Brooklyn Community Foundation Announces 5 Winners of $100,000 Spark Prize

Today, Brooklyn Community Foundation announces the five Brooklyn nonprofit organizations selected to receive its annual Spark Prize, the only honor of its kind celebrating excellence and impact in the borough's thriving nonprofit sector. The winners are Cave Canem Foundation, the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, Exalt Youth (exalt), GRIOT Circle, and Red Hook Initiative.

Brooklyn Community Foundation launched the Spark Prize in 2016 to recognize outstanding pioneering nonprofit organizations rooted in the borough that have demonstrated a deep commitment to advancing racial and social justice.

Each of the five Spark Prize recipients will be awarded $100,000 in general operating support from Brooklyn Community Foundation. The organizations were selected from a competitive pool of over 130 applicants by a distinguished committee of 30 members representing Brooklyn’s civic, business, and philanthropic communities.

“As Brooklyn's community foundation, we take immense pride in lifting up longstanding local nonprofits that exemplify our borough's creativity and innovation as well as deep commitment to justice and social change," said Brooklyn Community Foundation President and CEO Cecilia Clarke. "Our hope is that the Spark Prize not only fuels the growth and success of these five powerful organizations, but also attracts much needed attention and additional investment in their work."

Brooklyn is home to over 2,000 nonprofits, yet less than 5% of New York City’s philanthropic giving goes to organizations based in the borough. Brooklyn Community Foundation created the Spark Prize to drive increased support to Brooklyn’s nonprofit sector and showcase local solutions to local challenges.

2017-18 Spark Prize Recipients:

  • Cave Canem Foundation: 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.
  • Center for Law and Social Justice (CSLJ) at Medgar Evers College, CUNY: 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.
  • 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 2 years; by comparison, 40% of youth released from New York juvenile detention return in 2 years.
  • GRIOT Circle: Founded in 1996 by a group of LGBTQ elders of color living in Brooklyn to address the systemic 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.
  • 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.

The organizations will be honored at the Spark Prize Celebration breakfast on Thursday, February 8, 2018 from 8-10AM at 501 Union, hosted by actress and comedian Ana Gasteyer (Saturday Night Live, Lady Dynamite, A Christmas Story Live). The event will also pay tribute to Hildy J. Simmons, a philanthropic leader, former head of the Global Foundations group at J.P. Morgan, and longtime Board Member of Brooklyn Community Foundation, who initially conceived of the Spark Prize as part of the Foundation’s strategic relaunch in 2014. 

The Spark Prize is sponsored by TD Bank, with support from National Grid. It is presented by Brooklyn Community Foundation in partnership with the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

“Congratulations to the latest recipients of our Spark Prize,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “These community nonprofits represent the best of Brooklyn’s capacity to inspire and change lives, working in underserved communities and providing programming and services such as legal support, LGBTQ mentorship, literary training, and youth empowerment. These trailblazing organizations exemplify the spirit of One Brooklyn by being at the forefront of making our borough a better place for all to raise healthy children and families.”

“We congratulate these well-deserving, social justice organizations and Chamber members that are doing vital work throughout the borough and beyond,” said Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Andrew Hoan. “Thanks to the Brooklyn Community Foundation’s needed support, a diverse group working in areas from legal assistance to youth development will be better equipped to face the borough’s challenges today and for years to come.”

"We are fortunate to have organizations in Brooklyn that make such a positive impact in our community," said Peter Meyer, Market President, TD Bank. "All of these recipients are exceptional, and TD is honored to celebrate their achievements through our support."

“We extend congratulations to the recipients and their dedication to looking for creative ways to make a lasting change in Brooklyn. National Grid is pleased to celebrate with Brooklyn Community Foundation’s effort to shine a spotlight on organizations that are committed to uplifting the Brooklyn neighborhoods that we jointly serve,” said Ken Daly, President, National Grid - New York. “We have been proud to provide the energy needs of Brooklyn for over a century and we support innovative programs designed to help improve the way people live, work and play.”

Brooklyn Community Foundation is awarding over $600,000 through this year’s Spark Prize process, including a $100,000 Giving Tuesday match on November 28, 2017 that helped raise over $365,000 for the award's 20 finalists through the #BrooklynGives campaign.

The Spark Prize is named for Brooklyn Community Foundation’s mission to spark lasting social change in Brooklyn. The 2017-18 Spark Prize cycle 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. Applications were reviewed by the Spark Prize Committee, who narrowed submissions to 20 finalists, and then chose the five recipients following in-person interviews.

The Spark Prize is a signature program of the Foundation’s Brooklyn Accelerator, a hub for building capacity and resources in Brooklyn’s nonprofit community. Through the Brooklyn Accelerator, the Foundation also offers free workshops for nonprofits, Board matching and governance training, and an Incubator that hosts start-up nonprofit enterprises. Reaching a diverse cross-section of Brooklyn nonprofits, the Prize will also strengthen the Foundation’s services to its donors who depend on the Foundation’s expertise and knowledge of the borough’s nonprofits to help guide their local giving and philanthropy.


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 $35 million in grants to more than 300 nonprofits in Brooklyn and beyond. Learn more at

Media Contact: 

Liane Stegmaier, Director of Communications