Kerry Washington Lights Up the Sold-Out New Friends New Life Luncheon 2023 in Dallas

Raise More Than a Million Dollars for a Beloved Non-Profit? Consider It Handled

BY Melissa Smrekar // 10.10.23
photography Tamytha Cameron and Celeste Cass

Here’s a little inside baseball information about booking celebrities to speak at fundraising events – they’re, like, really expensive. However much you’re thinking, it’s more than that. (I aspire to have the confidence of a D-list male celeb naming his speaking fee.) 

Kerry Washington is no D-lister — quite the contrary. In addition to being an award-winning actor, writer, director, producer, and activist, she is Olivia freaking Pope. A proverbial hat tip to New Friends New Life for landing Washington for their annual luncheon on September 29 at Hyatt Regency Dallas; the sold-out crowd of 1,200 underscored what a major *get* she was. 

new friends new life 2023 dallas
Kevin Phillips, Elizabeth Carlock Phillips, Kerry Washington, Bianca Davis, Tracey Nash Huntley, David S. Huntley (Photo by Tamytha Cameron and Celeste Cass)

New Friends New Life is a Dallas-based non-profit that empowers trafficked and sexually exploited teen girls, women, and their children, and the luncheon raised more than $1.1 million to drive awareness of this issue and its prevalence. Co-Chairs Tracey Nash-Huntley, David S. Huntley, Elizabeth Carlock Phillips, and Kevin Phillips reflected on the agency’s 25-year history and honored founders and early board members like Nancy Ann and Ray L. Hunt, Gail and Dr. Gerald Turner, and Pat and Pete Schenkel, who served as honorary co-chairs. 

Washington’s visit to Dallas came amid a publicity tour for her new book, Thicker Than Water: A Memoir, released just three days prior. (She held up a copy in nearly every photo taken with VIPs in front of the step-and-repeat — you don’t become a multi-hyphenate by being coy!) 

Co-Chairs David S. Huntley, Tracey Nash-Huntly, Elizabeth Carlock Phillips, Kevin Phillips (Photo by Tamytha Cameron and Celeste Cass)

Washington also came prepared to dish; she offered spoilers (but we won’t!) and detailed her own family’s secrets and scandals to consistently masterful interviewer Laura Harris. The petite powerhouse spoke eloquently about generational trauma and her own path toward healing. 

“I want us to know we can tell the truth and be loved — we can find safe spaces where we can be loved.” Washington continued, circling back to NFNL’s mission, “This is why New Friends New Life is so important. NFNL teaches that you always have agency, and you must build the right support around you so you can stand in that agency.”

Gracefully commanding the stage, Washington credited the character who “changed [her] life.” 

“One of the things [Pope] taught me was how to be the lead character, and I feel like NFNL is teaching each of these women how to be the lead characters in their lives.” 

Annette Bailey presents Mike Howard with surprise ProtectHER Award (Photo by Tamytha Cameron and Celeste Cass)

Before taking the stage for her conversation with Harris, Washington witnessed the birth of a main character in Annette Bailey, a survivor who now serves as NFNL’s economic empowerment specialist. A former drug addict, Bailey’s life changed when her court-appointed attorney asked her a question no one bothered to ask: “Do you have a problem with drugs?” 

Years after her rehabilitation, attorney Mike Howard stumbled upon an article featuring Bailey, who credited a lawyer (whose name she did not know) with saving her life. It was him! Howard gave Bailey an indelible gift: the opportunity to thank the man who saved her life. At the luncheon, Bailey surprised Howard with a ProtectHER award. The universally likable unlikely duo received a standing ovation and brought many to tears, which, in my opinion, is the sign of a great luncheon. 

Sell out a 25th-anniversary luncheon and raise more than $1.1 million dollars? It’s handled.

Kelvin Walker, Pete Schenkel, Celia Walker, Dr. Gerald Turner (Photo by Tamytha Cameron and Celeste Cass)

Spotted: Elizabeth Gambrill, Nancy Halbreich, Calvert Collins-Bratton, Sally Pretorius Hodge, The Honorable Ron Kirk, Lynn McBee, Melissa Sherrill Martin, Rep. Morgan Meyer, Christa Sanford, Marianne Staubach, Stephanie Wilcox, and Katherine Wynne.

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