Spring 2011 Grants
This past year, North Star Fund launched our new grantmaking vision and guidelines. In our Spring 2011 cycle, we made grants in two new categories -- Innovative Activism, Grassroots Strategy -- and renewed our support for new and emerging groups through our Grassroots Action grants.
This photo shows members of Falconworks Artists Group, one of the inaugural recipients of North Star Fund's new Innovative Activism grants, taking a break during a popular theater training.
Innovative Activism grants support the most exciting social justice work that creatively engages marginalized community members, builds their skills and advances social justice in New York City. Areas funded under this category include arts and action, alternative institution building, resources for organizing, and media justice. This new category builds on 35 years of North Star funding in this area.
Adelante Alliance $10,000
The youth of Sunset Park's Spanish-speaking immigrant community are highly at risk. Soaring dropout rates put youth on the streets where they are actively recruited by violent gangs. In the face of an increasingly anti-immigrant environment, their parents are often struggling to simply provide for the family's basic economic survival, and women in particular are vulnerable to domestic violence. There are few spaces in the neighborhood where women and youth can engage in political education and reflection, develop leadership skills, and find solutions that will lead to social change. Almost entirely run by volunteers from the community and with a strong membership base of Latina women, Adelante Alliance organizes large community forums on issues such as gang violence, immigration, and domestic violence. The women's collective, Women in Action, gives women the necessary tools they need to take the lead in addressing some of the problems affecting youth and violence in their homes and community. By raising awareness of, and increasing the understanding of, root causes behind these issues, Adelante is developing the leadership of community members to build a movement for social change in Sunset Park.
Bronx News Network (BxNN) $10,000
The 1.4 million residents of the Bronx do not have a mainstream news outlet based in the borough. New York City media outlets rarely cover Bronx-specific issues: severe unemployment in the borough, public safety, lack of affordable housing, and overcrowded schools. This lack of coverage further silences communities that have been shut out of political process. And it fails to hold elected officials accountable to their constituencies. The Bronx News Network (BxNN) gives these communities a voice. It provides residents access to local news through its newspapers (including bilingual community newspapers), websites, and a blog. Their strong relationships with Bronx community organizations means BxNN can highlight the work of important local grassroots campaigns. Their youth programs train young people from communities misrepresented by mainstream media networks to become rigorous, effective journalists.
Falconworks Artists Group $10,000
Home to one of the largest housing projects in the country, Red Hook is geographically isolated, cut off from the rest of New York City by an expressway and a largely industrialized waterfront. Gentrification has done little to help residents of public housing, who make up 70 percent of the Red Hook population. Less than half the adults in the Red Hook housing projects have a high school diploma, the average per capita income is $8,000 a year, dropout rates and gang violence are high, and youth receive limited sexual health education.
Falconworks Artists Group is creating a center for movement building with their innovative use of theater for social change. Falconworks uses popular education techniques to give Red Hook residents the tools and opportunity to write and produce original theater that exposes their most crucial issues, challenges their community, and seeks to undo the status quo of generational poverty and isolation. Over the past seven years, they have brought in hundreds of Red Hook residents across age, cultural, and economic divisions to organize, create and perform plays about social issues in Red Hook. Having built up momentum and popularity, they are now poised to tackle some of the most difficult issues in the community, move beyond theater to develop creative community activism, and become a resource for other community organizations in New York that want to use theater to address social issues.
Global Action Project $5,000
In today's media-rich world, those behind the camera determine what stories are told and how they are framed. The corporate media still has a firm foothold in all media outlets. As a result, the stories of those most affected by injustice -- youth, people of color from low-income neighborhoods, immigrant, refugee, and LGBTQ communities - are simplified, misrepresented, or not told at all.
Global Action Project works with young people from communities that have historically not had a voice in the media landscape. Their Community Media in Action (CMIA) is an intensive leadership and media-production training program for youth organizers and artists from community organizations. Combining political education with media analysis, youth learn the root causes of the issues that affect them - and they also learn how media frames and creates messages about these issues. They receive training on high-quality media production, strategy, and outreach. By the end of the training, youth have the skills and tools they need to produce media to build community power and educate and inspire broad audiences towards social change. The White House recently recognized Global Action Project for its effectiveness in developing creativity and fostering academic success by engaging young people in the arts and humanities.
