New Friends New Life
Kerry Washington talks Scandal, strength, and style at $1 million Dallas luncheon
Kerry Washington admitted she had a tough act to follow at this year’s New Friends New Life luncheon.
So powerful were the presentations that preceded her keynote appearance, even the award-winning actor-director-producer felt slightly outshined by the time she took the stage, she told the sold-out crowd of 1,200 inside the Hyatt Regency Dallas ballroom on September 29.
But the actress who portrayed the ultimate “fixer” on TV’s Scandal for six years deftly connected the themes of her new memoir, Thicker Than Water, with the mission of New Friends New Life - themes like surviving trauma, building strength through struggles, and loving unconditionally.
“I want us to know we can tell the truth and be loved,” Washington said in an onstage conversation with NBC 5’s Laura Harris. “We can find safe spaces where we can be loved. This is why New Friends New Life is so important. [It] teaches that you always have agency, and you must build the right support around you so you can stand in that agency.”
The Dallas nonprofit’s Silver Jubilee Luncheon marked 25 years of empowering trafficked and sexually exploited teen girls, women, and their children, and raising awareness of the issue in the community.
The luncheon - chaired by Tracey Nash-Huntley, David S. Huntley, Elizabeth Carlock Phillips, and Kevin Phillips - had booked Washington as speaker months earlier. Her appearance happened to coincide with her own promotional book tour, including a highly publicized TV special with Robin Roberts that had aired just days earlier.
With the help of one of the hottest stars on the planet, New Friends New Life's 25th anniversary luncheon raised an astounding $1.1 million.
Tracey Nash-Huntley, Kerry Washington, Elizabeth Carlock Phillips, Bianca DavisPhoto by Tamytha Cameron and Celeste Cass
Before Washington took the stage, she posed for photos with VIPs at a cocktail reception. As patrons sat down for lunch, they were serenaded with powerful rendition of Bebe Rexha’s “You Can’t Stop the Girl” by gospel singer Gaye Arbuckle.
Attendees dined on a sumptuous poached pear salad; bourbon sauce chicken with maple-roasted sweet potatoes; and tropical fruit mousse in a chocolate coconut shell or Namelaka Cream of dark chocolate and blackberry for dessert.
Heart-warming video presentations highlighted the work of both the organization’s founders and the 2023 award recipients. ProtectHER Awards were presented by NFNL Chief Development Officer Priya Murphy to The Meadows Foundation and Yulise Reaves Waters. A video detailing the history of NFNL was narrated by Jessica Waugh, whose mother, Gail Turner, was one of the founders. Gail and Dr. Gerald Turner (SMU president); Nancy Ann and Ray L. Hunt; and Pat and Pete Schenkel were recognized as the luncheon’s honorary co-chairs.
NFNL CEO Bianca Davis also shared with the crowd the impact NFNL has had on human trafficking through its various programs.
Annette Bailey presents Mike Howard with surprise ProtectHER Award.Photo by Tamytha Cameron and Celeste Cass
But it was one of the “faces” of the organization’s work that brought the room to tears. Annette Bailey, a survivor and NFNL’s economic empowerment specialist for the past six years, surprised her attorney, Mike Howard, with a ProtectHER Award. Howard had saved her life, she said, when, instead of seeing her go to jail on drug charges years ago, he got her into a rehabilitation facility for counseling to overcome past trauma and move her life forward.
“Once he helped me, I wanted to help myself,” said Bailey, to a standing ovation.
Walking on stage, Washington joked that she was a little “mad” she had to follow “Miss Annette” but underscored how Bailey and Howard’s story of strength and acceptance resonated with her personally.
“While listening to the conversation today during the luncheon, I reflected upon how much we all deserve to be loved and are lovable despite our past,” she said.
Kerry Washington said she felt pressure to dress up for Dallas.Photo by Tamytha Cameron and Celeste Cass
Washington’s book recounts her own journey of revelations and truth. Five years ago, her parents told her that her dad was not her biological father, and that she was born from a sperm donor - something considered both shameful and scandalous 40-some years ago. The family has worked through a “rollercoaster of emotions” to arrive at a place of understanding and unconditional love, she said.
“My parents were making the best choices with the toolbox they had, trying to protect me," she said. "I know their intentions were good. What I see as flawed is part of the miracle of why I’m here. We have to love people where they are.”
In one more connection to NFNL's work to better the lives of women, Washington referenced her iconic Scandal character, Olivia Pope: "One of the things she taught me was how to be the lead character, and I feel like New Friends New Life is teaching each of these women how to be the lead characters in their lives."
Moderator Harris didn’t let the day go by without bringing up Washington’s status as a global style icon.
“I just want to know that the 1,200 people in this room, all the women, have been thinking about what they were going to wear today,” Harris said, “because they knew they had to show up and show out for you.”
“Listen,” Washington responded, “This is a beautiful room. I’ve been doing the same thing because I know how Dallas goes. I know how people dress in Dallas. I was like, ‘I’ve gotta bring my crystals, my good heels, my bright colors, gotta come correct in Dallas.’”
Spotted in that "beautiful room" were attendees Jan Osborn, Riley Clemons, Toni Brinker, Jennifer Sampson, Lynn McBee, Angela Turner Wilson, Michelle Thomas, Fallyn Jones, Stephanie Couser, Melissa Sherrill Martin, Machelle Davenport, Paige Lauten, Lisa Shirley, Wendy Messmann, Kaleta Blafford Young, Michal Powell, Anita Arnold, Sue Justice, Eileen Pratt, Kirsten Gappelberg, Shivangi Perkins, Stephanie Wilcox, Joanna Clark, Kaileigh Johnson, Bridget Harris, Sophia Johnson, Rita Kirk, Ron Kirk, Mari Woodlief, Jennifer Pascal, Angela Crates, Jane A. Rose, Katherine Wynne, Trina Terrell Andrews, Skye Watts, Gloria Jackson, Tonika Clayton, Tiffany Anderson, Christa Sanford, Marissa Horne, Sara Madsen Miller, and many more.