2023 Honorees

Each year, we honor members and allies whose work embodies extraordinary commitment to our mission of human rights and the rights of ecosystems over property interests. We’re thrilled to announce this year’s honorees! Learn more about each of them below. CONGRATULATIONS, EVERYONE! 🥳

If you’d like to support the NLG and celebrate this year’s amazing awardees, you can make a donation in their honor at: this year’s outstanding awardees by making a donation in their honor at nlg.org/donate2023!

Law for the People Award: Community Movement Builders

Community Movement Builders (CMB) is a member-based collective of black people creating sustainable, self-determining communities through cooperative economic advancement and collective community organizing. CMB utilizes direct action, including marches, rallies, and mass public comment as a means of enacting change. Additionally, the collective utilizes mutual aid programs, subsidized CSA boxes, a rental and utilities stabilization fund, and free food from its community garden to build trust and connection within the community and meet the immediate needs of the Pittsburgh community. The organization also develops Black worker-owned cooperatives to support sustainable alternative economic development, like sea moss, aquaponics and vending machine cooperatives with the ultimate goal of a grocery store co-operative to have affordable, fresh food with well-paying jobs. CMB is the Black anchor in the #StopCopCity campaign connecting deforestation and environmental degradation to the over-policing of Black communities.

Ernie Goodman Award: Armen H. Merjian

Armen H. Merjian, Senior Staff Attorney/Legal Director at Housing Works/HIV Law Project, is one of the nation’s leading HIV/AIDS and civil rights attorneys. In a career spanning more than three decades, Armen has successfully litigated numerous landmark cases on issues involving HIV/AIDS, homelessness, public benefits, disability, gender, and housing discrimination. This includes establishing the right of unhoused New Yorkers living with AIDS to same-day placement in emergency housing, successfully challenging Mayor Guiliani’s systematic violation of the rights of New York’s public assistance recipients, and securing novel victories against transgender discrimination and source of income (housing) discrimination. Armen is a co-author of the national treatise on AIDS, AIDS and the Law, and a contributing author of the NLG’s Civil Rights Litigation and Attorney Fees Annual Handbook. He is the author of 20 law review articles on human and civil rights and regularly presents in local, state, national and international forums.

Karen Jo Koonan Award: Jess Fuller

Jess Fuller is a dedicated, anti-authoritarian community organizer turned legal coordinator. Over the last decade, Jess has been central in expanding on the ground legal support to struggles at Standing Rock, the U.S./Mexico border, work-place union organizing, and most recently, the Stop Cop City movement in Atlanta. Jess is a frontline legal worker experienced in building defendant-centered strategies to combat state repression. She knows that solidarity, building power and creative legal strategies are the best defense to the criminalization of resistance.

Carol Weiss King Award: Laura St. John

Awarded by the National Immigration Project of the NLG

Laura St. John is Legal Director at the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project in Arizona, where she has practiced for twelve years. Her practice is entirely devoted to removal defense for individuals who are or were detained in ICE custody. She regularly represents individuals in removal proceedings before the Immigration Court, Board of Immigration Appeals, and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and supervises the Florence Project’s federal court litigation, Ninth Circuit appellate litigation, and policy and outreach efforts. Laura served as an Appellate Lawyer Representative to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals from January 2017 through January 2020 and served on the Ninth Circuit’s Pro Se Committee. She frequently presents on immigration law and policy to the bar, students, and community groups.

C. B. King Award: Charlie McKeown

Charlie McKeown is a 2023 graduate from the University of Georgia School of Law, where he was president of the NLG student chapter.  Along with fellow Guild members from across the South, he organized legal observation and Know Your Rights trainings in support of the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement.  He also assisted in jail support and legal coordination for Forest Defenders facing State persecution. Additionally, he serves on the legal committee for the International Campaign to Free Kamau Sadiki, as well as the Prisoner Support Committee of the Black Alliance for Peace Solidarity Network. He is now a public defender in Georgia, where he lives with his wife and newborn son.

Daniel Levy Award: Florida Immigrant Coalition

Awarded by the National Immigration Project of the NLG

Florida Immigrant Coalition is a hub for a bold, agile, and strategic social movement that advances Florida immigrants, their success and wellbeing. A statewide coalition of 70+ organizations, and 100+ allies united for the fair treatment of all people, including immigrants.   FLIC grows the connection, capacity, and consciousness of communities to strengthen pro-immigrant power in Florida.  We work in the intersection of love and justice, standing for the equitable world that we aspire and deserve. We move closer to our vision when we build a Florida in which individuals have the right to live, love, and labor without fear. 

Debra Evenson “Venceremos” Award: Alliance for Global Justice and Emily Yozell

Awarded by the NLG International Committee

The mission of the Alliance for Global Justice is to achieve social change and economic justice by helping to build a stronger, more unified grassroots movement. AfGJ recognizes that the concentration of wealth and power is the root cause of oppression requiring us to work together across ideologies, issues and communities. The Alliance nurtures organizations seeking fundamental change in international and national conditions that disempower people, create disparities in access to wealth and power, poison the earth, and plunder its resources.

The AfGJ supports locally-based grassroots organizing by sharing political analysis, mobilizing for direct action, monitoring the centers of corporate and government power, expanding channels of communication, and sharing skills and infrastructure.

Emily Yozell joined the NLG during law school at Northeastern 46 years ago while working at a Guild summer project against police abuse in Denver’s Chicano community. Her Guild work has included coordinating numerous fact-finding and legal solidarity delegations and projects in Cuba and Central America. She has advocated in diverse international human rights and environmental cutting edge litigation, establishing precedents before the Inter-American HR system and national fora in defense of the human right to clean potable water and territorial and resource disputes on behalf of indigenous, tribal and afro-descendent communities in Central America. Her work with law students, younger lawyers, and training of community leaders to organize to defend and exercise their rights has been a rewarding priority for her.