There are few current-events news sources that cover social and political issues for youth. Even fewer highlight issues of economic and social justice and the perspectives of people of color. Teachers who want to integrate current events into their lesson plans are faced with limited, corporate-owned options when it comes to age-appropriate classroom materials and resources. IndyKids is a free newspaper, website, and teaching tool geared towards students in fourth through seventh grades. The stories in their monthly print and online editions inform children about current news and world events from a progressive perspective. IndyKids teaches young people about a wide range of social issues, allowing teachers to integrate it into a variety of lesson plans. The stories emphasize the work of young activists and grassroots organizations committed to social change. In 2011 in partnership with Teacher's Unite and the New York Collective of Radical Educators, IndyKids will develop curriculum on youth journalism and media literacy for fourth through sixth grade classroom teachers. They are also starting a Kid Reporter training program to increase youth participation in media and help students write about local and world issues impacting their lives.
Lakou New York $5,000
New York City's Haitian community is growing, in part due to displacement from Haiti by the devastating 2010 earthquake and recent political instability. Haitian immigrants are dispersed across the city, and the many who speak only Kreyòle have limited access to information and a sense of community. Radio is a critical medium, connecting the Haitian community in the Tri-State area and beyond to each other and to local, national, and international news. Lakou New York, an alternative radio program in Kreyòle, covers grassroots community campaigns and underreported issues such as immigration, police brutality, and workers' rights. More than just a radio program, Lakou is a unique hub of culture and information for Haitian New Yorkers. Through weekly in-person forums and language classes, Lakou also provides ways for their listeners to take action on the issues that directly impact their lives.
New York State Civic Engagement Table $5,000
The current financial crisis is pushing New Yorkers who were already living on the edge into even more dire situations. At a time when communities on the margins most need to have their voices heard in the civic sphere, state decision makers are listening to only those who will keep them in office. Policymakers are dismissing entire populations, usually poor and of color, who do not traditionally come out to vote. While large and well-funded political organizations increasingly take advantage of new, sophisticated civic engagement tools and technologies, smaller grassroots organizations lack access to these important but expensive tools. The New York State Civic Engagement Table is a coalition of over 25 grassroots New York groups that organize in communities that historically have been prevented or discouraged from voting. Combining the resources of the groups, the Table has acquired cutting-edge organizing and voter contact technology that will help them engage voters and build a strong base. All the member groups have been trained in the technology and receive support from experts in the field. The Table creates a space for these organizations to deepen collaborations and learn from each other as they build high-impact civic engagement campaigns.
People's Production House $5,000
Activists working on critical campaigns don't often have the time or resources to produce creative media that enliven a campaign, spark imagination, and capture public and media attention. Many communities are excluded from access to media production, and as a result lack accurate representation. As media becomes even more pervasive, it is vital for communities of color, low-income people, and organizations working on progressive campaigns to have the ability to create engaging media that will advance their work. People's Production House (PPH) believes a diverse, ethical, and independent media is an essential element of social change. Run and staffed by journalists and community organizers, PPH works with a broad range of organizations to bring together community organizing and independent media creation. Their trainings on radio and print-based media build the skills and leadership of youth, immigrants, and working families and involve them in all stages of media arts and journalism projects. They train media organizers to create and demand a media that functions in their interests. PPH's work has been recognized by PBS; in June, 2011, the two organizations produced a special report on "dropout factories," i.e. schools in communities of color that have much higher than average rates of student's quitting before graduating.
Grassroots Strategy Grants
These $15,000 grants enable groups to obtain additional research, legal, media, policy and organizing expertise at a critical strategic moment.
