In recognition of their commitment to public interest and social justice work, Stephanie Davidson ’13 and Laurel Firestone ’04 were named this year’s recipients of the Gary Bellow Public Service Award.
Each year, the Harvard Law School student body selects a student and alumnus/a whose commitment to social justice best demonstrates how lawyers can litigate, educate, advocate and organize to promote justice. This year’s awards were presented at an April ceremony at HLS.
Stephanie Davidson ’13 has been an anti-violence activist for almost ten years, beginning with four years as a rape-crisis counselor and advocate while an undergrad at Columbia University. She founded Columbia’s Anti-Violence Coalition and led the university’s Take Back the Night organization. After college, Davidson worked for two years as an investigative analyst at the Manhattan D.A.’s office’s Sex Crimes Unit. At HLS, she was a family student attorney at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, where she provided full legal representation to indigent domestic violence survivors in restraining order hearings, and divorce and custody trials, submitted an emergency appeal regarding a restraining order judgment to the SJC, argued a remanded trial, and secured full custody and complete divorces for numerous clients fleeing serially abusive partners. She served as a law clerk at both the Women’s Law Project, and two plaintiff’s firms with expertise in gender and employment discrimination, Katz, Marshall & Banks and Cohen Milstein. She was also president of the Harvard Women’s Law Association.
Recently named a Harvard Law School Public Service Venture Fund Fellow, Davidson will work at Urban Justice Center’s Domestic Violence Project, where she will provide direct civil legal services to low-income survivors of domestic violence who are living with disabilities.
After graduating from HLS, Laurel Firestone ’04 received an Equal Justice Works Fellowship to start a rural poverty water project in San Joaquin Valley. Two years later, she and community organizer Susana De Anda founded the Community Water Center, an environmental justice organization working to ensure that clean water is a human right, not a privilege.
Under Firestone’s leadership, Community Water Center has worked to empower California’s most disadvantaged communities in their quest to secure safe, affordable drinking water. At the local level, CWC has organized and provided legal counsel to more than fifty water boards and community-based organizations; at the regional level, it has driven the creation of the first agricultural regulatory programs in the Valley’s history, and helped launch innovative pilot projects to connect disadvantaged communities to sources of safe water; and at the state level, CWC won a precedent-setting case forcing California to enforce an anti-water quality degradation policy enacted in 1968, and spearheaded the passage of California’s Human Right to Water Act, the nation’s first such law.
The Gary Bellow Public Service Award is conferred in honor of the late Harvard Law School Professor Gary Bellow, who died on April 13, 2000. The award was created by students in 2001 to honor Bellow, who founded the clinical program at HLS in 1971. His career in public service included work as a public defender in Washington, D.C., litigation on behalf of migrant farm workers in Calif., and advocacy for countless indigent clients in the Boston area. Bellow was a gifted teacher who challenged those around him to be better lawyers. He constantly pushed to make the world a more equitable place, both for individual clients and for the community as a whole.