The David Prize has announced the five winners for its fourth annual Prize. Each year, the $1 million initiative supports extraordinary individuals and ideas to make New York City a better place for all New Yorkers.
This year, the winners are: Karen Blondel, Talia Scott, Sam Rivera, Erika Sasson and Christine DeMaria — and Blondel and Sasson are Brooklynites.
“Every year, the Prize hears from thousands of New Yorkers dreaming up a better, brighter city. The creative genius that lives across the five boroughs is really limitless and we're honored that so many take the time to share their work with us.” said Erika Boll, Executive Director at The David Prize in a press release.
“Today, we're thrilled to announce five individuals that embody what makes New York such a special place to live. They have compassion and empathy, conviction in ideas that aren't always popular, and have dedicated their lives to making New York better. The David Prize is grateful to play a small role in their journeys.”
Karen Blondel has dedicated over 20 years to initiating positive change in public housing and amplifying the voices of over 360,000 New York City Housing Authority residents across the city who lack sufficient say in decision-making and oversight of their own buildings. Through the Public Housing Civic Association (PHCA), she educates and works with public housing tenants to highlight how the history and law impacts their living situations.
“I have been working with NYCHA residents for well over two decades and have seen first-hand how the intersection of issues across environmental justice, public health and civil rights in the public housing system severely impact those who depend on it," Karen Blondel said. "People deserve a say in their buildings. With The David Prize, I hope to continue my work through the PHCA so that tenants will be empowered with the information needed to make decisions for their futures and their homes.”
Talia Scott is the founder of Legally BLK Fund and a joint JD/MBA student at NYU. In June 2020, Talia founded Legally BLK Fund to support and uplift other Black women who were facing the same challenges as she was while applying to law school. Now in her third year at NYU, the organization will have awarded $62,000 in transformative scholarships by this fall, empowering aspiring Black female lawyers to pursue their dreams. Legally BLK Fund also provides mentoring, LSAT prep and application guidance to applicants. Read more about the Legally BLK Fund here.
“Currently, only 2% of U.S. attorneys are Black women; this glaring underrepresentation only underscores the urgency of equitable representation in the industry, particularly in light of the legal system's role in confronting deeply ingrained injustices," said Talia Scott. "Given the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, it is imperative that we provide Black women with the tools and resources needed to succeed when applying for law school. With the funding from The David Prize, I’ll be able to expand Legally BLK Fund to increase our impact by expanding our programming to NYC high school students.”
Sam Rivera opened the U.S.’s first two publicly recognized overdose prevention centers, in Harlem and Washington Heights three years ago. OnPoint NYC is a radical new approach to healing people with addiction. The centers allow people to safely consume substances under supervision, while also accessing wrap-around services, such as case management, food and nutrition and holistic health to support their wellbeing and journey to recovery. The centers have served more than 3,700 New Yorkers with more than 85,000 utilizations and prevented more than 1,000 overdoses from becoming fatal since they opened. They have also safely disposed of two million units of hazardous waste.
“Every three hours, a beautiful person dies from a preventable drug overdose in NYC because they lack safe spaces, are shamed into hiding, face barriers to loving care, and are not reached in time to be saved" said Sam Rivera. "I believe every person deserves to be loved one as they work toward wellness and we know how to do it. We have solutions that prevent overdose death and increase the quality of life for all New Yorkers. With The David Prize, I will support NYC to expand our community-based, harm reduction “New York model” to support both drug users and communities across the city and the rest of the world. ”
Erika Sasson is showing proof-of-concept for how a restorative justice framework can be used in the most serious of cases, such as homicide, sexual harm, and domestic violence. After over a decade of working on restorative justice initiatives with the Center for Justice Innovation in New York City, she is actively working to reduce harm for both offenders and victims without solely relying on punitive measures. By seeking more effective results through empathy-driven alternatives, Erika challenges conventional notions of justice and advocates for a more constructive response to harm.
“I believe that when seeking justice we have to listen to those most affected by harm, and lead with our values," Erika Sasson said. "The current criminal legal system does not promote healing or accountability, nor does it reduce the amount of harm caused to victims, their families and communities. With The David Prize, I intend to work with communities, attorneys, practitioners, and advocates to share lessons from our successful case studies to expand this restorative justice framework for implementation across the city at a larger scale.”
Christine DeMaria is an outspoken advocate for better working standards for sex workers and shining a light on the intertwined human trafficking scheme out of the sex work industry. As a former stripper herself and victim of childhood sex trafficking, she personally knows what resources, support and tools for others to succeed both in the industry and in their transition out of it. She aims to build out a first-of-its-kind nonprofit SWITCH (Sex Workers In Transition Compassionate Help) that would provide sex workers with basic education, legal resources, access to affordable housing and supportive services.
"During the height of the pandemic, there was a renewed spotlight on labor and health issues within many underserved industries, but sex work was often ignored in these conversations," Christine DeMaria said. "My mission is to create a first-of-its-kind nonprofit SWITCH (Sex Workers In Transition Compassionate Help) to help sex workers access the necessary support and resources they need to thrive, whether they are in the industry or are trying to transition out of it. The David Prize will help us provide sex workers with legal resources and basic education as well as other supportive services to improve their lives.”