Adhikaar for Human Rights and Social Justice $15,000
Adhikaar for Human Rights was part of the coalition of New York organizations that successfully worked to pass the state's landmark 2010 Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Taking what they learned from this partnership effort, Adhikaar is now leading a new workers' right campaign in the nail salon industry. Deemed one of the worst jobs in the U.S. by Time Magazine, nail salon work often means low wages, a toxic work environment, and exploitative labor conditions.
In New York the industry employs a growing number of Nepali-speaking immigrants, mostly women, who routinely handle cosmetic products that contain carcinogens and other potentially hazardous chemicals in inadequately ventilated spaces. During the high-demand summer months workers must spend long hours at the salon, and are sometimes denied lunch, bathroom breaks, and overtime pay. As a first step in the campaign, Adhikaar staff and a committee of nail salon workers are collecting data and documenting working conditions. As they fight for their health, safety, and rights, workers will learn how to lead research projects in the field, participate in leadership training, and engage in a campaign to ensure fair wages and a safer workplace.
Movimiento por Justicia en El Barrio $15,000
Long-time low-income residents of East Harlem often face hazardous living conditions brought on by negligent landlords. A lack of heat or hot water in the winter months constitutes an emergency condition: a "Class C" violation, which the landlord must fix within 24 hours. If the landlord doesn't, New York City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) must. But the agency has chronically failed to respond, and countless low-income tenants have gone for months - even years - without the basic services needed during a New York winter.
Movimiento por Justicia en El Barrio actively challenges city institutions and officials whose actions (or lack of) promote the displacement of low-income tenants in East Harlem. Their recent "Campaign Against Frozen Homes" successfully forced the HPD to take action in response to outstanding Class C violations. Now, a new, dynamic multi-media campaign builds on these victories. Newspapers, videos, and street posters will reach a large number of residents, informing them about their rights and the responsibility of city agency Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) to address Class C violations. Media materials and in-person trainings will teach residents how to successfully carry out tenant actions. The campaign will create a strong base of informed, active, and engaged residents in the neighborhood, which in turn will compel HPD to immediately respond to any future Class C violations.
Grassroots Action Grants
These $5,000 and $10,000 grants focus on new, emerging groups who are reaching out through the tools of community organizing to engage more people as leaders and grassroots activists in New York City's most marginalized communities. North Star Fund directs these grants to groups with annual budgets less than $250,000.
Brooklyn Movement Center $5,000
Central Brooklyn (Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, and surrounding neighborhoods) faces rising rents, displacement of long-time residents, the loss of cultural and economic centers, failing schools, irresponsible development, and other serious challenges. But the people of Central Brooklyn lack a strong voice in the public discussions taking place right now among New York City policy makers and advocacy groups. The Brooklyn Movement Center (Brooklyn MC) is a new organization that seeks to re-energize the civic life of central Brooklyn. It brings the voices of predominantly people of color and working class residents of Central Brooklyn to the table in policy discussions. Brooklyn MC develops neighborhood leaders to create change through direct, local action. They recently launched the "Save our School" campaign to prevent the closure of historic Boys and Girls High School, a vital community institution. The campaign brings together staff, parents, teachers and community members in a collaborative effort to raise student achievement levels and prevent the closure of the valued local high school.
Chinese Progressive Association $5,000
Recently arrived, low-income immigrants in Manhattan's Chinatown and Lower East Side struggle in today's increasingly anti-immigrant environment. In addition to discrimination and language barriers, young immigrants also face difficulties in family life and in school. Some are living in a new country without their immediate families. Those who live with their families must help them navigate multiple bureaucratic systems, and often work part time to support them. At the large New York City public schools they attend, they face a lack of language support, tensions between immigrants and American-born students, and the unresponsiveness of school administrators to these problems.
The intergenerational Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) works towards social and economic justice for the Chinese community. CPA has recently launched Shared Stories, a new program that cultivates student leaders to become community educators and organizers. Through a youth-led oral-history project that combines political education and leadership development, a group of young people will learn about the history of immigration and identify the issues and policies that currently affect them as immigrants. They will receive interviewing and social media training, and they will learn how to develop a campaign that works for local policy changes. Using the stories they have developed and the skills they have gained, they will educate and organize others in their schools, neighborhood, and city.
