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The ACLU of Southern California surprised guests at its annual Bill of Rights Dinner on Sunday night by honoring Christine Blasey Ford with the Roger Baldwin Courage Award.
Ford’s attendance at the gala had not previously been disclosed to most guests or media, prompting a roaring standing ovation at her appearance. She has stayed relatively under the radar since her testimony before Congress last year in regards to her allegations of sexual harassment against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
“When I came forward last September, I did not feel courageous,” Ford told the audience. “I was simply doing my duty as a citizen, providing information to the Senate that I believed would be relevant to the Supreme Court nomination process. I thought anyone in my position, of course, would do the same thing.”
Ford said she found courage in the example of Anita Hill — who came forward in 1991 with similar allegations against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his nomination process — and that she continues to be inspired by the work of the ACLU and those involved with the organization.
“My voice was just one voice,” she said. “You are many. We are many.”
After her acceptance speech, Ford was approached by many attendees hoping to get a few words with her, including songwriter Diane Warren.
“That’s pretty fucking impressive,” Warren told The Hollywood Reporter after meeting Ford and posing for a photo. “That’s a real rock star in the room. Look what she’s done. What a brave woman.”
Warren’s song “I’m Standing With You” was performed by Chrissy Metz at the dinner. The songwriter said it was the third year in a row that the ACLU of Southern California featured one of her songs at the annual ceremony. The previous songs were Andra Day and Common’s “Stand Up for Something” and Jennifer Hudson’s “I’ll Fight.”
“I think all of those songs really embody what the ACLU is,” Warren said. “No one stands up for us or stands with us or fights for us like the ACLU.”
Also honored were actress and author Judy Balaban (who has served on the ACLU SoCal board for over 40 years), songwriter Justin Tranter and actor Don Cheadle.
Tranter — who was presented with their award by singer Selena Gomez — said that, coming from a politically aware family, using their platform to promote social justice and civil rights issues was never a question.
“I feel like if you have any type of privilege, you better pay that shit forward,” they told THR. “I have many different types of privilege, and it is my honor and my duty to pay it forward all day every day.”
During their speech, Tranter asked the audience to remember to be joyful, even in the face of adversity.
“I believe that in these very dark times, in these divisive times, that simply being joyful is an act of resistance,” they said. “As a queer, gender nonconforming person, waking up to this administration attacking my community and many other marginalized communities at every turn has not made the last few years easy. They can try to take my rights, but they can’t take my fucking joy.”
Cheadle echoed those sentiments in his speech, reminding the audience that to be realistic and aspirational are not mutually exclusive — a lesson he learned from his dad. The actor said he learned that as a child, when he used to change the words of the Pledge of Allegiance from “with liberty and justice for all” to “with liberty and justice for some,” because, even at a young age, he was soberly aware of injustices happening across the country and wanted his words to reflect that.
“When I shared with my father my version of the Pledge of Allegiance, he nodded. He was understanding,” Cheadle told the crowd. “Then, he quietly said, ‘You know, sometimes you express what you hope for the world, rather than what it is. Speak for what you will work for.’”
Another star from a politically active family, Cheadle said that he’s always felt the need to use his platform to give a voice to those who don’t have one.
“When you have that opportunity, I feel that it is incumbent upon you to not just fritter it away or use it to get in clubs or get free shit,” he told THR. “You want to actually use it to promote causes that you believe in and to try to bring attention to the things that are important to the world.”
The night also included a medley of Tranter’s songs, performed by singer Yde, as well as a poem called “Dear America” written and performed by student activist Jose Bello.
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