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Joe and Clara Wu Tsai announce first awards from Brooklyn Social Justice Fund

Minnesota Timberwolves v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images

Nets co-owners Clara Wu Tsai and Joe Tsai on Tuesday announced the first grant recipients of the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation’s Social Justice Fund as part of the couple’s five-point action plan to support social justice and equality initiatives that benefit Black, Indigenous and People of Color.

In August, the Tsai Foundation set up a $50 million Social Justice Fund to “drive economic empowerment and address the systemic imbalances that produce racial gaps in education, health, and wealth,” with a priority focus on Brooklyn.

All five of Thursday’s recipients are Brooklyn-based Black leaders tackling the root causes of racial disparities in healthcare, climate policy, education, journalism, and the criminal justice system, according to the Fund’s press release. The Tsais’ $50 million commitment is in addition to a $10 million commitment required of all NBA owners.

The first awardees of the Tsai Foundation’s Social Justice Fund are:

  • Dr. Uché Blackstock (@uche_blackstock) is an ER doctor who worked out of a Brooklyn urgent care center at the height of COVID, and the founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity, which partners with healthcare organizations to combat bias and structural racism in the healthcare system. Dr. Blackstock will use her grant to support the Brooklyn Movement Center and Ancient Song Doula Services, two Brooklyn, Black-led organizations committed to reducing racial health inequities.
  • Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (@ayanaeliza) is a Brooklyn native, the founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank dedicated to advancing equitable climate policies in coastal cities, policy expert, and author of the Blue New Deal. Named one of Elle’s 27 Women Leading on Climate and called “the most influential marine biologist of our time” by Outside Magazine, Dr. Johnson’s work focuses on reimagining the future of coastal cities and how to handle the risk coastal communities like Red Hook in Brooklyn face from sea level rise.
  • Natasha S. Alford (@NatashaSAlford) is a journalist and storyteller committed to amplifying untold stories impacting Black America and is the Senior Correspondent and VP of Digital Content for TheGrio. Natasha will use her grant to start a scholarship fund for student journalists of color in her hometowns of Syracuse and Rochester and in her current borough of Brooklyn.
  • Rafiq Kalam Id-Din II (@Rafiq610) is the founder of Ember Charter Schools, a Black-led charter school in Bed-Stuy focused on African and African-American culture and dedicated to anti-racism and justice for Black students. He is a leader in the charter school movement and founder of the #BlackLedSchoolsMatter initiative.
  • Michael “Zaki” Smith (@Zakithebarber) is an activist and policy expert who works to dismantle the barriers in employment, education, and housing that prevent formerly incarcerated Americans like himself from fully reintegrating into society. Focused on East New York, Brownsville, and Bed-Stuy, Zaki is also a barber whose social justice work was sparked by conversations with patrons at his barbershop.

“When it comes to dismantling systemic racism and economic inequality in our communities, we want to lead by example. That’s why it is so important to us to invest in the Black leaders combating racial injustice from every angle right here in Brooklyn,” said Wu Tsai, who is also a founding partner of Meek Mills’ REFORM Alliance.

“They are on the ground day in and day out — working to eliminate racial disparities in our healthcare system, advocating for environmental justice, amplifying the untold stories of Black Americans, mentoring young people of color, and fighting on the front lines of the most pressing social justice issues of our time. We are honored to support their anti-racist work and to invest in creating a more just and inclusive Brooklyn through scalable, proven initiatives.”

The Tsais’ Foundation also released a video of the awardees and the foundation’s principles...

The Brooklyn awardees’ work will be amplified via The Black Voices for Black Justice Fund to support Black leaders addressing systemic racism at the national and community level, the Tsais report. The Tsai Foundation’s Social Justice Fund will focus on programs for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. (BIPOC) and women-owned small businesses; skills training to improve job mobility; mentorship of young women and men of color; and immediate needs of the Brooklyn community created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Social Fund press release included comments from each of the awardees...

“This award has immense value when it comes to advancing racial equity,” said Dr. Uché Blackstock. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated pre-existing racialized health disparities, and I will use these funds to support two Brooklyn, Black-led organizations advocating for food sovereignty and looking at the impact of COVID-19 and racism on access to birthing care. To achieve health equity, we need to confront the ways structural factors and structural racism influence health outcomes.”

“As a Brooklyn native, marine biologist, and climate policy nerd, I understand that addressing our climate crisis and addressing injustices are inextricably linked,” said Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. “Unsurprisingly and unfortunately, it is communities of color who are often most at risk from climate impacts, such as rising sea levels and pollution. The Tsai Foundation’s grant will benefit Urban Ocean Lab’s work to shape policy for coastal cities that are livable and just.”

“At Ember Charter Schools for Mindful Education, we work primarily with low income Black and Brown children and youth to transform the racist and ineffective ‘test prep’ public school experience into one focused on their holistic human development. Our work is laser focused on confronting and disrupting systemic racism and the gargantuan equity gap it produces and continues to expand. Sadly, like most Black-led organizations, despite our innovative and successful efforts, we’ve struggled to achieve equitable funding with our White-led peers. That is why this investment from the Tsai Foundation is so impactful — finally we have a large foundation willing to invest in the voices, vision and leadership of Black people on our terms.” said Rafiq Kalam Id-Din II, founder of Ember Charter Schools.

“As a formerly incarcerated person, I know what it’s like to deal with ongoing collateral consequences due to your past with the justice system even after you serve your time,” said Michael “Zaki” Smith, a criminal justice reform activist and policy expert. “This is the silent life sentence that many people in Brooklyn suffer through. It denies them a fair second chance and restricts access to employment, education and housing. My grant will go towards exposing the racialized history of how we got here and how legal discrimination keeps New Yorkers from restarting their lives.”

“Too often, the media industry is seen as a difficult field to break into and financially unviable for students from low-income and working-class families,” said Natasha S. Alford, Senior Correspondent and VP of Digital Content for TheGrio. “As a result, many of the stories and issues in these communities tend to be overlooked in an industry that has an essential responsibility to highlight racial inequity. That’s why I plan to start a scholarship fund for student journalists of color, which will target youth in my hometowns of Syracuse and Rochester and my current borough of Brooklyn.These young people deserve the support to enter an industry that desperately needs their voices, talent, and diversity.”

The Social Justice Fund is part of the Tsai Foundation’s five-point plan to promote inclusiveness, justice, and equal opportunity. The other parts of the plan include supporting player voices; creating a more inclusive culture; leveraging league-wide influence; and community engagement. The full plan can be viewed HERE.