the Skadden Fellowship Foundation. In 2015, Ms. Butler Plum was selected as one of 50 Inspiring Change Makers worldwide by the Harvard Law and International Development Society and the Harvard Women’s Law Association. 

Bill Samuels is Chairman of Effective NY, a nonpartisan think tank that focuses on major public policy changes in New York State on education, the environment, equal rights for sexual orientation and gender expression and identity, retirement security, and criminal justice reform.

After law school, Bill started a trailblazing education company that focused on training workers 16 years and older on the basic skills needed to get and keep a job. Currently, he is Chairman of the Hills Treatment Center in Los Angeles, a facility dedicated to helping people overcome addiction.

Bill has a rich history as an innovative political thinker and activist. He was one of the founders of the Council on Economic Priorities, which was the first organization focused on making public companies’ social and environmental policies responsible. Bill worked with John Kerry and Vietnam Veterans against the War, organizing an historic March on Washington in 1971.  Later, in response to the “swiftboating” of Democratic nominee John Kerry, Bill produced the documentary Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry to set the record straight about Kerry’s heroism.

In recent years, Bill has focused on helping the Democrats control the New York State Senate. In the 2008 election cycle, Bill served as Finance Chairman when Democrats won the State Senate. Later, when the Senate Democratic Conference took back defecting Democratic State Senator Pedro Espada from Dean Skelos’ Republican Party, Bill resigned as Finance Chair.  He launched a political action committee that defeated the corrupt Pedro Espada.

This year, Bill’s main focus is devising and advancing innovative, cutting edge constitutional changes. Among the issues he had played an important role in advocating, the creation of a landmark inclusive Equality for All amendment, and a New York State Environmental Bill of Rights. Both amendments were submitted to the New York State legislature this year. In addition, Bill funds “21 in 21” to elect more women to the City. Bill is a graduate of MIT and Harvard Law School.

Melissa Mark-Viverito serves as the Speaker of the New York City Council, the first Puerto Rican and Latina to hold citywide office. She represents the 8th District, which includes El Barrio/East Harlem and the South Bronx. Born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, she worked for over a decade in local activism, nonprofit organizations and grassroots labor organizing before being elected to the City Council in 2005. She was unanimously elected to serve as New York City Council Speaker in January 2014.

Led by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York City has emerged as a national leader in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform. Speaker Mark-Viverito is also an outspoken advocate for local and national criminal justice reform, and launched the Young Women’s Initiative to address disparities faced by women in such areas as education, workforce development, healthcare, and the criminal justice system.

In 2011, she was one of four Council Members to pioneer the first-ever Participatory Budgeting process in New York City. Since Mark-Viverito’s speakership, Participatory Budgeting has spread to 31 districts across New York City. Before becoming Speaker in 2014, Melissa served as founding co-chair of the New York City Council Progressive Caucus. From 2010 -2013, she also chaired the City Council Committee on Parks and Recreation.


Brandon Victor Dixon currently stars as Monster in the Off-Broadway production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Fucking A. He most recently starred as Aaron Burr in HAMILTON on Broadway. Previous Broadway credits include: Eubie Blake in Shuffle Along (Tony Award nomination), Berry Gordy in Motown The Musical (Grammy and Drama League Award nominations), and Harpo in The Color Purple (Tony Award nomination). National tour: Simba in The Lion King. Off-Broadway: Rent and The Scottsboro Boys (Lucille Lortel, Drama League, Outer Critics Circle and Laurence Olivier Award nominations). Television: “One Life to Live,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” and “The Good Wife.” He currently co-stars as Terry Silver on the STARZ series, “Power.” Dixon was raised in Maryland, and is a graduate of Columbia University. He is the co-founder of WalkRunFly Productions.

Right after the 2016 election, Dixon was elected to deliver a speech after the final curtain of a HAMILTON show calling on Vice President Elect Mike Pence to "uphold American values." Watch the infamous curtained speech here! 

An accomplished attorney, public policy advocate, and philanthropic leader, Maya Harris is an innovative voice in global efforts to expand equal opportunity, strengthen democracy and protect civil and human rights. She is an MSNBC Contributor and, most recently served as a Senior Policy Advisor to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, where she played a leading role in shaping Clinton’s domestic policy agenda.

Before joining the Clinton campaign, Harris was a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where she authored Women of Color: A Growing Force in the American Electorate, documenting the current and increasingly future prominence of women of color in influencing political outcomes. She previously served as the Vice President of Democracy, Rights and Justice at the Ford Foundation, leading a global team in investing over $750 million to promote effective governance, increase democratic participation, and protect human rights worldwide. Prior to Ford, Harris was the Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California, where she led the litigation, public education, advocacy and grassroots organizing efforts of the nation's largest ACLU affiliate. Earlier, as a Senior Associate at PolicyLink, Harris conducted research and policy advocacy on community policing issues, and authored the publications Community-Centered Policing: A Force for Change and Organized for Change: The Activist’s Guide to Police Reform.

