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Congresswoman Maxine Waters Honored at A New Way of Life Celebration of 25 Years…Transforming Lives & Restoring Hope

The Southern Truth

Ms. Susan Burton along with Co-directors Pamela Marshall and Michael Towler presented Congresswoman Maxine Waters with the Movement Builder Award during the 25 Anniversary gala held on December 3, 2023 at the Vibianna in Los Angeles. Photo by Gloria Zuurveen

By Gloria Zuurveen, Editor-in-Chief

Ms. Susan Burton, founder, A New Way of Life, dressed in a taffeta gray floor length gown as she takes the stage to honor one of our stalwart warriors in the fight for building bridges of hope for the many women who have come through the doors of A New Way Of Life for a second chance at life after incarceration.

Ms. Burton was overjoyed as she bestowed the Movement Builder Award on Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a trailblazer who has gained a reputation as a fearless and outspoken advocate for women, children, people of color and the poor, during the 25th anniversary gala recently held in the beautiful ballroom at the Vibiana in Los Angeles.  This first class gala included celebrity guest Emcee Felicity Huffman, Actress and A New Way of Life Board Member, and an Academy Award nominee for her performance in Transamerica, as well as a Golden Globe Award and Independent  Spirit Ward for the same role. Huffman has also been honored with an Emmy and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Huffman can be seen on the ABC series “American Crime” for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Emmy and Golden Globe for her portrayal of Barb Hanlon in the premiere season, Leslie Graham in the second season and Janette Hesby in the third season. Huffman can also be seen in Ava Duvernay’s “When They See Us” and Netflix, “Otherhood.” She is a founding member of the Atlantic Theater Company, in off-Broadway theater company where she was also featured in numerous plays.  Entertainment was provided by Lalah Hathaway, the 5x Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter and producer and 10 x nominee. Undeniable music royalty and a 30-year music industry veteran, Lalah’s music transcends genre-from R&B ballads to pop standards and soulful jazz—she has collaborated with today’s top hitmakers, including Pharrell Williams, Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre, Anderson Paak, Robert Clasper, Rapsody, Snoop Dogg and Esperanza Spalding. Lalah has also shared the stage with music legends, from Prince to Stevie Wonders to Herbie Hancock, and was recently decorated with an horary doctorate from Berklee College of Music. Lalah’s song “Show Me Your Soul,” from the hit documentary “Mr. Soul!’ was featured on the Oscars 2021 shortlist for Best Original Song and in December 2022, the video dropped for Lalah’s new single “this Christmas’ – a duet with her late father, Donny Hathaway, mae from a previously unreleased version of his classic Christmas anthem. Lalah Hathaway’s long-awaited next original solo project is coming in 2023,her first original project since the release of her Grammy-nominated album ‘Honestly’ om 2018.Tatiana von Fürstenberg was honored with the Community Champion Award for exceptional work of art which she conceived of and created an exhibit entitled On The Inside in 2016. The exhibit spotlights the work of currently incarcerated LGBTQ+ artists. Dominique Morgan (She/Her) an international award-winning artist, philanthropist, and activist, presented the award.  Although Ms. Burton was visible and making her rounds to welcome everyone in attendance by walking around from table to table greeting guests with that down home motherly smile and soft-spoken voice all the town her two foot soldiers were not far off.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters greeting guests. Photo by Gloria Zuurveen

Pamela Marshall and Michael Towler, Co-Directors, are foot soldiers who have been alongside Ms. Burton steering the ship of second chances for hundreds of formerly incarcerated women who are setting records of success demonstrated how awesome the services they’ve received from A New Way of Life. Marshal and Towler said, “As we celebrate A New Way of Life’s 25th anniversary, it is our unique pleasure and privilege to have been a part of its incredible growth and success for more than a decade. Throughout this time, we have laughed, celebrated, and cried alongside those we serve. We have been with them in their joy, we have been with them in their sorrow, we have been with them as we collect ourselves to work toward a better tomorrow.” The two have some big shoes to fill as Ms. Burton has set the standard which started 25 years ago.  Isaiah 61 comes to my mind as I right this article on A New Way of Life and its grand celebration, it reminds me of the words of this biblical author when he said, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes.”

 

Ms. Susan Burton and Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Photo by Gloria Zuurveen

Ms. Burton is the epitome of this scripture because she by her own experiences of childhood trauma including being incarcerated, assaulted, and giving birth to her daughter at age 14, she persevered, gained employment and dreams of bringing reentry to south Los Angeles to comfort others just as she had been with the help from others who helped her along the way. Many of them were seated at the gala and she acknowledged them all for how they’ve helped her dreams come true with a new way of life affording her the opportunity to give to other women a second chance by bestowing on them beauty instead of ashes in life. Thus, today, 25 years later the gala is a testament of her tenacity has paid off and like the prophet Isaiah said, she has used her anointing to help so many women all over the land to be comforted instead of mourning, even in my native state of Mississippi. Ms. Burton is credited with fighting for the least of these. She is a visionary, inspirational leader of the criminal justice reform movement, author of award-winning memoir, Becoming Ms. Burton, and founder of a A New Way of Life Reentry Project (ANWOL) in 1998.

ANWOL’s approach to reentry is internationally recognized as an innovative model that creates welcoming and healing spaces for women to rejoin their communities after incarceration while developing as leaders to work toward liberation.  In 2018, Ms. Burton launches the SAFE (Sisterhood Alliance for Freedom and Equality) Housing Network to replicate the effective and humane reentry model. The network now includes 31 members located across the United States, Uganda, Nigeria, and Kenya. It is through this work that she thrives, enjoying the progress of her foundations, all while knowing how many individual lives she has touched and changed throughout her own journey of bestowing on formerly incarcerated women crowns of beauty instead of ashes like Shekia Walker who was honored with the Flozelle Woodmore Memorial Awards. Walker is a survivor of tragedy and trauma who knows her worth. A proud mother of three, she is a high achiever who is proud of her accomplishments since meeting Ms. Susan Burton and becoming a resident at A New Way of Life in 2020.

Many thanks goes out to A New Way of Life supporters: W.K. Kellogg Foundation®; Julia Meltzer & David Thorne; John Wells Productions; Affordable Housing CDC; Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC); Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People & Families Movement (FICPFM); Patzkowski Law;  Solidarity Book Bash; The Clean Slate Initiative; Lucy’s Auto Center;US Bank; Alliance for Safety and Justice; Holly J. Mitchell, Los Angeles County Supervisor 2nd District; Rena Braud, Realtor & Real Estate Strategist; Justice Care and Opportunities Department; Pacific Premier Bank; Hilda Solis, First District Los Angeles County Supervisor; Sweat Equity Alliance SEA; Amity Foundation; Florida Rights; Western Center On Law and Poverty; Leverage Point Development, Inc.; Healthnet and to all of A New Way of Life Board of Directors and Volunteers.

 

 

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