Paul Robeson Conference and Gala

Columbia Law School's Black Law Students Association hosts the Paul Robeson Conference and Gala. The annual event, which has been held since the mid-1990s, celebrates the life of Paul Robeson '22. Robeson is one of the Law School’s most notable and respected alumni who dedicated his life to excellence in scholarship, civil rights, athletics, and the performing arts.


Through the years, the conference has featured panel discussions on a range of legal issues. At the gala, BLSA recognizes a distinguished alumni with an award and the organization's current leadership discuss their latest initiatives with attendees.


The Columbia Law School Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and Columbia Journal of Race and Law (CJRL) were proud to host the 23rd Annual Paul Robeson Conference, which was held on Friday, February 24, 2017 from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM at Columbia Law School, located at 435 W. 116th St. New York, NY 10027. Our theme for the 2017 Paul Robeson Gala and Conference was “Reclaiming the Narrative.” In our legal, political, and social climate, people of color still struggle to dictate their narrative. We highlighted the work of legal practitioners, policymakers, social entrepreneurs, and activists to pursue racial justice, uproot structural inequalities, and disrupt stereotypes about people of color. 


Angela T. Rye, Esq. gave the keynote address during lunchtime. Rye is the Principal and CEO of IMPACT Strategies, a CNN commentator and NPR political analyst, and former Executive Director and General Counsel for the Congressional Black Caucus.


Khalil Cumberbatch gave the opening keynote address. Cumberbatch is a lecturer at Columbia University's School of Social Work, Manager of Trainings for JustLeadershipUSA, and a formerly incarcerated advocate for social justice movements.

The Conference featured three panels, including "A Path Forward for Democracy and Voting Rights After 2016," "Building Wealth and Seeking Economic Justice," and "Revolutionary Art, Activism, and the Law."  

Schedule of Events

9:00 – 10:00 AM

Registration and Breakfast

10:00 – 10:20 AM

Opening Keynote Address Khalil Cumberbatch, Lecturer, Columbia University School of Social Work; Manager of Trainings, JustLeadershipUSA; formerly incarcerated advocate for social justice movements

10:30 – 11:50 AM

Panel – “A Path Forward for Democracy and Voting Rights After 2016”

  • Myrna Pérez ‘03, Deputy Director, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice
  • Stuart Naifeh '04, Senior Counsel, Demos
  • Joanna Cuevas Ingram, Associate Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF

12:00 – 12:30 PM


12:30 – 1:00 PM

Keynote Address Angela T. Rye, Esq., Principal and CEO, Impact Strategies; CNN commentator; NPR political analyst; former Executive Director and General Counsel, Congressional Black Caucus 

1:15 – 2:25 PM

Panel – “Building Wealth and Seeking Economic Justice”

  • Coss Marte, CEO/Founder, Coss Athletics
  • Jennifer Jones Austin, Esq., CEO and Executive Director, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
  • Ifeoma Ike, Esq., Deputy Executive Director, NYC Young Men's Initiative, Office of Mayor Bill deBlasio
  • JoAnne Page, President and CEO, The Fortune Society
  • Khary Lazarre-White, Esq., Executive Director and Co-Founder, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol

2:40 – 3:50 PM

Panel – “Revolutionary Art, Activism, and the Law”

  • Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director, Alliance of Families for Justice
  • Ronald Hampton, Immediate Past Executive Director of the National Black Police Association, Inc.; Washington, D.C. Representative for Blacks in Law Enforcement of America
  • Eric Sanders, Owner and President, The Sanders Firm, P.C.
  • Britton Smith, Actor and Director, Broadway for Black Lives Matter

4:00 – 5:00 PM


The gala took place on Thursday, February 23, 2017, starting at 6:00 P.M. at The Columbia Club of New York, located at 15 W. 43rd St. New York, NY 10036.

The Gala honored Camille Nelson '00, Dean of American University Washington College of Law. Roy Austin, Jr., former Deputy Assistant to President Barack Obama for the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice, and Opportunity, delivered the keynote address. Thanks so much to all who purchased their tickets and attended the sold-out Gala.


The 22nd Annual Paul Robeson Gala was held on February 25, 2016 at the Columbia Club of New York. BLSA honored Theodore "Ted" Shaw '79 as our Alumni Honoree; Shaw is the Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor Law and Director of the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina School of Law at Chapel Hill as well as the Fifth Director-Counsel and President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. BLSA also welcomed Janice Tudy-Jackson '92, Lecturer-in-Law at Columbia Law School and head of Collaboration & Conflict Management Consulting, as our keynote speaker. 

The Paul Robeson Conference was held on February 27, 2016 at Columbia Law School; the theme was Troubled Relations: Restoring our Communities. Panels focused on restorative justice practices that rebuild communities; rebuilding campus communities; the arts; gentrification; and people of color in media. Speakers included Reinaldo Rivera, Jr., National Program Manager for Community Relations at the U.S. Department of Justice; Rose Hackman, a journalist for The Atlantic and The GuardianGlenda SmileyChief of Staff to the Founder and CEO of BLACK GIRLS ROCK!; and David Lat, founder of Above the Law


The 21st Annual Paul Robeson Gala was held on February 26, 2015 at the Columbia Club. BLSA honored U.W. Clemon '68, Alabama's first black federal judge. Alum Della Britton Baeza '78, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, delivered the Keynote Address.


On April 7, 2014 BLSA held its 20th Annual Paul Robeson Gala at the Columbia Low Library. BLSA honored Maya Wiley ’89, the new counsel to New York City at the Gala. Wiley commended BLSA for continuing to uphold the spirit and conscience of Paul Robeson ’23, said Maya Wiley ’89

Kristen Clarke '00, Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau at the NY Attorney General's Office delivered the Keynote Address.


The 19th Annual Paul Robeson Gala was held on April 25, 2013 at the Columbia University Club of New York in midtown Manhattan. Michèle Stephenson '95 received the BLSA's Distinguished Alumni Award. A documentary filmmaker, Stephenson recently won the Sundance U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for her film American Promise, which follows her son and his friend’s journey through the private and public education systems in New York City.

Josef Sorett, a Columbia assistant professor of religion and African-American studies, served as the keynote speaker. Sorett's scholarship at Columbia focuses on the intersections of religion and black communities and cultures in the U.S. His works have been featured in The New York Times, Culture and Religion, The Washington Post, and numerous other journals and publications. 


The 18th Annual Paul Robeson Gala was held on April 12, 2012 at the Columbia Club of New York. The organization recognized Peter C. Harvey '82 as the distinguished alumni honoree. Harvey, who has worked as a partner at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, is a former attorney general for New Jersey.

The keynote speaker was David N. Dinkins, Professor in the Professional Practice of Public Affairs at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs.