Alphonse Gerhardstein Selected as UUA’s 2016 Holmes-Weatherly Award Winner
The Holmes-Weatherly Award is given to an individual or organization, not necessarily a Unitarian Universalist (UU), whose life-long commitment to faith-based social justice is reflected in societal transformation.
This year’s award recipient is Mr. Alphonse A. Gerhardstein in honor of his extraordinary commitment to civil rights through his successful litigation of cases related to age, sexual orientation and identity, disability, housing, employment, prisoner rights, police misconduct and reproductive health.
In 2001, the Cincinnati Black United Front asked Attorney Al Gerhardstein for help after unarmed 19 year old Timothy Thomas was shot and killed by a Cincinnati Police officer. Al Gerhardstein worked with community leaders to file a class action lawsuit against the City of Cincinnati and its police force, asserting racially biased policing. From that case, a Cincinnati police review panel was formed which is now used as a nationwide model by the U.S. Department of Justice. Al was the principal author of what became known as the Cincinnati Collaborative Agreement between the City of Cincinnati, the police union, and the community. Al reached out to organizers in Ferguson, Missouri from The Ferguson Collaborative and ONE Ferguson to provide invaluable advice on how to change community police relations in the wake of the Michael Brown killing. His ongoing work on police reform included testimony before President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
Al’s defense of the more than 2,000 prisoner victims of the 1993 Lucasville Prison Riot is also notable. The resolution of that class action lawsuit included $4 million in damages and a series of reforms that ended the lockdown, restored privileges to the inmates and established a fair tribunal for those accused of misconduct. As founder of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, a non-partisan, nonprofit, public interest law office working for Ohio-wide improvements in prison health care, reentry and restorative justice, Al has been a true champion for people dealing with the criminal justice system and incarceration.
Emily Davis on behalf of the Ferguson Collaborative and Marc DeSantis on behalf of ONE Ferguson wrote, “That Mr. Gerhardstein offered, and continues to offer, without strings and with all humility, his knowledge and support to us as we attempt the same, speaks volumes about the man that he is and his genuine commitment to social justice, and equality; and, his work relays his commitment to the leadership of those most impacted by institutional violence and predatory policing.”
Al Gerhardstein’s commitment to fighting for the most marginalized extends far beyond police accountability:
- Al fought for the rights of a gay couple when one of them was dying of ALS and they learned his partner would not be recognized in Ohio on the death certificate. This case was then used as precedence in the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality.
- Since 1987, Al has successfully defended Southwest Ohio Planned Parenthood in staving off sensationalized charges about fetal tissue disposal, and representing SOPP’s clinic certifications, medication abortions, parental consents and prisoner access to abortion.
- He has been a recipient of many other awards including from Equality Ohio, NAACP Cincinnati, and the Jewish National Fund, the Federal Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Justice Watch Human Rights and more. Al is a leader at First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati and with UUs for Justice in Ohio.
It is an honor for the Unitarian Universalist Association to bestow this award recognizing the life and work of Alphonse Gerhardstein.
About the Award
The Holmes-Weatherly Award is given to an individual or organization, not necessarily a Unitarian Universalist, whose life-long commitment to faith-based social justice is reflected in societal transformation. The Unitarian Society for Social Justice established the award in 1951 to honor its founders, Revs. John Haynes Holmes and Arthur Weatherly. The recognition is accompanied by a $500 cash award. Past recipients include Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Rev. Richard Gilbert; Planned Parenthood; and Rev. Marie Fortune.
Nominations should include:
- A one-page introduction to the nominee.
- No more than three letters of personal testimony or reference.
- Any relevant media that has been generated about the nominee.
Questions may be directed to the Multicultural Growth and Witness Administrator at (617) 948-4241.
Nominations are due on March 1.
Send entries to:
UUA Congregational Advocacy & Witness Office
24 Farnsworth Street; Boston, MA 02210-1409
Or by e-mail to: socialjustice [at] uua [dot] org with Holmes-Weatherly Award in the Subject Line