We are so pleased to honor two outstanding SOMA community members, Gail Safian and Dr. Ahadi Bugg-Levine at this year's fundraisrer and gala--Celebrating Integration: Growing Our Commitment to Equity & Inclusion. Learn more about these incredible women below and RSVP today for the event on October 12th at Orange Lawn Tennis Club. It will be a wonderful evening of food, drinks, fellowship, and music by Essex Funk Collective.
Gail Safian and her husband, Jay Eisenberg, moved to Maplewood with their two small children in 1987. With an adopted child from Chile, they were looking for – and found -- a community which would be welcoming and diverse.
Gail’s professional career has been devoted to educating both patients and professionals on healthcare issues in underserved communities. When breast cancer was mainly treated by radical mastectomies because of a lack early detection, she was a manager of the public relations team at PR agency Burson-Marsteller that created National Breast Cancer Awareness Week in October 1985. It became so successful that it was eventually expanded to the month we all know.
After founding her own company in 1994, she continued working on disease education programs with major pharmaceutical companies. For six years, her work was focused on raising awareness of sickle cell disease. Her team created and disseminated information that helped Black people learn about the importance of treating the disease and its symptoms, and helped healthcare workers learn to recognize and treat the painful side effects of SCD.
Gail created and managed a national organ donation awareness campaign directed to the Black community in conjunction with The Links, a major African American women’s organization. Black patients have a better chance of a match with a Black donor. Her team worked with Black churches across the country to organize presentations by transplant surgeons and recipients at church services.
Although healthcare was her career, art and history were her first loves (and undergraduate major), and she welcomed the opportunity to join the Board of Trustees of the Durand-Hedden House & Garden, Maplewood’s historic house museum, in 1996.
In becoming president of Durand-Hedden in September 2021, she succeeded Susan Newberry, who had led the organization brilliantly for more than 20 years. Gail was determined to broaden the reach of the museum in the African American community and educate the White community on the Black experience. Many of these programs have been collaborations with the Coalition. In the past two years Durand-Hedden events have included African American foodways; African American genealogy, including a lecture by Barbara Velazquez and workshops with a genealogist, and a Women’s History Month reenactment of the life of Sojourner Truth.
Gail has directed the museum’s expansive Juneteenth celebrations since 2019 in close collaboration with the Coalition, and they have become increasingly successful. In addition to historical interpreters and musicians, a major feature is the exhibit and award-winning book Gail authored, Slavery in New Jersey: A Troubled History. The book has become part of the SOMA School District’s social studies curriculum for 4th, 6th and 10th graders. It is also the basis of lesson plans on Black history developed by the New Jersey State Bar Foundation.
Dr. Ahadi Bugg-Levine grew up in Maplewood and is a proud alumnae of Clinton School, South Orange Middle School, and Columbia High School. She now lives in South Orange with her husband, Antony, and their six year-old daughter. Ahadi is honored to give back to the South Orange and Maplewood communities that she knows and loves.
Ahadi is the Board President of JESPY House, which helps over 300 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live independently in South Orange. During her Board leadership, JESPY received the largest donation in its history (totaling $13.25 million), developed a capital campaign to significantly increase housing (including affordably-priced, youth, and aging-in-place), program, and service space, and collaborated with the Village of South Orange and nonprofit developers to build affordable housing.
Ahadi served on the Steering Committee for South Orange’s Master Plan, where she worked with organizations focused on diversity including race, disability, aging, and religion. The Village of South Orange named Ahadi the Villager of the Month for curating and publishing children’s book lists, producing podcasts, and developing additional children’s content for South Orange’s Black History Month celebrations. Ahadi has also selected and purchased hundreds of new books for Seth Boyden that celebrate the school’s diversity including its BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and disability communities. She has also been a longstanding donor and supporter of CCR.
Ahadi is the President of Bugg-Levine, Inc. a consulting company that provides philanthropic strategic and research services to foundations and other nonprofits. Prior to this, she spearheaded The Atlantic Philanthropy’s successful US-Cuba policy reform campaign and contributed to the foundation’s unprecedented healthcare reform campaign. She also served as Senior Counsel in the Affirmative Litigation Division for New York City’s Corporation Counsel where she worked on human rights, insurance, and other litigation matters.
Ahadi has advocated for disability rights, women and children’s rights, the rights of marginalized racial and ethnic communities, and other constituencies both domestically and internationally. She served as Policy Counsel for the National Partnership for Women and Families where she focused on the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Violence Against Women Act, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and other policy issues. She was an attorney for the disability division of the South African Human Rights Commission where she drafted the initial disability provisions for the nation’s Equality Act and educated Members of Parliament about disability-related issues. She worked with Supreme Court justices in Mozambique to help enforce the nation’s constitutional provisions ensuring the rights of people with disabilities.
Ahadi also worked with women’s and children’s rights advocates and organizations in Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. She supported projects for independent local artists in Kenya and Uganda.
Ahadi received her Ph.D. from Yale University, her J.D. from Yale Law School, and her B.A. from Wellesley College.