A blue background with the logo of the Legal Defense Fund in the center and text that reads National Equal Justice Awards Dinner

35th National Equal Justice Awards: Recognizing Philanthropic Leaders

Countless individuals dedicate their time to giving back to their communities and those in need. Each year, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) sets out to recognize these individuals for their outstanding community-focused work. Specifically, LDF searches for leaders in the law, arts, business and philanthropy who are committed to the advancement of racial justice and equality.

On May 4, 2023, in New York City, NY, LDF hosted its 35th National Equal Justice Awards Dinner, where many well-known Civil Rights leaders of today were honored for their work. Below, we discuss the history of the organization and awards dinner, as well as those who were honored at the dinner, including Robert F. Smith.

About LDF

NAACP LDF was founded in 1940 by Thurgood Marshall, an advocate for equality, who became the first Black Supreme Court Justice. This organization was launched during a volatile time in American history, when protests and peaceful demonstrations for equality were struggles against state-sponsored discrimination. Due to this, LDF set out on a mission to achieve racial justice and equality in order to create a more inclusive society.

Although strides towards achieving these goals have been made in the last several decades, there are still many barriers to overcome. LDF is committed to continuing to push past these barriers in every way possible. Today, Janai Nelson, President and Director-Counsel of the LDF, continues to uphold the legacy of the organization and champion its mission. For example, in recent years, LDF has been an advocate for ensuring a quality and inclusive education for all students.

Learn more about the organization’s history.

The National Equal Justice Awards Dinner

Each year, LDF recognizes outstanding leaders and their contributions to LDF’s mission to create a more inclusive society. During the annual awards ceremony, leaders in law, the arts and business are honored. In 2023, during their 35th National Equal Justice Awards Dinner, one individual and one partnership were honored with the National Equal Justice Award – Robert F. Smith and the partnership between Nike, Jordan Brand and Converse. This award specifically recognizes individuals and organizations fighting for equality and racial justice across many different ventures.

Watch Smith’s honoree video for the 35th LDF National Equal Justice Awards Dinner, highlighting his upbringing and dedication to philanthropic causes.

Additional awards were presented at the dinner, including the Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award presented to civil rights attorney Fred Gray in recognition of his decades-long career advancing racial justice and equality through law. Additionally, Emmerson Collective was the National Equal Justice Award Program Honoree in recognition of their commitment to uplifting communities and leaders. Spike Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Geoffrey Canada, and Jaylen Smith were just a handful of the award presenters at the 2023 honors.

Robert F. Smith’s Dedication to Philanthropy

LDF National Equal Justice Award winner, Robert F. Smith, is well-known for his philanthropy, especially his support for organizations that help underserved communities across the U.S. These philanthropic organizations provide underserved and underrepresented individuals with opportunities they may not otherwise have. Some of the organizations and initiatives Smith supports include Student Freedom Initiative, Southern Communities Initiative and Fund II Foundation, the latter of which he serves as founding director and President. He continues to embrace this fight for racial justice and equality to make the world a better place for everyone.

To stay up to date with Smith’s latest philanthropic and business endeavors, subscribe to his YouTube channel.