After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford Law School, Harris practiced law as a civil litigator; taught law school as an adjunct professor; and was appointed Dean and Chief Executive Officer of Lincoln Law School of San Jose, making her one of the nation’s youngest law school deans at age 29.


Called "a master of the genre" by The New York Times, Sarah Jones is a TONY®-winning performer and writer known for her multi-character solo shows including Broadway hit Bridge & Tunnel and her most recent piece Sell/Buy/Date. Sarah has given multiple main-stage "TEDtalks", performed at The White House for President and First Lady Obama, and traveled the world as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador raising awareness of issues including empowerment of women and girls. Sarah's multimedia projects based on her characters include a new podcast with PRI, Playdate with Sarah Jones. Learn more at www.sarahjonesonline.com or at @jonesarah on Twitter and @xosarahjones on Instagram and Facebook.




christopher oscar peña is a Honduran-American writer and performer originally from California, now splitting his time between Harlem and Los Angeles.  The Clarence Brown Theatre, where he's currently playwright-in-residence, commissioned and will produce the world premiere of his play "The Strangers" in their 2017/18 season.  He’s a proud member of New Dramatists, an Artistic Patriot at Merrimack Rep, was named one of “The 1st Annual Future Broadway Power List” by Backstage, and was a writer on the Golden Globe nominated, debut season of the CW show, "Jane the Virgin." His work is published through NoPassport Press and Smith and Krauss. He teaches playwriting at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and is represented by Heroes and Villains and CAA. Currently, he writes on the critically acclaimed, hit HBO show "Insecure" as well as recurring on screen as the character Gary.


Joel Perez is a performer and writer living in New York City. His theater work includes Fun Home (Broadway and The Public Theater) and Sweet Charity (New Group: Lucille Lortel Award Winner for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical) and Raw Bacon From Poland (Abrons Art Center) as well as national and international tours of In the Heights and Fame. His TV work includes "Person of Interest" (CBS), "Odd Mom Out" (Bravo), "The Big C" (Showtime), "The Outs" (Vimeo) and "Black Box" (ABC). He is an ensemble members of Broken Box Mime Theater and studied at Tufts University, The British American Drama Academy, and Upright Citizen's Brigade. Follow him @MisterJoelPerez, www.misterjoelperez.com.




Director Leigh Silverman is a two-time Obie winner, directed the Encores! and Broadway productions of Jeanine Tesori’s Violet and received a Tony Award nomination. Other Broadway credits include David Henry Hwang's Chinglish and Lisa Kron's Well as well as Andrew Lippa's Wild Party for Encores. She has directed over 35 Off-Broadway world premieres as well as the most recent revival of Sweet Charity for the New Group.




Maya Wiley is a nationally renowned expert on racial justice and equity. She has litigated, lobbied the U.S. Congress, and developed programs to transform structural racism in the U.S. and in South Africa. Ms. Wiley is currently the Senior Vice President for Social Justice at the New School and the Henry J. Cohen Professor of Public & Urban Policy.  

Prior to her roles with The New School, Ms. Wiley served as former Chair of the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) the independent oversight agency for the City’s Police Department from June 2016 – September 2017 and Counsel to the Mayor of the City of New York from 2014-2016. As Mayor Bill de Blasio’s chief legal advisor and a member of his Senior Cabinet, Wiley was placed at the helm of the Mayor’s commitment to expanding affordable broadband access across New York City, advancing civil and human rights and gender equity, and increasing the effectiveness of the City's support for Minority/Women Owned Business Enterprises. During her tenure, she also served as the Mayor's liaison to the Mayor's Advisory Committee on the Judiciary. 

Before her position with the de Blasio Administration, Ms. Wiley was the Founder and President of the Center for Social Inclusion. She has also worked for the Open Society Foundation in the U.S. and in South Africa, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., the American Civil Liberties Union and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. 

In 2016, City and State NY named Maya Wiley, one of the 100 Corporate Social Responsible for shaping the social justice agenda during your new role as Senior Vice President for Social Justice at The New School, and also for her ceaseless effort in advocating for human rights and gender equality in her previous role as the Counsel to the Mayor and leading the City's MWBE program. City and State Magazine named Ms. Wiley one of the 100 most powerful people in New York City in 2014 and in 2015. In 2011, Wiley was named one of "20 Leading Black Women Social Activists Advocating Change" by TheRoot.com and a Moves Power Woman in 2009 by the magazine.

Ms. Wiley holds a J.D. from Columbia University School of Law and a B.A in psychology from Dartmouth College. She resides in Brooklyn with her two daughters and her partner. 




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