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Getting to Work for Racial Justice

Dr. Jocelynne Rainey

Members of Brooklyn Workforce Innovations NYCHA Resident Training Academy. Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Workforce Innovations.

While so much of our country’s history has been built on the oppression and exploitation of workers—on plantations, in factories, behind prison walls—the future we’re working toward is one where everyone, from every background, is free to pursue their passions, earn what they need to live comfortably, and provide for the next generation.

Our vision for racial justice relies on achieving economic justice. And while the economics of oppression are undeniable, the economic potential of racial justice is extraordinary.

During my time working with young system-involved Black and Latinx men, I saw firsthand the profound importance of having a job. While working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, I saw how critical jobs—not to mention job training and workforce development—are to Brooklyn’s future. We developed career training opportunities at eight high schools and our job recruitment program focused on residents from nearby NYCHA developments.

I’m so proud of the work we’re doing at Brooklyn Org as part of our deep commitment to racial and economic justice, especially through our new Fishman Family Fund for Economic Opportunity, which honors our founding Board Chair Alan Fishman.

And I’m so proud of the work we’re doing at Brooklyn Org as part of our deep commitment to racial and economic justice, especially through our new Fishman Family Fund for Economic Opportunity, which honors our founding Board Chair Alan Fishman.

If you didn’t already know, Alan is the founder and force behind the creation of Brooklyn Org. In 2021, after nearly two decades leading Brooklyn Org and its predecessor institution, Alan stepped down as Chair, leaving behind an incomparable legacy.

The Fishman Family Fund for Economic Opportunity is a permanent source of support for Brooklyn nonprofits working at the intersection of racial justice and economic opportunity to close the racial wealth gap. This Spring, we are making the first grants from the Fund, totalling $50,000, to NYC Network of Worker Cooperatives and Brooklyn Workforce Innovations.

Alan Fishman speaking at the launch of the Fishman Family Fund for Economic Opportunity

NYC Network of Worker Cooperatives supports worker cooperatives throughout NYC, especially those within historically marginalized communities, to cultivate the educational, financial, and technical resources of their members.

Brooklyn Workforce Innovations (BWI) empowers low- and moderate-income people through living-wage employment opportunities and career pathways. Before enrolling in training, BWI participants earned an average salary of $10,000, which increased almost four-fold to $39,000 after completing the program.

These grants represent an important growth in our donor-supported racial justice grantmaking, through which we invested over $5 million in community-led nonprofits last year. Across all of our grantmaking initiatives, we’re investing in job and career readiness, economic security, and essential workers. This includes grants that supports workforce organizations like Drive Change, Green City Force, Jobs First NYC, and Youth Design Center.

Drive Change, under the dynamic leadership of Kalilah Moon, creates employment pathways in the food and hospitality industry for formerly incarcerated young people (ages 18 to 25) to ensure their economic and emotional wellbeing.

A member of Drive Change’s training program, 2017

Moon feels a deep, personal connection to her work. Like many people, she has loved ones who have been personally impacted by the justice system. And she remembers how it feels not being able to help them.

But Drive Change isn’t merely a job readiness program. It helps its fellows see new possibilities for their lives—and to shed the negative messages that have shaped their perceptions of themselves.

“What we do is help fellows see themselves as who they truly are, and help them understand that they deserve a seat at the table,” says Moon. “We want to help the young people in our program to manifest their destinies and acquire the skills to get there.”

Moon shared how one fellow—Brandon—was on work release while attending Drive Change and working with their employer partner Caffe Panna. Like most restaurants, Cafe Panna was forced to close and let go of their staff during the pandemic, which meant Brandon was then expected to return to jail. But seeing how dedicated he was to turning his life around, the restaurant program partner created a new job for him. Today Brandon is leading teams, taking on managerial responsibilities, and thriving.

Through this four-month program, Drive Change helps as many as 45 fellows like Brandon learn the ins and outs of the hospitality industry, along with other adjacent industries like agriculture. Not only has Drive Change been able to benefit from our grantmaking, Moon is also a member of our leadership institute that brought leaders in nonprofits together.

“I can’t say enough good things about Brooklyn Org. Not only has it provided us with grants, it has created valuable opportunities for me to see other Black women in leadership roles. There’s no roadmap to becoming an executive director, especially for Black women leaders. But being able to sit down and speak with other women leaders in nonprofit has been transformative.”

Even though we still have a lot of work ahead to bring about racial and economic justice, I’m thankful for the journey. If you want to join us for the ride, please contact us to learn more. And as always, please spread the word about the important work we have underway.