Local justice champions get $100k boost from the Just Brooklyn Prize

Winners of the Just Brooklyn funds award
Five women have won $20,000 each as part of the inaugural Just Brooklyn Prize.
Photo courtesy of the Just Brooklyn Prize

Five advocates tackling some of Brooklyn’s most concerning issues just got a financial boost from the new Just Brooklyn Prize, a $100,000 annual award given specifically to outstanding Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) who champion social and racial justice.

The winners work to support their communities by improving access to information, supporting single and young mothers through education and employment, pushing for better healthcare for women, boosting local businesses, and preserving affordable housing in Brooklyn. Each winner will receive an unrestricted $20,000 grant in recognition of their contributions to the borough.

The funds come from two organizations — The Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation’s Social Justice Fund, a philanthropic organization created by the billionaire couple who own Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Liberty, and the Brooklyn Community Foundation, a public charity.

“The Just Brooklyn Prize recipients are on the ground combating some of the most pressing social justice issues of our time, from every angle, right here in Brooklyn,” said Clara Wu Tsai, founder of the Social Justice Fund. “They lead by example and we are pleased to support their work.”

clara tsai just brooklyn
Clara Wu Tsa, pictured, said the winners are fighting some of the city’s most pressing issues. File photo courtesy of Obed Obwoge/Brooklyn Community Foundation

Among the winners is La’Shawn Allen-Muhammad, executive director of Central Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation, which connects public and private investors with hyper-local organizations and small businesses.

“A robust hyper-local economy is the key to closing racial wealth gaps, income disparities and improving the overall health of the community,” reads the institution’s website. 

Samora Coles, another champion, is the founder of the Alex House Project. The organization serves young and single mothers with parenting education and other resources while helping them access higher education and jobs. The organization works with women and families from group homes, family foster care, domestic violence shelters, and referrals from community-based organizations, city and state-funded institutions.

Next is C. Zawadi Morris, founder of BK Reader, a digital daily news site formed by Brooklyn residents. The journal provides local residents with a blogging platform to share their personal or professional insights. It also has a “Young Voices” section where writers, ages 14 to 24 are encouraged to express themselves about the world around them.

Chanel Porchia-Albert, founder of Ancient Song Doula Services. A report published in Nov. 2021 by the Office of NYC Public Advocate, Black women are eight times more likely than white women to die from a pregnancy-related cause, while nationally, they are only three times more likely to experience the same consequences. Ancient Song works at a national level with low-income Black and Latinx pregnant people regardless of their ability to pay for a doula service and advocates for policy changes to eliminate maternal and infant mortality and morbidity.

Last but not least, Debra Ack is a founding member of East NY Community Land Trust, an association of community leaders and activists dedicated to preserving affordable homes, locally-owned small businesses and green spaces. According to NYU Furman Center for research on housing, East New York’s median household income in 2021, the last year there is data on, was $55,880, about 23% less than the citywide median household income which came to about $72,150. The poverty rate in East New York then was 19.2% compared to 18.0% citywide. 32.9% of renter households in the neighborhood were severely rent-burdened as they spent more than 50% of their household income on rent. 9.3% of the rental units were public housing.

“We believe East New York is not for sale and envision a healthy and self-sustaining East New York where our people come before profit,” reads the association’s website.  “Planning and development in East New York should be led ‘by us, for us,’ the longtime black and brown residents. We are organizing and building power so that public land remains in community hands.”

Awardees will be honored with a ceremony at Barclays Center on Sept. 18.

The prize’s selection committee made up of Brooklynites, included experts in health equity, community activism, charity work, creativity and entertainment, and economic development, and included Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso.

Since the Brooklyn Community was founded in 2009, it has provided over $90 million in grants to nonprofits, while the Social Justice Fund now has a $50 million commitment over ten years.

“Sparking real change requires visionary leaders,” said Jocelynne Rainey, President and CEO of the foundation. “The five winners of the inaugural Just Brooklyn Prize have helped make our borough a beacon in the fight for racial justice and we are deeply grateful to them.”