‘Spark Prize Celebration’ Salutes Brooklyn Nonprofits Advancing Racial and Social Justice

$500,000 Awarded to 5 Brooklyn Nonprofits; Ceremony Featured Tribute to Philanthropic Leader Hildy Simmons

(Brooklyn, NY) – Brooklyn Community Foundation honored the five Brooklyn nonprofits each receiving its annual $100,000 Spark Prize at a ceremony held Thursday morning, February 8th at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Palm House. Nearly 275 guests attended the Spark Prize Celebration breakfast, emceed by actress and comedian Ana Gasteyer (Saturday Night Live, Mean Girls).

Brooklyn Community Foundation created the Spark Prize to provide much needed funding and awareness for local organizations that have demonstrated excellence and impact in Brooklyn’s communities, with a focus on racial and social justice. This year’s winners of the $100,000 “no strings attached” prize are the Center for Law and Social Justice, Cave Canem, Exalt Youth, GRIOT Circle, and the Red Hook Initiative.

The Spark Prize Celebration also paid tribute to the distinguished career of New York City philanthropic leader Hildy J. Simmons. In addition to her service on Board of Directors at Brooklyn Community Foundation, Mary J. Hutchins Foundation, Jerome L. Greene Foundation, and the Romanian American Foundation, she was the Managing Director and head of the Global Foundations Group at JPMorgan Private Bank, overseeing the grantmaking of more than 40 foundations. Ms. Simmons accepted her award from Fran Barrett, New York State’s Interagency Coordinator for Nonprofit Organizations, who also presented her with a commendation from Governor Andrew Cuomo.   

“We are thrilled that the Spark Prize and this event have become such an inspiring and uplifting celebration of Brooklyn nonprofits,” said Brooklyn Community Foundation President and CEO Cecilia Clarke. “There are so many incredible organizations and leaders across our borough that have worked tirelessly to make our communities stronger, more just, and more vibrant. We salute you and are honored to work alongside you and support you. Congratulations especially to this year’s Spark Prize winners and many thanks to the incomparable Hildy Simmons for her service to the Foundation and our city.”

Brooklyn Community Foundation has awarded over $600,000 through this year’s Spark Prize program, including a $100,000 match on Giving Tuesday that helped raise over $365,000 for the 20 finalists in 24 hours. More than 130 Brooklyn nonprofits applied for the 2017-18 Spark Prize; the five winners were selected by a committee of Brooklyn civic, business, and neighborhood leaders following a 9-month long application and review process.

The Spark Prize Celebration was sponsored by TD Bank, with additional support from National Grid, Kirkland Ellis, and Cleary Gottlieb. Guests included Spark Prize Committee members Diane Steinberg, Carley Roney, Stephanie Ingrassia, and Tamara Bellinfanti. Notable Brooklyn nonprofit and civic leaders in attendance included Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Judge Michael Corriero, Brooklyn Academy of Music President Katy Clark, Brooklyn Botanic Garden President Scot Medbury, Prospect Park Alliance President Sue Donoghue, WNYC President Laura Walker, Story Corps Executive Director Dave Isay, and Brooklyn Community Services Executive Director Marla Simpson. The event also featured an original poem performed by Cave Canem fellow Zakia Henderson-Brown.

About the Spark Prize Winners

Cave Canem: Founded in 1996 to remedy the under-representation and isolation of black poets, Cave Canem has grown from a gathering of 26 poets to become an influential movement and artistic incubator based in Brooklyn with a high-achieving international fellowship of over 425, and a local workshop community of over 900 poets. Annually, Cave Canem produces poetry readings, writing workshops, lectures, special events, retreats for emerging poets, anthology publications, and a first- and second-book poetry prize.

Nicole Sealy, Executive Director, Cave Canem: “Brooklyn Community Foundation’s investment in Cave Canem is an important validation of the necessary work we do in Brooklyn to democratize the literary field.”

Center for Law and Social Justice (CSLJ): Founded in Brooklyn in 1985 as a community service unit of Medgar Evers College to serve as an institutional response to pervasive racial injustices, CLSJ continues pushing for meaningful policy changes to stem the institutionalization of police brutality and systemic racism across New York City. In addition to promoting alternative community policing solutions, it is a leading advocate for the protection and integrity of voting rights and for racial equity in public education. CLSJ projects include providing free legal consultations, issuing policy recommendations, engaging in research, and fostering grassroots organizing.

