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5 Brooklyn Nonprofits Dedicated to Racial Justice Win $100K Each in Spark Prize

Brooklyn Community Foundation announced the winners of the 2022 Spark Prize on Thursday
Denise Rodriguez, Shabieko Ivy and Sevonna Brown with the fully loaded Sistas Van. Photo: Mateo Ruiz Gonzalez for BK Reader.

Five Brooklyn nonprofits committed to racial and social justice in the borough have been awarded $100,000 each — no strings attached — as winners of Brooklyn Community Foundation’s annual Spark Prize.

The Arab American Association of New York, Black Women's Blueprint, Brooklyn Movement Center, Groundswell Community Mural Project and Weeksville Heritage Center were announced the five winners on Thursday, with BCF saying they all had deep roots in their communities and were selected from a highly competitive pool of local nonprofits.

BCF President and CEO Dr. Jocelynne Rainey said the chosen nonprofits had changed the borough for the better, “thanks to their visionary work and commitment to racial justice.”

“These nonprofits are among the best that Brooklyn has to offer and we are so grateful for all that they’ve done, and what more they will achieve,” Rainey said in a statement.

Each year, the foundation convenes a committee of leaders from Brooklyn’s civic, business and philanthropic sectors to select the five winning nonprofits of the Spark Prize. The committee awards $600,000 in total: five $100,000 general operating support grants to the winners, and twenty $5,000 matches for prize finalists as part of the Foundation’s #BrooklynGives on Giving Tuesday campaign.

BCF launched the Spark Prize in 2016 to recognize pioneering nonprofits committed to racial and social justice in Brooklyn. In a statement, BCF said the borough was home to hundreds of nonprofits led by and serving communities of color that are often overlooked by the City’s philanthropic sector and wealthy donors.

“With the Spark Prize, Brooklyn Community Foundation aims to spotlight leading racial and social justice organizations in the borough, while emphasizing the need to provide general operating support that gives nonprofits the flexibility and resources they need to serve their communities and grow.”

The five grand prize winners this year include:

Arab American Association of New York, which was founded in 2001 by Arab immigrant and Arab American leaders in Bay Ridge to advocate for the community in the wake of the September 11th attacks. Today, AAANY serves Brooklyn’s Arab immigrant, refugee, and Muslim communities, helping over 6,000 beneficiaries annually through its women’s empowerment and adult literacy programs, immigration legal assistance, mental health and domestic violence support services, and youth programming. During the COVID-19 pandemic, AAANY has transitioned to virtual programming and has transformed its office into a direct relief hub, distributing 22,000+ food boxes and $450,000 in direct cash for clients in crisis, creating a laptop lending program, and working with community partners to provide relief to domestic violence survivors.

Black Women's Blueprint, which was founded in Brooklyn in 2008, and is a lifeline for survivors of gender-based violence, and provides birth education and maternal health support. The organization’s Sexual Abuse to Maternal Mortality Pipeline report and institute has pioneered a campaign to desilo these movements and affirm the link between trauma healing and maternal health. Each year, it engages doulas, midwives, birth-workers, and sexual assault advocates to reach 5,000 survivors at 50 different locations through its Sistas Van mobile health unit, and trains 800 clinicians and medical personnel. In addition, it is building a Reconciliation Center in Upstate New York to offer Brooklyn women space to heal and give birth safely. 

Brooklyn Movement Center (BMC), which is a Black-led, membership-based organization of primarily low-to-moderate income Central Brooklyn residents founded in 2011. BMC builds power and self-determination in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights’ Black communities by nurturing local leadership, waging campaigns and winning concrete improvements in people’s lives. Through intersectional organizing, BMC addresses a range of issues that define a whole community, including police accountability and community safety, food sovereignty, environmental justice, anti-gentrification media production, electoral justice, and tenant organizing.

Groundswell Community Mural Project. whichwas founded in 1996 to bring together artists, youth, and community organizations to use art as a tool for social change. Its projects beautify neighborhoods, engage youth in societal and personal transformation, and give expression to ideas and perspectives that are underrepresented in the public dialogue. Each year, Groundswell engages over 450 youth, led by trained teaching artists, and in partnership with dozens of community partner organizations, in the presentation of afterschool, summer, school-based, and community commissioned programs, including large scale initiatives with NYCHA and at Rikers. In addition, Groundswell hosts dozens of free, often youth-led, events and programs for the general public.

Weeksville Heritage Center, which upholds the legacy of one of the largest free Black communities in pre-Civil War America, using historic preservation, education, the arts, and a social justice lens to keep this unique chapter of American history relevant and resonant for contemporary audiences, particularly Black residents in Central Brooklyn. The Weeksville Heritage Center is the steward of the historic Hunterfly Road Houses, and serves as an education space, community hub, and presenter of free or low-cost recreational and artistic programming—all with a nexus to the Weeksville legacy of self-determination. Having emerged from a crippling financial crisis in 2019, Weeksville reestablished a record of fiscal accountability under a new strategic plan, and was included in New York City’s esteemed Cultural Institutions Group in 2020.