NEW ORLEANS—The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana will be hosting its 43rd Ben Smith Fete on Saturday, December 2nd at the historic Tate, Etienne, Prevost (TEP) Interpretive Center in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. This annual gala celebrates the ACLU of Louisiana’s work, supporters, and community partners, as well as the life and legacy of prominent civil rights attorney and ACLU of Louisiana co-founder, Benjamin E. Smith.

“After a long recess, we are thrilled to come together and celebrate our civil rights and liberties wins across the state,” said Alanah Odoms, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. “We also look forward to highlighting our community members’ philanthropic contributions that have paved the way for our success.”

The ACLU of Louisiana will present three awards at this year’s gala: the Ben Smith Civil Liberties Award, the Trailblazer Award, and the Law Firm of the Year Award.

The 2023 Ben Smith Award will be awarded to civil rights leader Leona Tate. At age six, Tate desegregated McDonogh #19 school with Gail Etienne and Tessi Prevost, on the same day that Ruby Bridges desegregated William Frantz Elementary.

“As a child, I realized I’d done something very different when I was recognized by people in various places for no apparent reason,” said Leona Tate, co-founder of the TEP Interpretive Center. “As an adult, to be honored with the ACLU Ben Smith Award really makes me understand the impact I made to help change the nation as a whole.”

The 2020 Ben Smith Award will also be posthumously awarded to Albert Woodfox, member of the Angola 3 and founder of the Louisiana Stop Solitary Coalition.

The Trailblazer Award will be presented to Jarrett Cohen, founder, principal and chief investment officer of JECohen & Co., LLC, one of the only independently Black-owned wealth and investment management firms in Louisiana. The Law Firm of the Year Award will be presented to Kuchler Polk Weiner, LLC, a New Orleans-based civil litigation, minority, and women-owned law firm that has supported the ACLU of Louisiana’s Justice Lab program

“I am truly humbled to receive the ACLU of Louisiana’s Inaugural Trailblazer Award and to be in the company of such pioneering honorees,” said Jarrett Cohen, principal and chief investment officer at JECohen & Co. “This recognition is a testament to the collective power of those who strive for a society built on fairness and inclusivity. We will continue our work to create a more welcoming and democratized financial and investment advisory space for people from all backgrounds and levels of income in support of this profound and just cause.”

The Ben Smith Fete will also serve as the New Orleans soft launch of the national traveling exhibit, "Giving Back: The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited". The exhibit features stories of generosity, innovation, and social justice from across the African-American community. Alongside the national exhibit, the TEP Interpretive Center will also host a local exhibit, “Parading Toward Freedom: A Movement of Black Philanthropy”, telling the unique story of Black philanthropy in New Orleans. Both exhibits will be open to the public from December 2, 2023 to February 29, 2024.

This year’s event is sponsored by the W.K Kellogg Foundation; ACLU National; Fidelity Charitable; Foundation for Louisiana; Covington & Burling, LLP; Leroy Close; Gracie Close; Camille Patti, Attorney at Law; New Orleans Tourism and Cultural Fund; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP; The Art for Justice Fund, a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors; JECohen; The Jae Impact; The Edgar "Dooky" Jr. & Leah Chase Family Foundation; The Community Investment Network; The Greater New Orleans Foundation; Ashé Cultural Arts Center; Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast; John Lewis Public Administration Program - Tulane School of Professional Advancement; Hattie and Terrel Broussard; Pontchartrain (LA) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated; and New Orleans Alumnae Chapter, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.