On Wednesday, March 9, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) presented this year’s Justice in Action Awards to Thomas S. Kim, Chief Legal Officer and Company Secretary at Thomson Reuters, and Kal Penn, actor and author.
Thomas Kim received the award for his career in service to diversity and inclusion and his bold leadership against anti-Asian hate. Kim urged the audience to “Stand up. Stand proud. Stand together.”
Kal Penn was honored for his advocacy for representation in media and his service on behalf of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In a video, award-winning filmmaker Mira Nair, who cast Penn as the lead in her 2006 film “The Namesake,” shared her thoughts:
“As an activist and an artist, Kal has never shied away from his roots. He is unapologetic about who he is, and yet is an incredible bridge builder, creating a strong sense of allyship and solidarity with other communities.”
Taking place at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers in New York City, the awards ceremony was the highlight of AALDEF’s 2022 Lunar New Year Gala, celebrating the Year of the Tiger. For the first time, AALDEF’s gala was hybrid, taking place virtually via livestream and in-person amidst the city’s lifting of some pandemic restrictions. With stars like Jurassic Park’s BD Wong, Star Trek’s George Takei, and former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in attendance, it was a fun and celebratory evening, signaling a welcome return to some semblance of normalcy.
Star Trek actor, “King of the Internet,” and 1992 Justice in Action honoree George Takei rounded out the evening urging the audience to support AALDEF’s mission. Takei gave a recap of Asian American history from the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act to Executive Order 9066, which incarcerated Japanese Americans including a five-year old Takei during World War II. He connected this history with today’s wave of anti-Asian hate sparked by the pandemic and urged supporters to ensure AALDEF can continue the fight against injustice.
“This is a long history that we’ve had, and that’s why the work of AALDEF is so vitally important. They’ve been making it possible for the Asian American community to work in concert together to build a better America.”
Continuing what has become an annual tradition started by 2018 Justice in Action honoree Preet Bharara, George Takei auctioned off his tie. Takei shared that this particular tie had been gifted to him last Christmas by his husband Brad. The auction lasted ten minutes with a vigorous back and forth between competing bidders, finally going for $10,000, an AALDEF gala record. Takei congratulated the winning bidder, Richard Kim, with a Vulcan salute.
Thomas S. Kim joined Thomson Reuters in 1999 as compliance and legal counsel. Since then, he has held a number of legal executive roles including as chief counsel for Reuters News, a business unit general counsel and as the company’s Chief Compliance Officer.
Prior to assuming his current role as Chief Legal Officer and Company Secretary, Thomas led the overall separation of the $6 billion financial and risk data business (now known as Refinitiv) from Thomson Reuters. Prior to that, Thomas was the Managing Director of Thomson Reuters businesses in China, with P&L responsibility for a circa $130 million business. Prior to joining Thomson Reuters, Thomas was in private practice in San Francisco with the law firms Baker & McKenzie and Hancock, Rothert & Bunshoft (now Duane Morris).
Throughout his career, Thomas has led diversity initiatives, having helped launch a reverse mentoring program and a global diversity advisory council at Thomson Reuters and the ASCEND Executive Network in New York to aid Asian Pacific Americans rise to the C-suite. Thomas sits on the Advisory Council of the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance and the Board of Directors of the National GC Network: BIPOC Lawyers Leading the Way. Previously, Thomas was named one of the “Best Lawyers under 40” by the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. As a leader, Thomas believes that purpose drives people and people drive profit.
Thomas obtained undergraduate and law degrees from Stanford University.
Kal Penn is an actor, writer, producer, and former Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. He is known for his starring roles in Designated Survivor, House, Mira Nair’s The Namesake, the Harold & Kumar franchise, and the patriotic immigration sit-com Sunnyside which he co-created for NBC.
From 2009 to 2011, Kal took a sabbatical from acting to serve in the Obama/Biden administration, where he served as the President’s Liaison to Young Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and the Arts community. In these roles, he worked on a range of issues, including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Affordable Care Act, Pell Grants, arts and culture programs, the DREAM Act, and rapid response to the BP Oil Spill and earthquake in Haiti.
He was a national co-chair for the Obama/Biden re-election campaign in 2012 and served on the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities, focusing on arts education and cultural diplomacy. Penn has taught courses at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Los Angeles. Originally from New Jersey, he received his undergraduate degree in sociology, theater, film, and television at the University of California, Los Angeles, and received a graduate certificate in international security from Stanford University.
Penn recently wrapped production on the CBS Drama, Clarice (based on Silence of the Lambs), and Freeform’s late night youth election format show Kal Penn Approves This Message. He currently stars in the animated Disney Junior series Mira, Royal Detective, is an Executive Producer on the Viacom/Paramount + comedy, Surina & Mel, and can be heard in Nickelodeon’s It’s Pony.
His culinary competition series Money Hungry airs on Food Network this summer.
Kal’s first book You Can’t Be Serious releases on November 2nd, 2021 from Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books.
Founded in 1974, AALDEF is a New York-based national organization that promotes and protects the civil rights of Asian Americans. By combining litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing, AALDEF works with Asian American communities across the country to secure human rights for all. We have won millions of dollars in back wages for low-wage immigrant workers; successfully challenged a Texas election law that restricted interpreters for Asian American voters, in violation of the Voting Rights Act, and secured a consent decree mandating language assistance for Bengali-speaking voters in Hamtramck, Michigan; and conducted a multilingual exit poll of 13,846 Asian American voters in the 2016 elections, the largest survey of its kind in the nation.
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Lia Chang is a Chinese-American actor, a multi-media content producer, an award-winning filmmaker, and a photo activist and documentarian, who lifts up and amplifies BIPOC communities and artists and the institutions that support them.
Lia moved to New York from her home in San Francisco when she was 17 years of age and made her stage debut as Liat in a national tour of South Pacific with Barbara Eden and Robert Goulet. She spent many years working extensively Off-Broadway, including Signature Theatre’s revival of Sam Shepard’s Chicago. Her film work includes Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, and The Last Dragon. The decades of being viewed by others through the narrow lens of “Asian actor” in the industry brought Lia to a turning point, and she picked up her camera, determined to create awareness by documenting the work and the lives of her BIPOC colleagues, resulting in the creation of thousands of photographs and pieces of video. Her photo archives are housed in the AAPI collection in the Library of Congress’ Asian Reading Room under “Lia Chang Theater Portfolio collection,1989-2011” and in the “Lia Chang Photography Collection” in The Billy Rose Theatre Division of the New York Public Library.
Lia’s awards include the 2000 OCA Chinese American Journalist Award and the 2001 AAJA National Award for New Media. She is also an AAJA Executive Leadership Graduate, a Western Knight Fellow at USC’s Annenberg College of Communications for Specialized Journalism on Entertainment Journalism in the Digital Age, a National Press Photographers Association Visual Edge/Visual Journalism Fellow at the Poynter Institute for New Media, and a Scripps Howard New Media Fellow at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.
More recently, Lia co-founded Bev’s Girl Films, which makes films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. She executive produced and starred in the indie films Hide and Seek (AA Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Best Actress Nomination), Rom-Com Gone Wrong, and When the World Was Young (2021 DisOrient Film Audience Choice Award for Best Short Narrative). www.liachang.com, www.liachangphotography.com