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The war in Ukraine was top of mind at Friday night’s CORE gala, where founder Sean Penn raised funds for the nonprofit’s crisis response efforts around the world in front of a powerful room including President Bill Clinton, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti and stars Sharon Stone and Patrick Stewart.
CORE sends teams into the world’s biggest disaster zones to provide aid and assistance, including Haiti after its 2010 earthquake and Ukraine after the Russian invasion.
In addition to raising money, Penn, an active leader in the organization, has spent months in disaster zones and was recently warned to leave the Ukraine, where he was filming a documentary because he was too close to the fighting.
When asked about his dedication to these causes, Stone told The Hollywood Reporter at the L.A. event, “Sean has a vocation. That’s different than a cause. He’s a dedicated human being in everything that he does. Acting is his vocation, and caring about other human beings is his vocation. He’s a good man. He’s a decent human being trying to be present at all costs. I’m very proud that he’s my friend.”
In addition to raising money to further their mission, the evening also honored Dr. Sanjay Gupta, businessman and philanthropist Frank Giustra and producer Francesa Dutton for the time, money and work they have each contributed to CORE.
A live auction raised millions for the organization, with one guest bidding $225,000 for a painting of Queen Elizabeth by artist Chris Levine and another bidding one million dollars to have a private, in-home concert by John Legend. Penn even offered selfies for $1,000 donations.
Speaking about his relationship with Penn, former President Bill Clinton told the audience, “He’s good at everything he does, but he’s best at being able to be warm-hearted and calm. He’s able to figure out how to do things faster, better at lower costs, to save more lives, build more futures and make things better than they otherwise would have been.”
Penn himself remembered going to Haiti in 2010, when his team’s housing was wiped out by a storm and they didn’t have a way to get relief.
“I extended out everything on my credit card and we hadn’t got our 501C status yet and there were two people that worked with me: President Clinton and [CAA’s] Bryan Lourd,” Penn said. “They saved our asses on faith because we hadn’t proved ourselves yet. They saw something that I didn’t. When I walked into this building today I thought ‘How the hell did this happen?'”
For entertainment, there were several musical performances. Legend serenaded the audience with a cover of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” There were also short sets from the Ukrainian music group Dakh Daughters and Queens of the Stone Age lead singer Josh Homme.
Penn ended the night by introducing, via video, President Volodymyr Zelensky, who received a standing ovation from the hundreds of guests in attendance. He thanked Penn for bringing attention to his country’s plight and asked that Americans continue to support Ukraine in its struggle for freedom.
“We have been resisting for 107 days in a row. We can stop it together. Support Ukraine because Ukraine supports the whole world,” the leader said. “Fight for Ukraine because Ukraine is fighting for the whole world, for democracy, for freedom, for life.”
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