Churches United for Fair Housing (CUFFH) $5,000
Once, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick were home to hundreds of industrial businesses with jobs filled by thousands of immigrants. As manufacturing in the area declined, zoning changes precipitated an explosion of expensive housing. Jobs and affordable homes for low-income residents are quickly disappearing. City officials and developers are not listening to the concerns of these residents when policy decisions cause displacement and drastic neighborhood changes. Lead by lay people and members of the north Brooklyn community, Churches United for Fair Housing (CUFFH) brings the voices of low- and moderate-income residents to public discussions of re-zoning and development policies. CUFFH secured a commitment from New York City to build 3,500 affordable units as part of the waterfront development in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Now the City is targeting the Broadway Triangle (one of the last large open tracts of land in Williamsburg) for development. CUFFH in coalition with other neighborhood groups is working to ensure that, as the area is rezoned, the City and developers hear and respond to needs of the community.
Da Urban Butterflies (D.U.B.) Youth Leadership Development Project $5,000
High rates of teen pregnancy, gang violence, drug addiction, and involvement in illegal economies attest to the fact that youth in low-income communities see limited options for themselves and their future. Young women especially suffer from a lack of self-esteem and harassment. A group of young women of color in Washington Heights created Da Urban Butterflies Youth Leadership Development Project (D.U.B.) to counteract the negative effects of poverty and racism that they experience and witness. Their work includes a summer leadership development institute, year-round educational workshops, art and literary events, and participation in city and national campaigns in coalition with other grassroots organizations. In 2011, they launched Love2Live, raising awareness of and working to end gender violence. D.U.B. transforms the way young women see themselves and teaches them the skills they need to lead and transform their communities.
El Centro del Inmigrante $10,000
The growing Mexican immigrant community in Staten Island faces a lack of living wage jobs, health care, and housing. Many immigrants work as day laborers and domestic workers, where they are hired on a daily basis with no guarantee of continued work or safe work conditions. Rising anti-immigrant sentiment in Staten Island as well as racial and ethnic tensions in the area have resulted in recent hate crimes perpetrated against day laborers. El Centro del Inmigrante, an immigrant worker center in Port Richmond, Staten Island, works with over 2,000 workers and their families to fight for their rights. Their trainings teach workers the necessary skills to advance themselves economically, protect themselves from workplace abuse, achieve access to health care, and advocate for services for themselves and their children. In coalition with other Staten Island immigrant organizations, El Centro also works to influence policymakers on immigration reform policies.
Empire State Coalition for Youth and Family Services $5,000
Each night, over 3,800 young people are homeless in New York City. Yet, there are barely enough beds in shelters to accommodate one-tenth of those in need. Homeless youth on the streets need access to appropriate services as well as skills training to help them be safe, healthy, and prepared for the future. But already underfunded services are in constant danger of being reduced or cut completely. While advocates lobby lawmakers to save funding for these services, the voices of homeless youth themselves are missing from the policy debates and discussions. A new program by Empire State Coalition of Youth and Family Services (ESC) is organizing youth from around New York City to speak on their own behalf to elected officials. ESC's youth advocacy campaign will create a leadership academy for homeless youth so that they can have an impact on policy decisions that affect them most.
Eye Openers: Youth Against Violence Organization $5,000
When there's limited interaction between African-American and Latino/a groups, prejudices are more likely to abound on both sides, sometimes leading to violence and hate crimes. The youth in Eye Openers defy structures that keep people of color competing and fighting each other. They have formed a vital organization in Staten Island that brings African-American and immigrant Latino/a youth together. They learn about their shared struggles -- such as lack of access to a good education and decent jobs -- and the systems that create and perpetuate these conditions. Every year, they hold a Youth Leadership Summit to train young people to become anti-violence and racial justice educators in their communities. Other projects focus on immigration reform, environmental justice issues, and access to education for undocumented youth.
Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition $10,000
In New York City, low-wage workers and the working poor are primarily immigrants and people of color. Their livelihoods are constantly threatened by wage theft, union busting, harassment, and anti-immigrant attacks. Building on the historic partnership between the faith community and the labor movement, the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition organizes to end economic exploitation and workplace discrimination. In recent years, the Coalition has focused on supporting efforts to unionize security officers who are mostly African-American men receiving poverty-level wages, no benefits, and very little training. Partnering with Local 32BJ, they successfully brought African-American clergy from churches and mosques across the city to join the effort, ultimately winning contracts with 20 security contractors in the New York area and bringing almost 10,000 security officers into the union. Their current goal is to secure passage of a living wage bill in New York City Council. This bill would mandate that taxpayer dollars subsidize jobs that offered a good living, not poverty. They are adding new congregational allies in communities of color to support this effort.
Jahajee Sisters: Empowering Indo-Caribbean Women $5,000
Indo-Caribbean women are ethnically South Asian, descended from immigrants to the Caribbean. With a culture and history distinct from other South Asian groups, they straddle multiple worlds, often isolated and without a voice. Yet they struggle with the same issues that other immigrant communities face: gender-based oppression and violence, lack of rights as workers, and harsh post-9-11 immigration policies that tear families apart. Created and led by Indo-Caribbean women, Jahajee Sisters engages community members and creates solidarity in the community through dialogue, arts, leadership development and grassroots organizing. In 2011 they launched a youth-driven reproductive justice campaign with the goal of getting a more comprehensive and holistic sex-education curriculum in local public high schools. Jahajee Sisters are also connecting domestic workers in their community to national campaigns that are organizing to secure rights for domestic workers.
Justice Committee $5,000
Police abuse persists, especially in low-income, disenfranchised communities. More than 140 cases of police abuse occurred in New York City between Amadou Diallo's death in 1999 and Sean Bell's in 2006. Justice Committee organizes to create systems of accountability and direct community supervision of the policing in their neighborhoods. Their programs include Cop Watch, where residents observe police in action, and Know Your Rights workshops, where participants learn how to personally interact with the police.
La Unión $10,000
Low-income Mexican immigrant residents of Sunset Park, Brooklyn struggle against inhumane immigration laws, lack of basic protections, and lack of access to green space and fresh, healthful, and affordable foods. They are often shut out of civic life, including participation in the public school system where language barriers make it difficult for their children to achieve academic success. La Unión develops the leadership of over 600 members living in Sunset Park so they can become agents of change, pursuing broad social and economic reforms. This year, they continue to work towards national immigration reform as well as on local issues. In coalition with other New York City grassroots groups, students and parents members of La Unión are creating a campaign for institutional changes in the city's educational system, including the need for improved teacher effectiveness and programs to improve students' preparation for college. And, as they build Sunset Park's first community garden and chicken coop, La Unión will use the space to educate members about nutrition and to create a vision for a more just food system in Sunset Park.
Met Council Research and Educational Fund $5,000
Almost all low, moderate, and middle-income people in New York rent their homes. But the availability of affordable rental housing in New York City has shrunk so dramatically that the lowest income New Yorkers who need a place to live simply cannot find an apartment they can afford. The result is more homeless individuals and families and more severely over-crowded apartments. But even tenants who live in rent-stabilized apartments aren't secure: current laws allow landlords to push them out using increasingly aggressive displacement strategies, and tenant protections are too weak to do much good. All the while, the real estate industry, with its enormous resources and influences, continues to attack affordable housing programs.
For 45 years, Met Council has been helping tenants get better services and repairs and educating tenants through a monthly newspaper, weekly call-in radio show, and their volunteer-staffed tenant hotline. Now, they're taking their work to the streets, bringing in more tenants as active members of the housing movement. In response to recent threats to rent-regulations laws, the Met Council has organized protests and direct-action events, including a travelling tent city that dramatizes the need to close loopholes in the rent laws. The Met Council has put pressure on Governor Cuomo and other state officials through active phone-call and letter-writing campaigns.
