By Dr. Jocelynne Rainey, Brooklyn Community Foundation President and CEO
It may be cold outside, but Brooklyn Community Foundation is on fire! There are so many exciting initiatives underway, I almost don’t want 2022 to come to an end.
Yesterday we joined community partners at PS 276 in Canarsie to announce that 1,200 local first graders will each receive $1,000 towards their college and career training savings accounts. Funded by $1.2 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies and Donor Advised Funds at Brooklyn Community Foundation, this investment leverages NYC Kids RISE’s Save for College Program to increase access to higher ed and close the racial wealth gap in school district 18–which has the largest percentage of Black students citywide.
It’s also a beautiful example of neighbors helping neighbors through their Donor Advised Funds (DAF), to advance racial justice in our borough at large. Learn more here if a DAF at Brooklyn Community Foundation is right for you and your family.
And the good news doesn’t stop there. Through our Invest in Youth Initiative we have distributed nearly $20 million since the program’s launch in 2015—including $2.5 million to 56 nonprofit organizations in 2022, the majority of which serve communities of color and are led by BIPOC executive directors. We’re especially proud to see this game-changing initiative expand its reach to 19 new grantees. Below is just a glimpse into how they are transforming the lives of Brooklyn’s youth and why they are so richly deserving of our collective support.
New Grantees Spotlight: Pure Legacee
There’s an African proverb: “A child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.” No one understands this more than the team at Pure Legacee, a haven of healing for young women who have experienced trauma as a result of the criminal justice system or foster care.
Naquasia Pollard, Pure Legacee’s founder and executive director, is a staunch advocate and activist who has a deep, personal connection to the girls she supports. At 19, Pollard was sentenced to 15 years in a women’s correctional facility. Upon her release in 2017, she worked at the Ladies of Hope Ministries, where she put the BA in sociology she earned while incarcerated to work.
With Pure Legacee, she is determined to help young women break the cycle of violence, abuse, and addiction. “God put people in my life after being incarcerated, and when I came home they helped me to walk through a door — and I decided I wanted to use my energy to help others,” she recalls. The nonprofit uses training and advocacy to create systemic change while helping young women navigate individual challenges associated with race, gender, and poverty.
It’s easy to be in awe of Pollard, not only for being a dedicated warrior for these girls’ futures, but also for being wise beyond her years. Imagine a young woman has money stolen while in a group home. Understandably, she’s ready to settle matters the only way she knows — by fighting. But Pollard has been there herself, and knows to remind this young lady, “Were you ever so desperate that you took something that didn’t belong to you? Well, now it’s your turn to understand. This girl is hurting just like you were.”
For those of us who grew up in Brooklyn, we often heard this type of wisdom from the older people in the community. But for young women who don’t have that person in their lives, Pollard’s guidance is critical to helping them stay on the right path.
With our funding, Pure Legacee’s vision is to reach even more girls and help them see their potential as confident, intelligent women who are capable of achieving anything they put their mind to.
New Grantees Spotlight: First Tech Fund
One fact laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic was the harsh reality of the digital divide. Thousands of school children across New York City without computers or internet access–disproportionately Black, Latinx, immigrant, and lower income–were forced to use their cell phones for remote schooling, with many more being totally left behind.
In response, Josue de Paz launched First Tech Fund, a fellowship that equalizes the academic and professional playing field for low-income high school students in New York City.
De Paz’s immigrant experience mirrors those of the kids in his program. “My mother brought me to the United States for educational opportunities,” says de Paz, “and she was determined to see that I could attend better schools and get the best education possible — ultimately breaking the cycle of poverty that is the norm for so many children in Mexico.”
First Tech Fund provides tools such as free laptops and broadband access, but they also equip students for lifelong success through mentorship opportunities from industry-specific professionals, college prep, and connections to people who can help youth think critically about their career paths. Further, their dedicated curriculum includes BIPOC-led panels and workshops around financial literacy, public speaking, and more.
Accessing grants is a challenge for even well-established nonprofits, nevermind startups like First Tech Fund. Which is why it’s so important for us to invest in smaller nonprofits that are doing important work at the community level. But we’re not the only ones taking notice. Earlier this year, de Paz was named to the fifth cohort of the Obama Foundation Scholars.
“We are deeply thankful to Brooklyn Community Foundation for its support and belief in our mission,” says de Paz. “This grant gives us a really good foundation so we can scale up our efforts,” says de Paz. “We’ve received over 1,200 applications for about 250 spots over the last three years, so obviously the demand within New York City is very high.”
Be a Brooklyn Changemaker
These are just two of the amazing partners we work with and invest in annually. As I enter the second year as the Foundation’s President and CEO, it has been the greatest honor to get to know all of the incredible organizations advancing change in Brooklyn. And it’s clear we need to do much more. I hope you will join us this giving season and support our grantmaking for racial justice – we can’t do this work without you!