Harvard Law School student William Ahee ’17 and alumnus Lam Nguyen Ho ’08 have received the Gary Bellow Public Service Award, established in 2001 to honor HLS Professor Gary Bellow ’60, his commitment to public service, and his innovative approach to the analysis and practice of law. Professor Bellow was a pioneering public interest lawyer who founded and directed Harvard Law School’s clinical programs.
Each year, the HLS student body selects a graduating student and an alumnus/a who best exemplify Bellow’s commitment to advancing social justice. This year, the honorees were celebrated at an award ceremony and reception on April 12. The Bellow Award committee members kicked off the event together with Dean Martha Minow, who cited Professor Bellow as one of the reasons she decided to go to law school.
Ahee and Ho have worked in a wide variety of practice areas — including housing law, immigration law, and civil rights — to educate and advocate for social justice.
William Ahee ’17
Prior to coming to Harvard Law School, William Ahee attended Wayne State University in Detroit. There, he was involved in a number of food justice and farming initiatives — working closely with multiple urban farms to develop training and entrepreneurial projects. He also helped to develop and implement an initiative to expand access to fresh foods using the existing infrastructure of corner stores in Detroit neighborhoods. After witnessing friends unjustly convicted of crimes, coworkers’ families deported, and entire neighborhoods suffering a lack of basic services, William decided to go to law school.
At HLS, he has participated in Harvard Defenders, the Housing Law Clinic, and the Criminal Justice Institute. He is also the current co-executive director of the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, a student practice organization in which students represent inmates in Massachusetts prisons. During his law school summers, William worked at Equal Justice Under Law, in Washington, D.C., and Metropolitan Public Defender, in Portland, Oregon.
After graduation, Ahee will move to McAllen, Texas, for a job with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, where he plans to provide direct services to clients while simultaneously seeking to address some of the underlying issues that bring clients in the door.
Lam Nguyen Ho ’08
Lam Nguyen Ho said he is in his “dream job” as the executive director of the Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA), which he founded with an HLS Public Service Fund Venture Grant. CALA uses a social justice community-lawyering model, “community activism lawyering,” to unite lawyers and activists for greater social change than what lawyers alone could achieve. CALA serves clients in their communities: mostly undocumented immigrants, day laborers, and sex workers who cannot access assistance from other legal organizations. Importantly, CALA impacts many thousands more by supporting activist partners’ grassroots activism, while also trying to change the legal aid industry.
CALA is the culmination of Lam’s community work, education, and legal experiences. He came to Harvard Law School seeking to combine the law with his background as a gay, immigrant activist of color, having escaped poverty.
He discovered community lawyering at Reaching Out About Depression, supporting low-income women health activists. He further explored models of community-and movement-based lawyering at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, where he was president; Harvard Defenders; ACLU National Litigation Department, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, and Urban Justice Center.
Through these opportunities, he contributed more than 3000 pro-bono hours in service to clients. He also ran the Giving Tree, which raised nearly 2000 gifts for families served by HLS’ clinical programs.
“I’m extremely grateful for the Gary Bellow Award and its recognition of the work that CALA is doing to bring free lawyers directly to and in partnership with underserved populations, at a time when access to justice is both limited—80% of the legal needs of low-income families are unmet—and under threat” said Lam.
“And it was a privilege to hear about William Ahee’s shared understanding that lawyers cannot work alone but instead must support, work with, and be directed by our communities and activist partners. Professor Bellow’s vision of combining law and organizing is central to CALA’s work, and an inspiration to me and my colleagues. We’re proud to be a part of his legacy, and we hope to continue to pushing the boundaries of what lawyers view as their roles in creating social change.”