Muslim Consultative Network $5,000
A decade after 9/11, Muslim New Yorkers still face widespread xenophobia, discrimination in employment, housing, immigration, and religious observance. Multiple barriers prevent Muslims from speaking out against the attacks on their communities: many are uncomfortable expressing themselves in English, many come from countries where civil society is suppressed by authoritarian governments, and youth are interested but often do not have opportunity to get involved in community organizing. As a result, Muslim activism is too often led by a handful of professionals and lacks the wide diversity of racial, ethnic, class, and representation by different schools of Muslim thought that is needed to make the community's voice effective. Muslim Consultative Network has proven its success in bringing together diverse leadership within the Muslim community to tackle the most pressing issues they all face. They are now training a diverse group of young Muslim women and men in community organizing, advocacy, and leadership skills to strengthen connections between various Muslim communities. The youth will learn about the issues that affect their community and develop the skills they need to take action on these issues. They will also be making connections with other, non-Muslim communities that are also fighting to end discrimination, strengthen immigrant rights, and open up access to jobs and resources to invest in a better life.
New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC $5,000
As anti-immigration sentiment heats up across the country, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues its crackdown on undocumented immigrants. ICE regularly raids workplaces, throws immigrants in jail, and deports them. Families with one or more undocumented member are in constant danger of losing a loved one and a bread winner. In the 1980s when thousands of Central American refugees faced deportation, churches and temples formed the Sanctuary Movement to protect refugees and create policy change. The New Sanctuary Coalition of New York builds on this legacy. Today, they bring together clergy and congregations across the city in a multi-faith coalition that provides logistical and spiritual support to families in danger of being separated by deportation. Their new Accompaniment Program pairs congregation members with immigrants who have ongoing deportation cases. By accompanying the immigrants on their periodic check-ins with ICE, the volunteers provide moral support, show ICE that citizens are monitoring their actions, and, in witnessing some of the problems that immigrants face, are inspired to become advocates and activists for policy changes.
New York City Community Garden Coalition $10,000
As vibrant, lush, and permanent as New York's community gardens may seem, their continued existence is not assured. NYC Community Garden Coalition (NYCCGC) is building local power in low-income communities to ensure continued access to community-managed open space for all New Yorkers. These safe and open public spaces play a vital role in the community, especially in low-income neighborhoods where fresh produce is not easily available. Residents not only can grow food for their families and to sell for extra income, but they also develop leadership skills and participate in local efforts to tackle environmental racism.
In the mid 1990's, the Giuliani administration encouraged the destruction of community gardens, usually redeveloping the site for luxury housing. In 1998-2001, a coalition of community garden groups fought hard to preserve the gardens, ultimately securing a 10-year agreement with the city. The agreement expired last year, and the city promulgated new rules that lack the teeth of the previous agreement. As a result, the NYCCGC is particularly focused on securing an equitable policy for preserving community gardens and making new ones.
New York State Youth Leadership Council $5,000
For many young people, the end of high school is a time to dream and plan for college, travel, and a great job. Yet each year, 65,000 undocumented high school seniors graduate to face a severely limited future. Because of the increasingly severe immigration laws, youth who were brought to the U.S. as young children and raised here are treated the same as other undocumented immigrants. They cannot do what other students take for granted: apply for scholarships, travel outside of the country, enter the job market legally.
New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC) organizes for improved access to higher education for undocumented youth and legalization for them and their families. One of the oldest and most active immigrant youth organizations, NYSYLC is led by undocumented young people. They are working to promote the "NY Dream Act," which would give college-bound immigrant students access to state-funded scholarships, tuition assistance programs, and documentation that would allow them work and drive within the state. Their goal is to make New York a model state and push the federal government to pass the DREAM Act at the national level, which would provide students a pathway to lawful residency status and eventual citizenship as they pursue higher education. In New York City, NYSYLC is also working to make CUNY more affordable for undocumented youth.
