The 2020 Human Needs Hero Reception: Apart, and yet together 


October 13, 2020

Editor’s note: CHN Intern Grace Mulamba contributed to this post. 

We were apart, and yet for one splendid evening we were together. 

On the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 7, the Coalition on Human Needs held its 17th annual Human Needs Hero Reception. The event, organized by CHN Field and Events Coordinator Nicolai Haddal, was held virtually, for obvious reasons. 

That didn’t stop around 100 of CHN’s friends, supporters, allies, members and partners from coming together in celebration and camaraderie. (If you missed the event, you can watch the video here.)

“Coalition” was the theme and watchword of the evening, as the three campaigns CHN honored this year are themselves coalitions – Census Counts, Count All Kids, and Protecting Immigrant Families. 

“Our honorees exemplify the ability to bring together advocates and diverse communities in a way we treasure so much at the Coalition on Human Needs. This is so vital to the fabric of what we stand for — it’s even embedded in our name!” said Ellen Teller, Chairwoman of the CHN Board of Directors and Director of Government Affairs at the Food & Research Action Center. “These honorees, and the campaigns they lead, lift up the work of every individual – everyone is welcome. Everyone is essential. Everyone counts. They recognize and celebrate the innate worth, value and dignity of all individuals, regardless of – well, regardless of everything!” 

Thank you to the Congressional Chorus for a brilliant online performance to open our event.

CHN Executive Director Deborah Weinstein explained the importance of the work Census Counts and Count All Kids have done – are doing – to ensure a fair and accurate 2020 Census. 

“You have helped all of us to understand that the Census is not just dry statistics, but in a very real sense the engine of our democracy – when it works correctly, it increases the fairness of our elections by making sure everyone is counted, and ensures that federal funding goes where it is most needed,” Weinstein said. 

Weinstein credited the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, which organized the Census Counts Campaign, and the Partnership for America’s Children, which organized the Count All Kids Campaign, for their exemplary leadership. 

“They’ve taken every necessary step, from bringing together vast and diverse coalitions, to raising money for an unprecedented communications effort, to mastering every detail of census operations,” Weinstein said. “And all this is paying dividends, even despite the triple catastrophes of the pandemic, natural disasters, and the policies of the Trump Administration.”

Arturo Vargas, CEO, NALEO Education Fund, added that “Census Counts and Count All Kids have been heroic in their efforts to make the census succeed and heroic in their efforts to save it.” 

Beth Lynk, Campaign Director for the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, accepted the award on Census Counts’ behalf. “This campaign has always been about ensuring the communities that are most at risk of being missed in the census are seen and counted,” she said. “No one could have anticipated this 2020 census would be as challenging as it has been. We did not expect a global health pandemic, but that’s why we work in coalition…to lean on one another, learn from one another, and to lift each other up in the hard times.” 

Accepting the award on behalf of Count All Kids was Deborah Stein, Network Director, Partnership for America’s Children. Stein explained that although the U.S. Census Bureau has done a better job during the past 40 years of counting most people, the number of children who are missed has been growing with each decennial census – and that is why Count All Kids was formed. She notes that in 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau missed one in ten children under age 5. 

“That hurts kids; it means less representation for their communities in the U.S. House, in state legislatures, in county councils, and on school boards,” Stein said. “It means less funding – we know that we lost $550 million a year for children’s health care, child care, foster care and adoption from just five programs and there are many other programs that also lose funding or where the most needy communities don’t get their fair share. Worse, the kids that are missed are disproportionately black and brown kids. That means, when we miss young kids, we are creating another 10 years of institutionalized racism.” 

In introducing Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF), Kathy Ko Chin, President and CEO of the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum, called the group “an inspirational, effective, and strong coalition.” The Protecting Immigrant Families, Advancing Our Future Campaign is co-led by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the National Immigration Law Center. 

“Bringing in partnerships from the private sector, local and state government, faith-based organizations, health plans, and so many others who are concerned about the health and security of millions of immigrants, their children, and their families, PIF is a coalition that has met the challenges of our times, even now, in these days of COVID-19, and especially in the face of the racial justice reckoning that our nation is facing,” she said. 

Congratulatory plaque for the Protecting Immigrant Families campaign. 

Accepting the award for the National Immigration Law Center was Eddie Carmona, Campaigns Director. “Once Trump got elected, there was a requirement from us in movement spaces to come together and to shine a light and be a light to our folks on the ground in immigrant communities. And that’s what we came together to do,” Carmona said. 

Accepting the award for CLASP was Renato Rocha, Policy Analyst for Income and Work Supports. “It’s truly an honor to be acknowledged and celebrated by CHN, folks who understand just how much stronger we are when we work together and hold the same values as we do – that we’re all equal, and no one should be denied their basic needs because of where they were born,” Rocha said. 

All honorees will receive plaques celebrating their work. Of special note, the art for the census campaigns was selected from entrants to a children’s poster competition to promote the importance of the Census. The art selected, by 11th grader Olivia Gonzalez from Chattanooga, Tennessee, included the message “Make Yourself Seen.” 

Artwork by Olivia Gonzalez from Chattanooga, Tennessee: “Make Yourself Seen.”

Although Wednesday’s virtual awards gala was cause for celebration, the event had its somber moments. CHN mourned the passing of Rep. John Lewis and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and made special mention of Susan Rees, who had served as CHN’s Executive Director from 1983 to 1991 and who passed away earlier this year. 

“Susan was exceedingly proud of CHN and the role she played in building it into an organization that has endured and remains committed to eradicating economic injustice and poverty,” Teller said. “I believe her spouse Polly Donaldson is with us this evening and we thank Polly (and Susan) for their commitment and philanthropy to support CHN.” 

The gala also served another purpose – to demonstrate that even in times of isolation and despair, when groups come together, they can stave off unfair and harmful policies and build support for solutions that strengthen our nation by including and valuing everyone.  

“These are such powerful stories, highlighting what is best about our country – coming together with all the rich diversity and making this a more perfect union,” one participant offered in the virtual Zoom chat box. “Such generosity of spirit, exertion, savvy, endurance, and good trouble.” 

Said another: “This is so wonderful – thank you! I’m so glad you all are doing this and that I get to join you wonderful humans tonight.” 

Human Needs heroes