Jason Isaacs and Susan Burton on the red carpet.
(Courtesy Jonathan Alcorn

Diamonds & Pearls: Beauty Through Adversity (2012) CNN Hero Susan Burton

Now, more than ever, it is important to be reminded that there is still good in the world – that there are still people who care and are willing to do what’s right. “Diamonds & Pearls: Beauty Through Adversity” is an annual fundraising gala that honors such people, and celebrates the best in humanity. Now in its 14th year, the event highlighted a number of individuals, but chief among them was CNN Hero Susan Burton and her “A New Way of Life Reentry Project”. Award-winning actor Jason Isaacs hosted the gala at the Omni Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

A number of honorees were awarded various honors, including the Resident Award presented to Stacey Johnson, the Community Partner Award presented to Ferris and Mildred Harper, the Community Champion Award presented to the UCLA-Critical Race Studies (CRS) Department, the Synergy Teamwork Award presented to the Women’s Foundation-Race Gender & Human Rights Donor Circle, and the Movement Builder Award presented to Dorsey Dunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

Susan Burton, however, was given the prestigious 2012 Purpose Prize, which is awarded to exceptional individuals who devote their work to solving difficult social issues. Burton’s “A New Way of Life Reentry Project” provides housing and support services to women in South Central Los Angeles who were formerly incarcerated. The project’s goal is to help this marginalized group transition back into society. “A New Way of Life” was founded in 1998 and has already helped 600 women and their families.

Burton’s work was featured in a documentary titled Susan by critically acclaimed directors Emma Hewitt and Tessa Blake. The gala attendees were treated to a clip from the film.

Presenting the awards were a number of celebrities, including Wilmer Valderrama (That 70’s Show, Handy Manny), Tony Denison (Major Crimes), Steve Harris (Awake), Lennie James (Snatch), Kearran Giovanni (Major Crimes), Michelle Delamor (American Idol Finalist) Janina Gavankar (True Blood), Joe Torry (Def Comedy Jam) Anastasia Baranova (90210), Marabina Jaimes (Desperate Housewives) and Mariana Santangelo.

Guests were treated to the inspirational and original jazz music performed by Gongfarmer Collective, as well as an uplifting song performed by Michelle Delamor. Moreover, each guest received a gold pendant with the inscription “Your Life Has Meaning”, donated by Hot Rock Jewelry. Finally, the presenters were gifted beautiful cashmere scarves from Margo Petitti.

Roughly 300 guests were in attendance at the fundraiser gala to show their support of Burton’s worthy cause. It was also reassuring to find that the community took up the same banner through generous contributions. Corporate and media support came from The Orange County Chapter of World Vision’s Women of Vision, Reelz Channel, the University of Southern California School of Social Work, and many more. In this time of uncertainty and social turmoil, it’s heartwarming to know that no one needs to stand alone when doing the right thing.

Find out more about “A New Way of Life” at www.anewwayoflife.org.