NY-NJ Teamsters for a Democratic Union $5,000
The economic crisis has hit poor and working class New Yorkers the hardest. Good jobs with living wages and affordable healthcare are in constant danger - including jobs held by Teamster members. For thirty years, the NY-NJ Teamsters for a Democratic Union has been fighting for the rights of all workers. In the current economy, NY-NJ TDU is working harder than ever. In 2011, they continue to support the citywide reform movement of black and immigrant New York City public school bus workers, including a group of African-American drivers who are fighting for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and overtime pay. They are also strengthening the development of a multi-racial group of bus workers organizing for living wages and democratic control of their union. NY-NJ TDU engages in popular education and leadership development programs to advance a new generation of organizers from under-represented communities who can continue to conduct ambitious member-led campaigns. Workers learn how to organize, build grassroots committees, and plan and execute campaigns. These trainings help create a union leadership that is more representative of and accountable to its membership, which is increasingly made up of immigrants and people of color.
Queens Congregations United for Action $10,000
Job losses and reduced wages, high rents and overcrowded homes, low-performing schools, gang violence and a lack of positive activities for youth all create challenges for the primarily low-income, immigrant residents of Eastern Queens. Queens Congregations United for Action (QCUA) connects diverse faith communities to create solutions to problems with housing, education, employment and violence. Their vision is to train leaders in their community to identify and change the policies and structures that perpetuate social injustice. They have celebrated several impressive victories, including expanding affordable housing at the Willetts Point development in Queens, and reversing school budget cuts in 2008. Not resting on their laurels, the group is linking housing, immigration reform, and youth training. This year, QCUA is focusing on Queens Center Mall, a shopping center in Elmhurst, Queens in which employees are overwhelming paid poverty-level wages. QCUA is working to secure a living wage for them, and to guarantee their right to organize into unions. In addition, QCUA is pressing the mall to sponsor services for the surrounding neighborhood, including job training and activities for youth.
Street Vendor Project $10,000
Approximately 20,000 individuals sell merchandise and food on the streets of New York City. Vendors deepen the cultural richness of New York City, create jobs and spur economic development, yet continue to face numerous obstacles to their businesses. Street Vendor Project is a grassroots, vendor-led group that organizes vendors to stand up for their rights and develop the skills to tackle common problems such as limits on vending licenses, police harassment, and displacement through poor urban planning. Their membership now exceeds 1,000 members, and reflects the ethnic diversity of NYC street vendors.
Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research and Action (TIGRA) New York $5,000
In many developing countries, remittances (money sent home from relatives living and working in the United States) are a major source of income for low-income families. The remittance industry is a largely unregulated, multi-billion dollar business with profit margins as high as 30%. With little government oversight, companies get away with charging steep fees to immigrants who make, on the average, $17,200 per year. In New York City alone, remitters spend $250 million in fees to an industry that solely depend on these transactions to make a profit.
Forcing the remittance industry to commit to standards of fairness and community reinvestment can mean millions of dollars worth of savings for families and new revenues for community-based projects that assist transnational families. Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research and Action (TIGRA) New York accredits low-cost and socially responsible money transfer companies who are committed to supporting the communities they serve. Through the community reinvestment "Remit4Change" program, these companies donate funds directly to sustainable community development projects. TIGRA NY teams up with New York City grassroots organizations that serve transnational families to educate their members about these alternatives to the predatory companies, and to build a movement among the large number of immigrants who use remittance services.
Vamos Unidos $10,000
New York City's strict licensing of no more than 5,000 street vendors at a time leaves 15,000 unlicensed vendors subject to arrests. Vendors simply trying to earn a living wage experience regular verbal and physical by police officers - including threats of deportation, fines of up to $1,000 per violation, and confiscations of their merchandise. VAMOS Unidos organizes street vendors and their families. Its membership is almost entirely Latino immigrants; 70% are women and many represent indigenous groups from Latin America. They work to increase permit opportunities, and their police accountability campaign puts community pressure on precincts to curtail abusive police behavior and to decrease arrests and summons. Members are trained to document and expose police harassment and to represent their peers at regular meetings with precinct captains. Because their immigration statuses put many vendors at risk, VAMOS Unidos is also prioritizing immigrant rights work - educating members on immigration policies and advocating for fair immigration reform.