Esmerelda Simmons, Executive Director, CSLJ: “Receiving this award is a tremendous honor and affirmation of the racial justice work we’ve been committed to for over 30 years. We are so proud to share this moment with organizations that are also dedicated to positively impacting the lives of fellow Brooklynites!”

Exalt Youth (exalt): Since its founding in 2006 in Brooklyn, exalt has worked with over 1200 youth ages 15-19 who have been involved in the criminal justice system. exalt equips youth with tools and experiences to avoid further criminal justice system involvement through structured classes for tangible skill development, individualized support to navigate the education and justice systems, placement in paid internships, and an alumni network of resources. Only 2% of program graduates have been re-convicted within two years; by comparison, 40% of youth released from New York juvenile detention return in two years.

Gisele Castro, Executive Director, exalt: “exalt is honored to be a recipient of the Spark Prize! We have created an organization that has transformed the lives of many young people, and this award has offered us the opportunity to celebrate our work and our youth. Thank you Brooklyn Community Foundation for your vision, vibrancy, and for making the community much stronger!”

GRIOT Circle: Founded in 1996 by a group of LGBTQ elders of color living in Brooklyn to address the racial, social, and economic injustices that LGBTQ elders of color experience, GRIOT now offers culturally-sensitive, innovative programming to over 400 members throughout the year, including case management services, a daily hot lunch, psycho/educational and recreational programs, a “Buddy-2-Buddy” program through which over 75 volunteers provide members with an array of services and mutual support, and New York City’s only HIV support group for men over 50.

José Albino, Executive Director of GRIOT Circle: “This an incredible game changer for a small but mighty organization like ours. We will be able to continue to serve more people and meet the diverse needs and exploding growth of the LGBTQ elders of color community. It is an absolute honor to have received this award. There are many organizations in Brooklyn that are deserving of this recognition as well. We undoubtedly share this honor with them.”

Red Hook Initiative (RHI): Founded in 2002 as a program of a local hospital in response to the severity of health and social issues in Red Hook, RHI has become a neighborhood stronghold and nationally recognized model for youth and community development, providing safe and enriching opportunities for young people ages 11- 24 primarily living in the Red Hook Houses—New York City’s largest NYCHA housing development. Youth development, community building, and community hiring—90% of staff is from the neighborhood—form the core of RHI’s approach to strengthening Red Hook’s future.

Jill Eisenhard, Executive Director of RHI: “RHI is honored to be one of the recipients of the 2018 Spark Prize alongside organizations serving our borough through vital social justice work. We are proud that Brooklyn Community Foundation recognizes the impact of RHI’s commitment to Red Hook over the last 16 years.”

About the Spark Prize

Established in 2016, the Spark Prize is named for Brooklyn Community Foundation’s mission to spark lasting change in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is home to over 2,000 nonprofits, yet less than 5% of New York City’s charitable giving goes to organizations based in the borough.

The 2017-18 Spark Prize application launched in May 2017 with an open call to Brooklyn nonprofits to submit a 1,000-word essay demonstrating their deep history in Brooklyn and continued service to the borough; commitment to equity and racial justice for all Brooklynites; strong organizational values; and vision for the future of their work in Brooklyn and beyond. To be eligible, organizations had to have annual operating budgets over $350,000 and be in operation for at least five years.


About Brooklyn Community Foundation

Brooklyn Community Foundation is on a mission to spark lasting social change, mobilizing people, capital, and expertise for a fair and just Brooklyn. It is the first and only public foundation solely dedicated to Brooklyn’s charitable community, working in partnership with generous donors and community leaders to bolster vital nonprofits, strengthen neighborhoods, and increase opportunities for youth. Since its founding in 2009, the Foundation and its donors have provided over $40 million in grants to more than 300 nonprofits in Brooklyn and beyond. Learn more at www.BrooklynCommunityFoundation.org

Media Contact: 

Liane Stegmaier, Director of Communications
718.480.7503, lstegmaier@bcfny.org