New York, NY. November 23, 2021 – Last night’s Lupus Research Alliance (LRA) Breaking Through Gala was the most successful in the history of the organization raising $7.5 million – double that of any previous year — for lupus research. The hundreds attending the hybrid festivities in-person at the Ziegfeld Ballroom and online were inspired by heartfelt messages from Gala Honorary Chairs Selena Gomez and Michael R. Bloomberg that highlighted the urgent need for further lupus research. Personally committed to advancing lupus scientific discovery, Gala Honoree, Blackstone executive, and devoted LRA Board member Nadeem Meghji was particularly instrumental in securing extraordinarily generous donations for this spectacular event.
NBC’s Willie Geist and Star Selena Gomez Interview LRA Young Leaders
Taking part in a dynamic talk-show format led by event MC and NBC Today Show host Willie Geist, Selena Gomez expressed her enormous gratitude to LRA’s contributions to the breakthroughs that are improving treatments for lupus. As part of the talk-show format, Mr. Geist and Ms. Gomez interviewed Young Leaders Board members: video producer Adrienne Nicole; actor Martin Lewis; and IBM Associate Partner, Global Business Services and LRA Board member Veronica Vargas Lupo. Each shared their own experiences with lupus and the hope they derive from the organization’s groundbreaking achievements.
Dedicated Lupus Leader Nadeem Meghji Honored
Blackstone President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Gray described Mr. Meghji’s tremendous professional drive exemplified in his dedication to accelerating lupus research on behalf of his 18-year-old niece Aaliya Qassim, whose childhood was taken away by the disease, and her dad Ovais Qassim, who has lived with lupus for years.
Thanking everyone in the room for the evening’s record-breaking success, Mr. Meghji commented, “This wasn’t a fight my family picked, but it has become a fight we are completely committed to winning with the help of the entire lupus community. To help Aaliya, Ovais, and millions of other lupus sufferers to one day live healthy lives, our family chose to support the Lupus Research Alliance as our best hope for accelerating discovery of safer, more effective lupus treatments. I’m confident that the funds we’ve raised tonight will lead to further breakthroughs.”
In a special tribute video, Ms. Qassim explained why her Uncle Nadeem is so special. “I try hard to forget many of the details of my journey. But there is one part I will always remember. The way you’ve been with me every step along the way. Tonight, the Lupus Research Alliance is recognizing you for being a champion for lupus research, but I’m recognizing you for always being by my side.”
Special Supporters Recognized for Contributions to Lupus Community
Remarks by Gala Co-chair, LRA Co-Founder, former UK Ambassador and NY Jets Chairman, the Honorable Robert Wood (Woody) Johnson IV; Board Co-Chair and Director at Bloomberg Richard K. DeScherer; and LRA President/CEO Kenneth M. Farber congratulated the many supporters who have made 2021 a banner year for lupus research progress including AstraZeneca, Aurinia Pharmaceuticals and GSK as the companies responsible for expanding much-needed treatment options. Philanthropist Michael R. Bloomberg also expressed his long-standing belief in and support for the work of the LRA on behalf of his close friend LRA Board member Jennie DeScherer.
Personally acknowledged were 2020 Gala Honorees lupus advocate Jenny Zwick and Solamere Capital Co-Founder and Managing Partner Spencer Zwick. LRA leadership also applauded all the donors who remained dedicated to the lupus cause despite the COVID-19 pandemic and a particularly challenging fundraising year.
The LRA is also grateful to our 2021 Gala Co-Chairs for their hard work that made the event so successful: Board of Directors Co-Chairs Ira Akselrad, President of The Johnson Company and Richard K. DeScherer; as well as Super Bowl Champion Willie Colon; Founder/CEO Osso Capital LLC Olivia John; The Honorable Robert Wood Johnson IV; LRA Board member and lupus advocate Molly McCabe; Chairman/CEO iHeartMedia, Inc. Robert W. Pittman; Chairman First Washington Realty, Inc. William J. Wolfe; Managing Director of the Real Estate Group at Blackstone Eric Wu; lupus advocate Jenny Zwick; and Spencer Zwick, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Solamere Capital.
A Night to Celebrate Progress
Unifying the community in celebration, performances included rousing renditions of such heartening songs as Come Together, We Are Family, and Reunited! While in-person guests were invited to enjoy dinner and after-party to the tunes of DJ True Blends, online participants caught the spirit with Broadway leading lady Kelli O’Hara singing My Fair Lady hit I Could Have Danced All Night.
Even the iconic Empire State Building added to the night’s excitement, spotlighting the importance of lupus research by illuminating NYC’s skyline in the LRA’s colors red and purple.
Last night’s program can be viewed online here using the PIN LRA21. Continued donations are welcomed. The Lupus Research Alliance thanks the worldwide lupus community for their ongoing support of the innovative research needed to deliver new treatments and a cure.